Li’l Stories — from the Teacher’s Perspective
I’ve been teaching the different modules of the Li’l Stories Labs over the past year, and have discovered our 1-week Labs to be the most effective. Over the course of one week, I get to know the students and develop a rapport with them that builds on what we’ve done the day before. I also think that it is easier for the the students as well to connect the content of the different days when it’s consecutive as opposed to weekly. That said, it’s really a pleasure to teach the different labs and interact with the various grade levels as it shows the flexibility and range of the storyboarding process when it comes to its educational application.
What entices me most to develop curriculum for Li’l Stories is the value that it places on the storyboarding and nurturing the drawing skills of students. Previously a classroom teacher, I noticed the lack of drawing and visual arts in the curriculum, especially as students get older. The Li’l Stories framework puts value in the visual arts and validates the drawing process as an important part in idea generation and writing process. Early childhood educators recognize drawing as part of the development of pre-writing skills, but formal school curriculum inside the classroom leaves little room for furthering that skill once students learn how to write. In addition, Li’l Stories puts emphasis on collaboration and partner work when it comes to creating stories. I think that this is a unique feature in the method, as the writing process for many students is very much an individual endeavor.
The drawing and the collaboration components are two of my favorite parts in the process because it really inspires the creativity in the students. Even in labs with Kindergartners, I find that meaningful stories can be created and shared by the students when not burdened with having to write the actual words. During our Animal Stories Lab in a Kindergarten class, students came up with stories that incorporated facts they learned about their specific animal character. One of the more memorable stories from the lab for me was the monkey baby in the forest who gets lost; then meets a baby tiger that becomes his friend; so they go back home together and have a sleepover.
This story in particular captured me because the two authors were the quietest girls in the bunch. However, their drawings were so detailed and their oral share so structured that I never would have gotten insight into their thoughts had they not been provided this storyboarding platform to share — because they were normally too shy to raise their hand in the whole group. As I observed them work and saw them negotiate the characters and story flow, then draw the details inside the various boxes, I became curious to hear their story. Their confidence to share also grew as they went through the process of drawing and recording their stories before presenting to the whole group. By the end of the lab, the girls were smiling and asked me if they were going to get to write another story the following day.
Experiences like the one in the Kindergarten class are also echoed in the elementary grades. Students love to tell stories, and their enthusiasm to share only grows when their creativity is piqued. In a slightly older class of Grade 2/3, we did another lab with creating original pourquoi tales. This lab had its challenges because the students were accustomed to making individual stories and partnerships had to negotiate even more which elements to include in their storyboards. It became a learning process to figure out how to encourage the input of both members in the partnership during the story creation, but ultimately, better stories were created because each partnership had to consider each other’s wants. In particular, I reflect back on one partnership that really struggled to develop a story because one student wanted to have a whale and the other wanted to have a skunk. As both of these animals did not live in the same habitat, there was a long discussion on where the story would take place and in what scenario would these two animals ever interact.
Ultimately, the two students decided that skunk originally had wings, then lost it while flying over the ocean with his friend otter on his back, and whale saved them from drowning. I really enjoyed seeing this outcome from the students because I observed them as they struggled through about 15 minutes of back and forth before coming up with a solution. Through their conversation, they naturally discovered a productive way to resolve their needs that inspired both their creativity. Problem solving and conflict resolution are necessary skills that are crucial in the elementary classroom but are hard to enforce. Through their given tasks in the lab, students are inherently practicing these skills in a creative and meaningful context.
As an educator and curriculum developer, I find the labs to be the best source of inspiration and validation for Li’l Stories. All students that I have encountered in the labs enjoyed the process. Maybe some liked drawing less than others. There were also some who were less eager to contribute their words in the whole group share. Nonetheless, all partnerships were engaged in their work during the storyboarding process — whether it was through verbal contribution or drawing input. Students talked to each other and developed stories together that they were proud of and wanted to share with their families at home. That, to me, is the ultimate sign that the students have produced something meaningful — when they want to take it home to mommy and daddy.