Arts Integration in the Classroom – Storytelling Edition

Each year, the 7th-grade students at C.S. Porter practice an amalgamated form of Winter Count.

There is a written component as well as a visual component in which they bring items or make pictures to share with the class that helps tell the story of their past year.

This year the teachers at Porter, with the help of Spark, decided to include an oral history/storytelling component to Winter Count and they called me through the Any Given Child initiative via SPARK to help them do it.

My artist-in-residency was intended to bring arts integration to the classroom using the art of storytelling, and I feel pretty proud of what I was able to accomplish there.

I began the residency by sharing a story of how I broke my teeth. I introduced the concept of oral history and students completed a self-assessment/questionnaire to help them identify what story they might tell and to help them begin practicing conducting oral history interviews. Students shared stories with one another in 1:1 small groups. We listened to an example of an oral history interview. We listened to a story that resulted from an oral history interview. We watched a peer share his story on video and introduced the practice of appropriate peer critiquing using his story. Students identified the beginning/middle and end during group discussions of all of the story examples that were shared in class. Students practiced guided relaxation. Students identified the beginning/middle/end of their own stories and added 3 supporting details for each section of their story. Students shared their stories in front of a small audience of three of their peers and me. I timed their stories and confirmed with students their beginning/middle and end, praised them for the successful parts of their stories and challenged them with some opportunities on how they could improve their stories.

The best part of the residency was student and teacher buy-in and involvement. Teachers also were very helpful in identifying the written component of the lessons and having students write answers to their interview questions. The culture and atmosphere at C.S. Porter is one of caring and encouragement and really fostering students’ learning. I remembered the excitement I felt the first time I entered a classroom as a teacher after graduating with a B.S. in Education from Kent State University because I was feeling that excitement again.

What made this integration experience different and valuable for students (as opposed to learning in a more traditional modality)was that students were able to use their creativity to share their own oral history story and understand why the oral history tradition practiced during Winter Count was important. They had ownership of the learning in this way. One student specifically used words almost verbatim to these in describing her experience of the residency to me.

The most challenging part of the residency for me was timing. I ran out of time! I was unable to provide direct story coaching to 100% of the students. The next time I conduct a similar residency, I will identify students who are ready to begin sharing their stories in small groups of 3-4 by the second day and begin working with those students right away. Note that I had 4 sessions with two different sets of teachers. I began working with students in the small groups of 3-4 on the third session and was unable to hear all of the students’ stories because of time constraints.

I did volunteer 3 hours of my time to return to the classroom to attempt to work with the remaining student that I was unable to provide direct coaching to. I was able to work with all but two of the students in Mrs. Agostinelli’s classes. I estimate that of the approximately 60 students in Mrs. Hammitt’s classes, I was able to provide coaching for 90% of them.

Not all of the students told awesome stories. They ALL told stories, though, and all of them were engaged and excited to see me when I walked in the door.

I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to bring storytelling into the classroom.