School Name: Happy Valley Elementary
School District: SD#62 Sooke
Inquiry Team Members:Kristin Holland: firstname.lastname@example.org, Kelly Hancock: email@example.com, Jane Beswick: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing
Focus Addressed: Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? How could story workshop develop literacy skills in all early learners?
Scanning: We noticed that our Kindergarten children tell stories all the time, but they don’t often see these ‘tellings’ as stories, and stories worth recording. We wanted to honour their stories and find a way for them to see what they share as stories, and that they can be captured as such. As we had started to explore using materials in our K classes around literacy we noticed that our students who struggled to demonstrate early stages of self-regulation and sustained engagement in their learning, were more likely to stay engaged. We noticed that that when play ended and students were asked to ‘write’ their story, it wasn’t nearly as rich as the play and their talk.
Focus: We focused on using the structure of Story Workshop. We hoped this would support our students in becoming more invested in their stories so they would see a need to share it with others, beyond just oral storytelling. We hoped they would come to realize the purpose of writing, and see themselves as writers.
Hunch: We wondered if the size and format of the exercise books where we did ‘Journals’ was too confining and students were unsure how to show their story in one picture in this small book. We wondered if we offered larger pieces of paper would they feel less restricted. We also wondered if they perceived writing as ‘work’ as they moved from play to ‘writing’ with little connection between their play and their story.
New Professional Learning: We were curious about learning more about Story Workshop. We purchased “The Geography of Story Workshop” DVD and learning guide, and our team worked through this learning experience together.
We then participated in the “Reading the World” workshop at Opal School in Portland, Oregon. Our experience here was transformative and changed the way we think about literacy, agency, and democracy in our classrooms. We were opened up to the ‘why’ behind doing Story Workshop, not so much about the ‘how’ or worrying about the ‘right’ way. We would describe the ‘why’ behind Story Workshop as offering opportunity for all voices to be heard, and that children have agency when they create and capture their story. This leads to the stories becoming part of the classroom community. We realized it can look different in our classrooms but our intentions are grounded in similar beliefs and values about how children learn.
Taking Action: We used Story Workshop more frequently in our classes (2-3 times a week) but we slowed it down. We introduced materials more slowly and let students play with materials outside of story workshop structure so they became familiar with the materials and could use them as tools rather than be distracted by them. We also used materials that were more open-ended/flexible (ex using the peg dolls instead of actual figures of people).
We spent more time on developing the elements of story with the children. Students spent a week finding a character, and more time learning about and developing their character before they took them into a story.
We followed the steps of Story Workshop beginning with presenting a provocation at the beginning and guided the students to set an intention for the day (ex. how does your character solve problems).
We began using the term ‘capturing’ your story (instead of ‘writing’ your story). Students no longer responded ‘I don’t know how to write’. They were able to ‘capture’ their story by drawing, painting, through clay.
Students shared their story at the end, and teacher and peers give feedback to the writer. We briefly document these ideas so that students can be reminded of those at the start of the next Story Workshop time. This practice led to students adding more detail and their stories becoming more elaborate when they saw that others were interested in their stories.
Checking: We noticed that our students have lots of ideas for stories and they are more invested in their ideas. Their expectations of themselves as contributors has heightened and they want to bring stories forward. Most of our students are able to create and capture their stories, and understand what makes a story. Some are using their stories to work through and reflect on events in their own lives.
We learned that it wasn’t as much about the materials or the tools (ex. the exercise book) that inhibited the writing stage, it was more to do with them seeing a need to have something recorded to share. On the other hand, when we introduced new tools (ex. uniball pens, different writing papers, folders) there was a resurgence of their motivation.
Reflections/Advice: The differences that we noticed in our students as writers and author of their own stories was significant and very motivating for us. So much so, that we see how much more this structure of Story Workshop can do for our students. It made visible to us just how capable young children are, and how cognizant of their own learning they can be. It reinforced our image of the agentic child.
Next year we plan to start Story Workshop earlier in the year and with a focus, at first, on developing social-emotional learning and oral language skills.
Our advice to others would be to not focus as much on the ‘how’ of Story Workshop, but understand the ‘why’ behind it. We would encourage others who are interested to just start – just try it. There is no one right way. Go slow. Use open-ended materials. Go watch in another teacher’s class if you have the opportunity and you’ll find out it’s not as mysterious as you might have thought.