Monthly Archives: November 2012

Using Story Theatre for Literacy and for Fun

Reading and acting out Stoned Soup

Once upon a time, I was supposed to get standing ovations on the Broadway stage.  That was my childhood ambition and I’ve gotten more laughs from my friends who stayed in the performing arts when they found out that I became a librarian.  Well, I may not be on Entertainment Tonight, and I may not be raking in a StevenSpielberg salary, but I get instant gratification, by making kids whoop and laugh at a funny book and then, by getting them out of their chairs and acting out stories.

When we use our imaginations, we become somewhat like super heroes; we can make wonderful things happen.  I have had the privilege of reading Oliver Jeffers new book, Stuck, to about seven classes so far.  Where time has permitted, I then had them get up and act out the story.  There are only a few human characters…but then, there’s a tree, a cat, a duck, an orangutan, a kitchen sink, a whale…you get the picture.  The kids were asked to become them.

What made this even more fun was getting the students to make the sounds of their characters, and then making those sounds in the order in which the characters got stuck.  One very imaginative boy with a possible future in stand-up comedy insisted on being the kite that was stuck in the tree who made comments about how ridiculous the whole situation was.  He had the teacher and me in stitches.

I have to write up these experiences for my library newsletter and I’m probably jumping the gun by putting this into the blog, but I can’t emphasize how important this kind of literacy and performance art activity is.  When you have children growing up in an Internet culture, what happens to stories?  What happens to books whether they’re printed or digital? Can we make readers out of this technology driven world?  First of all, when you’re online, you are reading, pure and simple.  Maybe reading responses to your Facebook page is not what educators would call reading, but…we are reading after all.  I think that this may be a motivation for kids to read.

Now when we show kids that reading is pleasurable, we are creating positive associations.  By drawing on the imagination to act out stories without props or costumes, we are asking kids to do creative problem solving.  The fact is that creativity is becoming a skill that is more and more in demand.  Not all education is easy or fun.  I’m not even convinced that it should be, but this is!  Acting out a well written story is fun, and if a child is not inclined to do this, then watching other children do it can be fun too.  Taking the time to do this with a class is definitely not wasted time.

Literacy skills are intrinsically linked with academic success, so if we want to get children to be readers, there has to be a fun component to it.  Giving students access to books that they will like is key, getting them to model expressive reading by being hammy ourselves is also essential.  It’s a good idea to pick books that have some repetition and not too much text on the page for the first few forays into Story Theatre.

So even though I’m not on the Great White Way, I bring a little bit of it with me to every school that I go to, and I am continually surprised by the imaginative ways that elementary school students find to make stories come alive.

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National Novel Writing Contest-Fighting the It’s-All-Been-Done Syndrome

I suppose there must be thousands of librarians with a book in a drawer.  Librarians are naturals as would-be authors, but there’s a real downside to melding these two careers.  We librarians see thousands of plot-lines in a career; we know, I am convinced that we librarians know, more than anybody, IT’S ALL BEEN DONE!  How can any reasonably cynical person who has cataloged thousands of books and written summaries for thousands of books supposed to come up with a fresh new idea?

Faith is the answer, faith in the uniqueness of your own voice to take an old subject and bring something new to the table. As a writer and a librarian, I am used to the monsters, goblins, devils and other assorted meanies that live in my head and tell me that I am just not up to it.  Psychologists call it self-esteem.  I go through fluctuations of ego where I think that I am the greatest thing since sliced bread…why, sliced bread? Surely, the cure for polio was a greater thing than sliced bread.  Frankly, I’d rather cut up my bread than have polio, wouldn’t you?  (Apparently, focus is another one of my problems, let’s walk out of this tangent together).

More often, particularly when I read the blogs of other librarians, I undergo a crisis, a crise-de-self-esteem.  I am astounded by the technological know-how of my fellow librarians and the variety of projects that other librarians do. I am also overwhelmed at how much they advocate for students and advocate for the future of libraries and librarians/media specialists/information specialists.  Whatever you want to call us, we are the people who are able to use media in a variety of formats to make information accessible, to promote literacy, and in schools, to get kids to read and to love what they read.  Anyone who has the old image of the mean librarian with a bun and glasses (okay, most of us DO wear glasses) has not been to the libraries of so many professionals that I have either met or read about online.  These are happy and exciting places where humans of all ages come together to learn and to share what they learn.  I don’t want to be snobby but the only libraries where children fear librarians are those places run by people who call themselves librarians but have no training, and even these unfortunate personality types are few and far between.  In my present job, I’ve been to school libraries that are run by non-professionals and though I may find the cataloging and organization of the library creative – to say the least – the important thing is that kids are taking out books and smiling as they do it. We librarians can bring much to these school libraries and the collaboration can be very rewarding.

So with all this on the go, why participate in Nano-wri?  The whole point is to prove that with persistence, you can bring an idea to fruition.  This project is all about quantity not quality.  It’s a sneaky way to shut up the meanies in your head who tell you that you can’t write because you can write as badly as you want to for Nano-wri.  The goal is to produce 50,000 words, not a masterpiece.  If a writer’s block monster starts whispering in my ear, I can make fun of him, I can quote him, I can make him a character in the story.

Frankly, 30,000 words would have been an easier goal for me, but that’s not the deal.  So, to anybody who reads this blog, cheer me on.  This means less TV, less quality time with my husband and still more time on the computer. A little voice in my head says that I’d be lucky if I get 30,000, but hey, I’ve just written 657 words.  Maybe one of my characters can be a librarian who takes the challenge and writes this.  Be quiet, monster, it’s not cheating!

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