At a gathering last night, the three teachers in attendance ended up together. High-school foreign language, kindergarten language immersion, and middle school ESL teachers don’t regularly get the chance to talk, and if they do, the subject isn’t usually storytelling, so I was amazed to hear that we were all on the same page–as were they. We discussed reading and language acquisition research we’d read lately, and the kindergarten teacher said that it all comes back to compelling information in a personalized context. She also commented that while today’s storybooks have gorgeous artwork, often they’re missing aspects of storytelling construction, so kids can’t retell the stories. Even in the ever more rare cases that her students come from families where reading is key, they are not coming with stories in their heads. She and her partner teacher have returned to teaching children’s rhymes that tell stories (like Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock) and fairy tales, because they give children a structure on which to build their own narratives. I realized I could use nursery rhymes (from either the target language or the ones my students may know from childhood) as a basis for occasional stories. “There was a ___. He fell off a ___ because he was very ___.”
We’ve all had the experience of spending time on activities that turn out to have no teaching purpose. In many cases, after we’ve given a new idea a road test, we find that it’s not leading anywhere (sometimes it’s the old ideas that we’re hanging onto because they’re what we’ve always done). We need to do what’s right in our classrooms: unapologetically concentrate on what gives kids the ability to communicate.