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Our Storytelling Conference 2013 – a Professional Development Programme for teachers, educators, parents and anyone who loves stories - turned out to be a fun and informative event!
Roger Jenkins, our keynote speaker, connected right from the start with the 100-plus audience who came not just from Hong Kong but Macau, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Guilin. His passion for storytelling was utterly contagious. The audience was dazzled by the many skills he displayed as well as by his stories which provided both food for thought and mirth.
In our media-driven age, children are used to changing an image with a click or a swipe. They have a very short attention span, and it is getting more difficult to capture their attention in the classroom. Images brought to them by technology no longer excite them. So what do we do? Roger believes it's time to go back to the basics. Storytelling, It's an art form that is becoming lost. But the truth is, everyone loves a good story, especially children.
Why should we tell stories in the classroom? Roger explained that it helps develop listening skills, comprehension skills, builds up vocabulary, models expressive communication, fosters a love of stories (both for reading and listening), develops story-making skills and can instill a sense of values from the traditional stories told. Telling stories instead of reading aloud allows the teller to have eye-contact with the listeners. Engaging students with stories in a language classroom can also help students pick up language skills along the way without realizing it. Roger and our four trainers, Jan Mann, Jenn Horgos, Lisa Tam and Lynne Kirk, are all advocates of using storytelling skills to excite children about learning in English. Using traditional stories is particularly effective because they are relatively short sequences and the values lessons learned from different cultures can be used universally to help shape a child's character. The audience was reminded how stories used to be passed on from generation to generation during times when there was more direct communication between people.
Roger gave three keynote sessions: Storytelling as a Strategy in Language Teaching, Storytelling in Values Education and Creating Stories. Throughout the three keynotes, Roger told many stories and sprinkled in many ideas for storytelling in the classroom to make learning the English language a happier experience for children of all ages. He also emphasized the importance of instilling a sense of good values in children at a young age through traditional stories, something that has slipped into second place in more recent times.
The participants had a great many chances to take part in creating stories in his highly interactive presentations as you can see in the accompanying photos. Many who believed that they were not storytellers and that they didn't know how to create stories came to realise otherwise. They were amused and amazed to learn that using simple objects and changing their functions using "5W + 1H" can already be a good start for a new story. It was indeed exciting to see the creativity that was brought out through the activities. Participants learned how to put "story" in their lesson plan step by step from Roger.
There were altogether six workshops offered by Roger and our four trainers, catering to the specific needs of teachers from kindergarten, primary and secondary.
In this workshop, Roger encouraged the participants to share stories in a surprising variety of ways – setting the story in Hong Kong 2013, telling as if to someone with little English; in the first person and (very popular and funny) telling without words! They didn't know storytelling could be so creative, spontaneous - and such fun! For the more reserved, he suggested using a story scarf/shawl or cap to give themselves permission to behave in a more confident, uninhibited manner. They also made an 8-picture storyboard of a folktale he shared using sign-language (They learnt the signs at the start and loved recognising them and called things out - King! Elephant! Wish! – whenever they spotted them in the story.)
Fourteen secondary school teachers attended this workshop which focused on how to relate storytelling to exam skills. Firstly, they marked out the pauses and stresses in the introduction of a story to see how they could teach these speaking techniques explicitly to second language learners. Next, they put together a story that had been cut into sections to highlight how transitions are used. They also reviewed the elements of an anecdote (orientation, event and conclusion) and related those to a number of text types that students must learn for reading and writing exams (diary writing, short stories or descriptive recounts). The best part was having teachers share some funny and touching personal stories to show how anecdotes could be used to respond to oral exam prompts. Hopefully, this small and enthusiastic bunch will spread the word and more secondary teachers will see how storytelling can be used to teach language.
Jan started off with a discussion on different types of accessible texts and how to introduce them to students with suggestions for strategies to enhance the reading experience for students - ideas such as:
- run a Bookweek every year;
- take your students to meet authors at the HK Literary Festival;
- encourage parents and younger students to attend Blooming Club events;
- have older students join Battle of the Books and share the experience with other schools;
- source specialist books with high-level interest stories with lower-level vocabulary more accessible for second-language learners etc.etc.
This workshop introduced some tools useful in classrooms for additional language work in a fun, creative way. There was a discussion of how these expensive items can be created simply and cheaply by students and thus enhance their experience as well as boost their use of language. Participants had fun with these; it was hard to get them to stop!
In Lynne's workshop, participants looked at how repetitive stories help strengthen a child's vocabulary and develop listening skills and imagination. They acted out the story of The Little Red Hen in the round and The Enormous Turnip singling 'children' out to be the characters.
Lynne then showed other ways of bringing stories to live using visual aids and props. There was the "Story Apron', body puppet show, story stones, story cards and masks. She then talked about how rhythm can help alongside the repetition and also using expansion and contraction in a ring-time. The group then joined in a ring-time where songs, ring games, finger plays were included.
It was clear that Lynne herself enjoyed giving the workshop and she was delighted to see so many people interested in the subject and committed to their work with young children.
Lisa started the workshop by introducing storytelling techniques, followed by delivering five short stories from Chinese idioms with the integration of techniques such as using storytelling voices, props, facial expressions, body movements, repetition and audience involvement. Then three participants were given three different short stories from Chinese idioms and each of them was asked to perform a story with some of the skills they felt comfortable to apply. Most participants performed a story in a fun and creative way and the message to those lacking confidence to perform is not to worry, anyone can improve with practice. Just keep on practicing!
On the second day of the Conference, having learnt the skills from Roger and the trainers, participants could just sit back and enjoy the last part of the Conference programme – the performance by Story Pilots (student storytellers from Law Ting Pong Secondary School), Roger and the trainers. To encourage everyone to tell stories, Christa Tam, Project Manager of Blooming Club and host of the Conference, told an impromptu short story from India, to set an example and to remind everyone that one doesn't have to be perfect or a professional storyteller like Roger to share stories. Conference participants were then divided into seven groups to listen to seven Story Pilots – Eden San, Moon Tang, Crystal Wong, Gigi Wong, Edwina Leung, Cheung Log G and Cassandra Ngai - telling stories they had learnt to share with Primary students in neighbouring schools with the aid of picture books. Their passion in storytelling and their service to the local community was a great inspiration for the teachers, educators and parents there. It would be wonderful if more schools could start up a Story Pilot programme to get children excited about stories!
The trainers then told their stories one by one and also joined Roger in telling the story of The Mango tree to demonstrate how a simple story can provide a great opportunity for student participation. The audience was fascinated. Roger wrapped up the conference with a story about a storyteller from Kazakhstan. This is how it goes:
It was the seventh day.
God had finished making the world and at last he could rest - when he realized he had forgotten something. He had forgotten to give human beings brains. So he took a jug, filled it with brains, called the Angel Gabriel and said, "Go and give human beings brains!"
Gabriel flew down to Earth and saw people everywhere. There were so many people but there was only one jug. There were not enough brains to go round. So Gabriel gave each person a drop. Then he flew back to Heaven with the empty jug.
When God looked down on creation, he saw that people were very unhappy. They were arguing and fighting. There was hunger, poverty and tears. People did not understand how to live together at all.
"Oh dear," said God, "human beings have only got a quarter of a brain each. I'd better make someone with a whole brain who can sort them all out"
So God made one more person and filled that brain right up to the top. He filled the brain with stories, songs, poems and sparkling words. And he sent the Storyteller down to Earth to tell stories and sing songs, to tell and sing wisdom back into foolish human beings.
Isn't it wonderful? Don't you want to try to tell this story? Don't you want to experience the power of storytelling?
These two days have been truly amazing! Roger, Jan, Jenn, Lynne and Lisa did not just show how they brought stories to life but they brought out the storyteller in everyone! The journeys that they took us on were magical. The wisdom in the stories from various cultures will remain with us for a long time.
We are grateful for our keynote speaker and trainers for their expertise and their insight. Our participants are now equipped with some skills to enliven their classrooms. As promised in the introduction to our programme - your classrooms will never be the same with storytelling.
We would like to thank everyone who has helped make this Conference a success. Without the tremendous support from Law Ting Pong Secondary School and the Native English Speaking Teachers Association, and the sponsorship from Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin, Scholastic and Usborne we would be unable to organize this not-for-profit event.
We are very pleased that this Conference has provided a forum for teachers, educators, parents and anyone who believes in this traditional art form to connect with each other, to share stories, to tell stories and to show how wonderful it is to communicate directly using the spoken word.
We have just created a "Storytelling Conference 2013" group in Facebook to help you get connected. It will be a great forum to share stories and storytelling experiences. Please add Blooming Club as your Facebook friend so that Alva can invite you to join the Storytelling Conference 2013 group.
Blooming Club Facebook account: https://www.facebook.com/blooming.club.