As a child I loved good storytelling, whether told by a professional storyteller or an elder in my family. As a young student I can recall meeting Ella Jenkins, a national storyteller who visited my elementary school. Through her presentation I was introduced to the power of language and the beauty of multicultural expressions in song, music, and movement. Storytelling is something I came to cherish. Stories connected me to the human experience. Each story revealed a lesson for me to learn, such as making friends, learning salutations, and counting in different languages. The stories I heard from storytellers were dynamic in presentation, lively, and very engaging. Others were subtle, quiet, and introspective but just as powerful. My love for traditional and nontraditional storytelling continued throughout high school and well into college. In fact, eleven years later while in college I had the opportunity to honor Ella Jenkins as a woman of achievement for a YWCA annual event. She continued to tell beautiful stories, making music and friends with an audience full of adults.
Continuing the Tradition of Storytelling
After my first daughter was born, I wanted her to experience live storytelling as well. Although her teachers and school librarians exposed her to great storytelling, I wanted her to know the art form was valued and honored in our family’s household. Each Saturday after dance class we headed to the local public library for story time, and this tradition continued with each of my four daughters. We listened to stories at the public libraries and at the kitchen tables in our families’ homes. Occasionally I visited her class to share stories prior to my career as a school librarian.
Using Storytelling as a Teaching Tool
When I began teaching fourth grade over twenty-three years ago, I wanted to ensure my class was full of rich literature, but the best part was reading stories to my students. The excitement on the students’ faces was rewarding. Their inquisitive looks also gave me goosebumps. My favorites were books that addressed character themes of kindness, empathy, and social justice like race relations, gender equity, and bullying. In many ways these stories were the very beginning of social emotional learning for my students. It was a method of teaching them how to make a story come alive with our voices. They learned how to connect text to text, text to self, and text to world, which was my ultimate goal.
Soon I transitioned to the position of an elementary and middle school field librarian, where I traveled to eight different buildings every Wednesday. Once I arrived at a school there was always a student looking forward to my storytelling. I felt proud and honored to introduce them to good stories and the art of storytelling.
But what happens when you are the school librarian at a high school and students think they are too old to listen to stories? Most high school students feel that storytelling is for toddlers and elementary students. However, this was contrary to what I observed whenever I read a chapter from a good novel. Vocal variety, intonations, and inflections were used to draw them in and invite them to participate.
Last year, I decided to invite professional storyteller Lyn Ford, a Columbus, Ohio, native, to a special program within the library. She is an author and travels extensively in the United States and abroad. Her stories are described as Affrilachian (West African, Native American, and Appalachian). I will admit I was nervous; older students can be a challenging crowd to entertain. However, Ford was poised, confident, experienced, and entertaining. After her introduction her gentle yet firm voice reminded students why stories were important. Additionally, she taught them the importance of storymaking and participation. This made the experience more meaningful and exciting. Moreover, through storytelling she addressed characters, setting, plot, and theme, which are part of the Ohio Learning Standards for English Language Arts for high school students. She retold Brer Rabbit tales and folk tales from her repertoire titled “Let’s Throw Stones.” These stories highlight a trickster figure originating in African folklore. Many enslaved Africans told these tales in the new world as a method of transmitting culture. Lastly, she explained the meaning of indigenous musical instruments and played them for us.
After her storytelling, the students’ faces revealed that they had fully enjoyed themselves. No longer did they view storytelling as something for little kids or elementary students. Afterwards they asked questions and thanked her for the presentation.
Sometimes as high school librarians we yearn to find new and innovative ways to connect to our students. I am convinced that the tradition of storytelling can and should be used with every age group to not only entertain but also to teach.
Author: Chiquita Toure
I am an educator, school librarian, writer and wellness advocate.
This is my 23rd year with Columbus City Schools. Currently I serve as the head librarian at Eastmoor Academy, a college prep high school. Although memoirs and biographies are my favorite, I am not afraid of sci-fi and fantasy. Using my role to promote social justice and culturally relevant literature is one of my favorite things to do.