Reflections on storytelling (part 2)

On Tuesday, I posted the first half of my reflections on using storytelling in the classroom. I documented my success, but there are still some things about storytelling that give me pause.

Stuff to work on!

1) I learned very quickly that my original intent of two stories per week at the Spanish 1 and 2 levels was not going to work for my kiddos. Even if the two stories were very similar, it was just story overload for them. This also upset my mode balance – I was doing all interpretive, all the time, and their output skills suffered. After Christmas, I cut back to one story per week. If I do a story on two days, then I do different activities with the same story for more reps.

2) Another big issue with story overload is that I was doing the same activities every single time. After a well-meaning whine from a student, I decided to do something about it rather than getting mad. After all, my students are people-in-progress and what my student was REALLY trying to say was ‘Miss Johnson, we do the same things all the time and I would like to learn in a different way.’ So in addition to cutting down the number of stories we did, I remembered to add in different ways of getting reps besides tell story – ask questions – choral response – timed write. They really enjoy drawing, and it gives them confidence when I ask them to do a retell in Spanish. Sometimes we act the stories out. Sometimes we work in pairs, sometimes in larger groups. However, it’s important to also mix up the new activities as well, or I end up with the same problem all over again!

3) Maybe this is a personal teaching failure, but I really do not like doing verbal stories. I have a hard time keeping a grip on not losing the story while handling classroom management at the same time. I figure it’s okay to do mostly written stories (or if I do a verbal story, the kids HAVE to have something to do like draw it) since I use videos, music, and other sources of audio input. And I almost always read the story to the students anyhow for that dual channel learning.

4) Sheltering vocabulary is hard. Really hard. In my first post, I implored to you not underestimate your students. When it comes to sheltering vocabulary, you also cannot overestimate your students. They can only learn so much at one time. But I struggle with how much they don’t know yet – I want them to learn so much stuff so they can love Spanish the way I do! If I only do one story a week, that means I’m really only focusing on 3-5 new structures per week. I have to fight the tendency to give them 20 new words per story. One way I combat this is by introducing an extra ‘flavor’ phrase into a story (this week in Spanish 1 it was ‘se ríe’ and in Spanish 2, it was ‘estaba preocupado’) and recycle that through a few stories. So rather than hitting an intense practice of it for one week, it just kinda keeps showing up over and over and eventually will get acquired. I hope.

5) I need to use ClassDojo more consistently, and next year, with my Spanish 2s. I made the mistake, of course, of believing that my sophomores had matured enough to not need some sort of accountability system to participate. One of my classes is. The other class is not. My Spanish 1s absolutely need it to stay on track, and they enjoy trying to beat their participation record from the week before. Because I am not above bribery, if we hit our goal for 3 weeks in a row, then the 4th week we get a free day. I figure the good work I get out of them on the 3 story days makes up for it, rather than mediocre-to-terrible work for 4.

6) I need to do timed writes more consistently. I didn’t end up using them for an assessment grade (just their daily participation points) but either way, my students really need regular practice to keep up their writing skills. It’s also hard to judge when it’s appropriate to start going from writing-for-practice to writing-with-accuracy. I’m still working on figuring out that line.

7) My students totally rock the yo, tú, and especially él/ella forms. Nosotros and ustedes/ellos… eeeeeh. They can recognize them, but I’ve done a pretty awful job of getting reps in with those two particular forms. That’s a personal problem, though, that I can easily fix.

Final thoughts

Overall, I am digging the storytelling technique and I am glad I switched. My students are able to handle almost anything I put in front of them. I am always amazed that I can hand all but my novice-mids a page-length story and they are able to read it with ease. It’s also making the transition to more authentic resources much easier. Since we know so many of the little words and are much better at using our context clues to understand passages, my older students are now tackling things like reading TPRS novels without hesitation or complaint. It’s a really great position to be in. There are still some tweaks to be made, but I would encourage anyone who is wondering if they should take the plunge to do it. (At this point, I would probably wait until next year because student resistence to change can be very unpleasant to manage.) I am very excited to see what my program looks like in 2 years when my students have had 4 years of storytelling-transitioning-to-full-authres under their belts.

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6 thoughts on “Reflections on storytelling (part 2)

  1. Thank you thank you for these past 2 posts. They give such insight to someone like me – who is venturing more into story-telling this year. Your willingness to share the ups (and downs) has been immensely helpful! I may need to buy you a virtual coffee to pick your brain a bit more on this! Gracias!

    • You know that I’m always happy to explain the methods behind my madness! I’m not an expert by any means but I think my newish status to storytelling also helps other teachers see the potential pitfalls. I love the other TPRS masters as much as anyone else, but they’ve got the kinks worked out of their system which isn’t as helpful for advising other teachers on issues that might crop up with the storytelling. It’s been well worth it though, in what my students can do. It’s frustrating sometimes that they have a significantly smaller vocabulary, especially with verbs, BUT they are far more familiar with that vocabulary and can utilize it much more quickly and accurately. I don’t get as much garbled google translate stuff anymore. So it’s a trade-off.

      • I am really enjoying your blog! Can’t wait to hear more! I have NO idea on how to do story telling and although I think it works, I feel silly when I see myself acting out the things I have seen other teachers do on story telling videos lol. I am really going to buckle down this summer and give this a go with my summer students and see if any of it works .. wish me luck! Well I have no idea how to start so I guess .. Ill keep reading for now!

  2. After 30 years of teaching in a rather traditional way, I have also ventured into storytelling this year with level one French and Spanish. Thanks to great bloggers like yourself that I follow, I feel that the change has been successful. (I was just remarking as well last week that my first years say: “Le dice a su mamá” without batting an eyelash!) I don’t use stories all the time and perhaps vocabulary is not as extensive as in the past, but as least in regard to speaking, the proficiency is definitely higher. I need to work more on timed writing. Good luck to you as you begin novels next year.

    • I am glad that storytelling is working for you! I definitely agree that there is a balance to be found between storytelling vs. other methods, and how much to focus on certain verbs. There are some people I find that do 100% storytelling, and their kids can write really amazing things and even switch tenses… but can only use 10 verbs and a very small set of nouns. I’d rather trade a bit of perfection for more utility, but we all have to decide what’s right for us!

  3. Pingback: Carol Gaab TCI presentation thoughts | Making Good Mistakes

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