Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Storytelling in Education’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ On the bus

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

Upstairs on the bus home yesterday, I noted that the two women sitting in front of me were chatting away in a language I didn’t recognise. My immediate reaction was to feel pleased that another language than English was being spoken with no inhibition on a London bus.

But even as I felt that pleasure, I remembered an incident from a few years back when I was attending a Prom concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert included a number of different performers, one of whom on this occasion was harpist and singer Cerys Matthews. Introducing items she was about to perform during one of her turns on stage, Cerys said one of them would be a Welsh jig with Welsh words. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

It’s my second chemotherapy session on Tuesday. I do not look forward to it or its aftermath. But some nice things keep the spirits raised: kindnesses from friends, the freshly blooming Mary Rose in the garden, the pleasure of the Great Tit at finding our bird feeder tubs have been refilled and, of course, stories.

Where’s the creativity?

Whenever I read about the state of schools across the country – how some teachers are voluntarily buying food or books for children with money from their own pockets or, just as bad or worse,  how so many teachers feel that all emphasis on creativity has been lost as a result of focus on exams – I find myself wanting the children to have more stories. Young people are disillusioned, turned off, self-harming, depressed. I want them to hear stories, do self-motivated work that is based on stories, talk about stories, tell their own stories. Who is a storyteller to say this should happen? Well, all of us storytellers who’ve seen what powerful effects it can have. Particularly this last week, I’ve been recalling the attention and engagement that  hundreds of children have shown to the daftly innovative stories of Shemi Wâd.

The story that follows is one I found in the handwritten book of Shemi stories I was recently lent. The stories in it were written down by Bili John who had himself known Shemi since boyhood. He wrote down the stoies in Welsh.  The one that follows is in my English version.

The big clock and the tricycle:

One day Shemi dug out from his garden a wooden box that contained what looked like the wheels of a clock. Shemi had never seen anything quite like these wheels before. They were very big – as large as saucers – and without more ado, he got ready to use them to make a clock. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing the audience, seeing yourself

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

We all know the syndrome. The start of a new year makes you eager to sort things out, throw things away, clean your cupboards and your shelves, pursue new objectives and resurrect plans you’d half forgotten about.

For me, this new year has done all those things. It has also brought the satisfaction of seeing that  Nursery World, the magazine that specifically deals with working and living with early years children, has now brought out the big piece on storytelling with early years children that it commissioned me to write towards the end of last year.

Seeing the photos:

Writing my Nursery World piece made me aware all over again how important it is for us storytellers to keep our flame burning by helping new generations of potential tellers to know what storytelling can do.  The new pleasure has been seeing the wonderful photos that were taken to go with the piece. Anna Gordon, the freelance photographer extraordinaire who was commissioned to take the photos, has generously agreed to my using two of them to illustrate this blog today. My thanks to her and to Nursery World and to the centre where the photos were taken. Actually seeing the photos – and in the top one here I’m holding up what I know as my rainbow cloth – makes me very aware of how the children are responding. In fact, seeing the photos made me think a lot about audiences and how important it is to the storyteller to think about the different ways in which they respond. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Out of currency?

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

 A surprise arrived in the post this week. The message inside said, ‘This is your Christmas card, Mary.’ But what was inside was not a card. It was a book written by one of the people who has most inspired my storytelling life  – Betty Rosen. Her book contains a fine selection of her poems and prose pieces. Its intriguing title is I Have a Threepenny Bit and Some Other Things.

Betty was the wife of Harold Rosen. They both came into my life during the early days of what can now be described with capital letters as The Storytelling Revival. Under the leadership of an excellent local authority English adviser by the name of Alastair West, the Borough of Redbridge had become a pilot authority for the Oracy Project. The Oracy Project was about the development of spoken English across all ages of children in education in the UK. Betty and Harold were often called upon to introduce people to what it was all about not only in Redbridge but up and down the land. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Pot-pourri

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word pot-pourri in its first recorded usage in 1725 referred to a stew or a hotch-potch. Not long later in 1749 it was being used, as now, to describe a mixture of dried petals of different flowers mixed with spices. But of course it can also have the figurative meaning of a musical or literary medley. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Storytelling Ventures

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

Two different ventures are my subject this week. One involves one of the readers of this blog – Swati Kakodkar.

Becoming a storyteller:

Swati lives in Bangalore in India. She became interested in storytelling when she lived in America and started taking her young son along to her local library. She loved seeing and hearing the storytelling sessions that were held there and she loved how they involved her son.

So when Swati moved to Bangalore, she took up storytelling herself. She enrolled at an institute in Bangalore which gives training and knowledge in storytelling. She also arranged to go regularly to tell stories to a children’s group.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A cup of tea

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

P1000260A story has been haunting me. Over how many weeks, it has popped up in my thoughts. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you. But it does feel odd. Has the story been hanging around in my head, waiting to get into my blog? But why? Does it think it’s got a message for me? But what exactly?

I’m not sure where I found the story – whether someone told it to me or if I found it in a book. I don’t remember how long ago that was – but I think it must be quite a few years. As I recall, it’s an Indian story but I can’t be sure. Here it is.

A cup of tea:

A man who was searching for wisdom heard about a greatly-respected teacher, a guru who lived a simple life on a hillside in a remote valley. The seeker had already visited many other teachers and had learned a great deal from them. Now he determined that he must find this much-respected guru who lived such a simple existence. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking up

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

P1070076Here’s a story I remember with laughter and delight every time I think about Laugharne, the place where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and wrote and also where the novelist and story-writer Richard Hughes had his writing-room high up in the castle walls. This story was created orally by a small group of 11-year old children.

The story:

Merlin was watching over the wall of his castle. Beside him was his favourite seagull. As he looked down, Merlin saw a family of parents and children, obviously tourists, walking along the foreshore of the estuary below. All were munching – crisps from crisp bags, chocolate from wrappers. Then as they passed, one by one they dropped their plastic wrappers onto the ground. Merlin was horrified. When the family had gone by, he sent his favourite seagull down onto the shore to bring him something else that was messing it up. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What’s to be done?

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

Anger comes in many modes. Rage, crossness, outrage, fury. There’s also the kind that’s angry and sad all at once. And that’s the kind of anger I’m feeling right now. The reason for it  is a particular story that has been gathering momentum for a while and is currently going on all around us. Yesterday morning I heard another example of it. A University degree course in Early Years studies that has been running an excellent module in stories and storytelling for a long number of years is in the process of being reformulated. And guess what? As things look at the moment, the stories and storytelling module will no longer exist in its own right. Why not? What ever can be the justification for that?

The loss: 

P04So much has been gained since the 1980s when oral storytelling began its revival in this country. So much is now being lost. For it’s far from being just me observing the diminution of storytelling in education that is currently occurring. Most of my storytelling colleagues in this country will say the very same thing. Bookings and projects have dropped almost to nothing. And I don’t think the reason is that teachers have suddenly, en masse, taken over the storytelling and all the creative work that comes from it. Funding cuts have of course made a big difference. More serious is current education’s focus on targets, the pressure to do well in tests at all levels and, specifically, a much more mechanistic approach to learning to read and to books and what they are for. Phonics triumphs. Imagination withers.

‘Your stories are better than my teacher’s at school.’ I’ve reported that remark before. It’s  what a young boy in my extended family said to me a while back. He has continued to benefit from our storytelling together. But why doesn’t he get that kind of pleasure at school? Granted, it does take some preparation and a real sense of involvement to engage children in stories. But it’s not rocket science. See the look on their faces. Know when they’re getting into the story. Work on the evidence in front of your eyes. Use sound and action and interesting props. Most of all, love your story. And tell the story out of your own commitment to language and imagination and, most of all, to the people to whom you’re telling it.

The gains: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Cry from the heart

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

In the library this week, I picked a slim little volume called Search Party off the New Books shelves. ‘Wow,’ I thought when I opened it up and saw poems about poverty and homelessness, disadvantaged kids, aspiration and anger and love.

George the Poet

P09George the Poet is a young black British man. His parents came from Uganda. He succeeded in getting into Cambridge where he studied politics for six years. But he wasn’t happy with where that was leading. Now he is a rap poet. He has a strong and powerful voice and he’s using it to express what he feels needs expressing.

George the Poet’s poetry challenges all complacencies, for example about the way disadvantaged children fall behind in school. I hope he gets widely heard. He not only has the intelligence and the language to speak out in protest. He also has some spot-on ideas about how to change things.

School Blues

School Blues begins by clearly stating – with accompanying statistics – how children from disadvantaged backgrounds enter secondary school with lower literacy skills than their peers. The second verse begins like this:

It’s time to stage an intervention –
One that’s designed for engaging their attention. (more…)