09_Research_Roundup

Paley’s Practice: Storytelling, Story Acting, and Early Learning

Author photo: Lisa M. Sensale YazdianAuthor photo: Betsy Diamant-CohenLisa M. Sensale Yazdian, PhD, is an educational psychologist who has been working in public libraries since 2007. She currently oversees youth outreach services at Boone County Public Library in northern Kentucky. Betsy Diamant-Cohen is a children’s librarian with a doctorate, an early literacy trainer, consultant, and author. In addition to translating research into practical information for children’s librarians and co-authoring this column, she is now busy designing curricula, offering online courses, and presenting webinars to children’s librarians near and far.

In the early years, children’s librarians traditionally lit a candle at the beginning of each storytime. The altered atmosphere helped transport children mentally to a land of stories. The candle was blown out at the end of the session, bringing them back to the library. Although this tradition has not endured (due perhaps to the invention of smoke alarms), storytelling remains an effective tool that can be used by librarians.

Storytelling is powerful, not only for the listener but for the teller as well. “When a child tells a story, he not only means something, feels something, refers to an event; most important, he DOES something.”1 They may be sharing part of their life and identity, attempting to make someone laugh, or trying to make sense of an experience. Storytelling invokes creativity and imagination and helps children work through social, emotional, and cognitive challenges. Coupled with story acting and writing, it supports multiple early childhood domains and skills.

Here we share information about the storytelling practice pioneered by the late preschool teacher/researcher Vivian Paley.

Storytelling and Story Acting

Paley is credited for creating a formal program that uses both dictation and dramatization systematically in storytelling (ST) and story acting (SA),2 where children individually dictate stories that are written down by an adult. They then gather around a designated “stage” to act out their tales.

First-hand accounts of this practice can be found in some of Paley’s books, Wally’s Stories: Conversations in Kindergarten,3 The Girl with the Brown Crayon: How Children Use Stories to Shape their Lives,4 and The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter.5 Although these practices are not commonly used today, they are valuable tools children’s librarians should consider using, and they provide new ways for emphasizing the early literacy building tools of Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR).

Storytelling (Dictation)

Dictation can take place one-on-one or in front of a group. Stories are limited to one page and as children share, the adult provides gentle scaffolding by offering prompts or asking clarifying questions.6 See how an adult helps a child articulate her story in the Boston Listens program https://www.bpsearlylearning.org/storytelling/dictation.

Story Acting (Dramatization)

During the dramatization phase, the story’s author and the remainder of the children are called to assemble around the stage. The story’s author chooses the part they would like to play and the remaining actors can be chosen from a class list or from the order in which they are seated. Children may not act a second time until everyone has had a turn and children can decline to participate. The adult reads the story as the children play their parts and may offer some direction. See how dramatization is facilitated in Boston Listens https://www.bpsearlylearning.org/storytelling/dramatization.

Readers can find more information on ST/SA and its impact in The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley,7 Storytelling in Early Chil dhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture,8 and the article, “Vivian Paley’s Storytelling. Story Acting Comes to the Boston Public Schools.”9

Benefits of ST/SA

Language and Literacy Skills

  • Vocabulary. It is widely accepted that reading aloud to children supports vocabulary development.10 It has also been shown that children who have their oral language written down or participate in storytelling/story acting (ST/SA) experience vocabulary gains and it allows participants to experience new vocabulary in authentic ways.11
  • Narrative Structure. Narrative skills are a significant predictor of reading ability and ST/SA can promote these skills.12 Children learn how stories work, what they are composed of, sequencing, character and plot development, and about the writing process.13 The research suggests “ST/SA provides a bridge between the contextualized speech of young children and the decontextualized language of books and writing.”14
  • Print and Phonological Awareness. ST/SA supports children’s awareness of written language.15 As children share their stories, they watch as the adult scribes, moving left-to-right and top-to-bottom, leaving spaces between words, and adding necessary punctuation. They learn print has a purpose. Also, as children’s stories are written, they have opportunities to learn about letter-sound connections and spelling.

Social and Emotional Development

  • Community Building. An ST/SA framework creates diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces for learning. All children are invited to express themselves and all levels of participation are welcome (e.g., single words, gestures), which contributes to their overall sense of worth.16 The children and teacher together shape the rules and stories that impact individuals and the larger learning community.17
  • Self-esteem. ST/SA operates from a strengths-based perspective. All input is valued and as children become more comfortable with ST/SA they are more willing to participate.18
  • Self-regulation. The ability to self-regulate or inhibit an automatic response until a situation has been processed, is critical to school and life success.19 In ST/SA children practice sitting quietly, taking turns, and following rules so all community members can effectively participate.

Creativity

Adele Diamond notes, “The essence of creativity is to be able to disassemble and recombine elements in new ways.”20 As groups of children generate and dramatize their stories, it is not uncommon for them to recycle or remix themes and elements that may have appeared in other texts and performances to create something new.21 It has also been shown that children who participate in ST/SA author their own imaginative texts with distinct themes.22

Motivation

Children, in general, enjoy engaging in pretend play and like telling stories. When they are given the opportunity to act out their own stories with friends and perform in front of an audience, they may be motived to compose more.23 Likewise, many are keen on producing stories that will be popular with their peers.24 &

References

  1. Susan Engel, “What Storytelling Can Do,” in “Storytelling in the First Three Years,” Zero to Three, April 18, 2016, https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1057-storytelling-in-the-first-three-years.
  2. Patricia Cooper, The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
  3. Vivian Paley, Wally’s Stories: Conversations in Kindergarten (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).
  4. Vivian Paley, The Girl with the Brown Crayon: How Children Use Stories to Shape their Lives (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).
  5. Vivian Paley, The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).
  6. Ben Mardell, Marina Boni, and Jason Sachs, “Vivian Paley’s Storytelling. Story Acting Comes to the Boston Public Schools,” in Spotlight on Young Children: Exploring Language and Literacy, ed. Amy Shillady (Washington, DC: NAEYC, 2014), 41–50.
  7. Patricia Cooper, The Classrooms All Young Children Need.
  8. Teresa Cremin et al., eds. Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture (NY: Routledge, 2016).
  9. Mardell, Boni, and Sachs, “Vivian Paley’s Storytelling.”
  10. Isabel L. Beck and Margaret G. McKeown, “Text Talks: Capturing the Benefits of Read-aloud Experiences for Young Children,” The Reading Teacher no. 55 (2001): 10–20; Lesley Mandel Morrow, Developing Literacy in Preschool (New York: Guildford Press, 2007).
  11. Allyssa McCabe et al., “Improving Oral Language Skills in Preschool Children from Disadvantaged Backgrounds: Remembering, Writing, Reading (RWR),” Imagination, Cognition & Personality 29, no. 4 (2009): 363–91; Patricia Cooper et al., “One Authentic Early Literacy Practice and Three Standardized Tests: Can a Storytelling Curriculum Measure Up?,” Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education 28, no. 3 (2007): 251–75; Mardell et al., “Vivian Paley’s Storytelling.”
  12. David K. Dickinson and Patton Tabors, eds. Beginning Literacy with Language: Young Children Learning at Home and at School (Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes, 2001); Ageliki Nicolopoulou, “Promoting Oral Narrative Skills in Low Income Preschoolers through Storytelling and Story Acting,” in Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture, ed. Teresa Cremin et al. (NY: Routledge, 2017), 49–66.
  13. Cooper, The Classrooms All Young Children Need.
  14. Mardell et al., “Vivian Paley’s Storytelling.”
  15. Teresa Cremin, “Apprentice Story Writers: Exploring Young Children’s Print Awareness and Agency in Early Story Authoring,” in Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture, ed. Teresa Cremin et al. (NY: Routledge, 2017), 67–84.
  16. Rosie Flewitt, “Equity and Diversity through Story: A Multimodal Perspective,” in Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture, ed. Teresa Cremin et al. (NY: Routledge, 2017), 150–68.
  17. Ben Mardell and Natalia Kucirkova, “Promoting Democratic Classroom Communities through Storytelling and Story Acting,” in Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture, ed. Teresa Cremin et al. (NY: Routledge, 2017), 169–85.
  18. Teresa Cremin, Joan Swann, Rosie Flewitt, Dorothy Faulkner, and Natalia Kucirkova, Evaluation Report of MakeBelieve Arts Helicopter Technique of Storytelling and Story Acting (London: MakeBelieve Arts, 2013), http://oro.open.ac.uk/38391/1/MBA%20Final%20Report%20.pdf.
  19. Ellen Galinsky, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs (New York: Harper, 2010).
  20. Galinsky, Mind in the Making, 182.
  21. Dorothy Faulker, “Young Children as Storytellers: Collective Meaning Making and Sociocultural Transmission,” in Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture, ed. Teresa Cremin et al., (NY: Routledge, 2017), 85–100; Joan Swann, “Stories in Interaction: Creative Collaborations in Storytelling and Story Acting,” in Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching Language, Literacy and Classroom Culture, ed. Teresa Cremin et al. (NY: Routledge, 2017), 101–18.
  22. Cremin et al., Evaluation Report.
  23. Nicolopoulou, “Promoting Oral Narrative Skills.”
  24. Faulker, “Young Children as Storytellers.”

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