Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Storytelling in Education’ Category

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…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Proof of power

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

What makes children sit up and listen?

What makes children remember what they’re told?

What makes children respond and comment without being obliged to do so?

Well, storytelling does. The trouble is, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know the truth of that. It’s how to spread the awareness that is the problem.

All day this last Wednesday came evidence of how children can listen and be gripped. The supply of questions and comments was fulsome and never chaotic (evidence of a good school, I’d say). But the most extraordinary thing was how, all day, children were remembering stories I’d told them before. From Reception to Year 6, there was enormous keenness not just to identify what stories they’d heard but exactly what happened in them.  They also remembered my props. And it wasn’t just one or two children that were doing this, just about all of the children were bursting to say what they remembered.  Only the Nursery children didn’t – but then, they were new to the school.

The school was St Stephen’s in Shepherd’s Bush. I’d been there three times before. In the course of this week’s visit, one girl in one session put her hand up looking troubled. ‘I can’t remember these stories,’ she said. It obviously really bothered her that she didn’t, as if she was feeling really hurt that she’d missed out on something everyone else had experienced. We thought perhaps she’d been off school when I’d come before and she seemed content with that thought. But seeing her face, I realised the power of a communal event in which everybody can share and experience enjoyment. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ ‘Come on, lads’

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Playfulness is realising how stories can dance as they start to whirl between us, inviting us to join the fun and giving us energy and things to remember.IMAG3051

I recall how, at my secondary school, the very proper senior mistress who organised and led our folk dancing sessions would start getting pink in the face, especially as we did The Tennessee Wig Walk, strands of hair coming loose from her hair-gripped bun as she got the naughtiest boys to  partner her  in the dance. How her foot would start to tap, her hips to sway, her face begin to melt in laughter.

 This week, still down in Pembrokeshire after the New Year, I heard one of the funniest stories ever from our great friend, Eddie. ‘All true, of course, every word of it,’ he said as his story began to dance.

Eddie’s story:

Eddie’s story happened during the days when he and his friend Graham were in the business of catching crabs in the sea off Lower Town, Fishguard. They’d load up the crabs they caught and then take them to sell in the fish market down in Milford.

 On this particular occasion, Eddie and Graham had got a bumper catch, lots more crabs than normal, in fact enough to fill ten whole tea-chests. So they got them into the chests, covered each chest with netting to keep the crabs inside, loaded the chests onto their pick-up and set off on the road to Milford. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Pure pleasure

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

‘Pleasure is a really profound form of attention.’ This thought-provoking remark was made this last Thursday in a lecture by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Award-winning children’s book author, co-creator of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, Professor of Reading at Liverpool Hope University, he was delivering this year’s Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture.

Magic door croppedWide-ranging and enormously funny, Frank’s lecture –  Homerton College, Cambridge was the venue – focussed on what can happen when we listen to something being read to us. How it draws us in. How it makes us expectant. How a reason it can affect us so much is that it doesn’t oblige us to do anything else. It doesn’t require us to speak or answer or write – nothing at all except take it in. As Frank said, it’s a profound form of attention, and that can be a most profound pleasure.

And what can ruin it? Make us freeze up or only partly respond? As the audience to the lecture was offered a list of what can only be described as enemies to real attention, we all sighed in recognition. Being told in advance that we’d be asked questions about what we’ve heard? Dreading that we’d be expected to write something creative in immediate response? Or even not being given enough of the reading in the first place?

One great effect of Frank’s lecture for me – and it was full of told stories, his own personal stories about his grandmother and her room full of ticking clocks, his grandfather who was born with a caul round his head, the children and the youths that he’s met – was that it made me feel the deep kinship between what he described as the effects of reading and what I know as the effects of storytelling. They are so much the same: it’s the enormous power of story (good story) to move, awaken and deeply educate.

Enough said. Except it does have to be said again and again, more clearly and in ever more places where, especially in education today, there is so little recognition of its truth. How many times have teachers said to me, ‘We don’t have time for stories in our school’? How many times have parents said, ‘I’d forgotten about all this kind of thing’? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Good things

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Hooray!!! Now you can subscribe to my Blog. See below for what to do. What a pleasure this facility has now been sorted – all thanks to the ever-helpful Tim Howe. Comment, Warwick, Poems, Subscription – it’s been a week of good things.

Comment

Little Bear crop 2A comment from a reader always feels good to get. Jo had been enjoying my recent series on Getting Participation. She loves creating stories with children. She describes sitting with a piece of material and allowing the children to choose any object around the room. ‘We decide where we are, the material for example could be blue and shiny, maybe we are at the bottom of the deep dark blue sea. Each child takes a turn describing what their object may be: a cotton reel becomes a pirate ship, the pencil is the mast, the ship has sunk, the button becomes the treasure …’ And so, as Jo points out, they end up with their own story.

Warwick

On Wednesday evening, a hearteningly warm and engaged response came from the students on Hilary Minns’ excellent Storytelling Module at Warwick University. I’ve been going as guest storyteller to Hilary’s course for about ten years now. The students are all studying child development for a Foundation Degree. One of the stories I did with them was Little Bear on the Long Road. (The prop I always use for this story is on the right in a painting I made of him when I was in hospital four years ago.) On this visit, it was brilliant to meet the person responsible for setting up a similar course at Telford who had come along for the session.  I believe, and have always said so, that such courses should be available nation-wide. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Engaging

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

 

It’s arrived. Storytelling for a Greener World is an important new book about how to engage people in our natural environment through stories and storytelling. The official launch date is April 11th and the foreword is by Jonathon Porritt of Friends of the Earth. The inspiration came from Alida Gersie and a wide range of storytellers provide the contents. The essay I feel privileged to have contributed is on the effects on teachers and children of working with a Pembrokeshire legend about the Preseli hills.

Storytelling for a Greener World is meticulously designed to provide a really helpful, inspiring resource. For details for buying it, see below.

My key word:

The key word for me is engagement. I increasingly realise it’s why I do what I do. Again on Wednesday, I felt its impact when spending the day at St Stephen’s Primary School in Shepherds Bush. The children remembered. They remembered me, they remembered my stories. I’d been there last year in their Arts Week. I’d gone there again a few weeks ago on their special day for celebrating stories. Now on Wednesday, their wish to let me know that they remembered came out strongly in all the groups, none of them more than the youngest. The little red monkey, Matty Treweller, Nokomis of the great rain … characters and themes from stories they’d previously heard from me were called out with great joy as each session began. It felt like the children were keen for me to realise that we’d already established a common bond through participating together in the world of story.

Where there’s been one story, there’s always another. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Hail Mighty Sea

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

What objects can be used to introduce and accompany storytelling? The question arrived in my Inbox this week in an email from a woman from Brazil who has newly come across storytelling and fallen in love with it. She already uses her guitar. But what else might she  employ? She’d found my website on the net and wanted to know of any books that could help.

The Magic of Objects was the theme of a series in this Blog on each Saturday of October 2011. Look them up, it’s a theme that’s close to my heart. My sea-tray … fans … colour cloths … magic music … such objects have given me enormous use in such wide-ranging circumstances. They have also observeably brought enormous pleasure to audiences of adults and children. In this week of wind and storms I have thought in particular about my sea-tray.

Hail Mighty Sea

I was first reminded of my sea-tray at the start of the week. Down on the sea-wall at Abereiddi beach, one of our Pembrokeshire favourites, words written out in pebbles declaimed the stirring message: Hail Mighty Sea.

On Abermawr beach the following day, a young boy on the pebbles was looking out to sea, arm raised in a great gesture of greeting as the incoming waves swirled over his Wellington boots. When I passed him soon after as he left the beach with his sister who’d done the same after him, they and their father looked completely delighted. The children were sopping wet but they’d had a unique experience(quite safely I might add). They’d hailed the sea in all its grandeur.

Both incidents in turn put me in mind of the Birmingham children who came on an exchange visit to the Cardiganshire coast in the art and storytelling project, On The Train, that was organised a few years ago now by artist Catrin Webster. The visiting children had whooped with delight when they caught their first sight of the sea (most of them had never seen it before) and had run pell-mell towards it and, in the case of some of them, right into it.

The sea is a fundamental experience. We should all be able to have that experience if we possibly can. If only! In the Guardian recently, George Monbiot, whose book Feral came out earlier this year, strongly urged the point that a week in the country is worth three months in the classroom. In his Guardian article he recommended that every class in every urban school should regularly be taken to spend time in the country. If only! The idea, alas, feels as unachievable in our present world as my profound wish that every class should hear (and be able to talk about) a told story once a week at the very least in every week of their school year.

Impossible? At least through stories we could give all children, older and younger, an experience of discovery and a sense of magic and awe.

The sea-tray

That’s where my sea-tray comes in. It produces the best sea-sound I’ve ever heard away from the sea itself. It can either introduce a storytelling session or a particular story. Or it can be employed in the course of a story. Use it and you take people on a real journey of the senses and the imagination.

Practical reminder:

My own sea-tray comes from a junk shop in New Zealand. It possibly originated in the South Sea Islands as a device for carrying fruit. I know similar trays are found across Asia and Africa where they are generally used for sifting rice or lentils.

To provide yourself with your own sea-tray, seek out a smooth or rough round wooden tray or perhaps a bodhran which is a type of wide Irish drum. Empty onto it a bagful of very small stones you’ve specially collected for the purpose or alternatively a bagful of beans. Swish these round in a rhythmic way, imitating the rhythms and pauses in the sound of the waves and – hey presto! – you could at once feel you were standing on the shore. Just like that delighted boy this week! (more…)