Easing into Stories
Today in the morning classes (which, unfortunately, I was not able to video because of technical issues), we created stories based on characters the class had created. In French 1, we told a story about a character created by a student in class – Edgar the Eyebrow, whose nickname is Eddie. In French 2, we told a story about a UPS box named Carl. In Spanish 1, we told a story about one of our One Word Image characters – Larry el Cerebro.
The stories went well, kids enjoyed them, but I noticed in reviewing the artists’ work that they were having a hard time keeping up with the action. In this four-panel drawing of Larry el Cerebro’s story, you can see that they were not able to finish.
I also noticed that I was tired. It is hard work transitioning them to stories. Lots of moving parts. The Story Driver needs to be trained and communicated with during the story. The actors need to be trained, especially in the skills of sitting still and acting as a visual aid. The class needs to be trained, on how to work together to co-create the story and not argue too long about the story details. So much going on!
At least with this storytelling system, I do not have to think about target structures too. But I do have to think about staying in bounds and making the language comprehensible, going slow, rephrasing their suggestions into language that the class can understand. Pointing and pausing, talking slowly, staying in bounds…there’s a lot going on up in old Teener’s head.
So I made the executive decision at lunch to change the levels of the story and the artists’ work for my two after-lunch classes. I made a new FIVE-level story outline for my Story Drivers and a TWO-panel poster for the Artists.
You know what? It was a lot easier to keep all the balls in the air, and everyone felt more comfortable and successful.
See the results in our sixth period story, the tale of Boberito, a One Word Image character created by the class who is a huge purple burrito. In this story we learn that Boberito unfortunately has some job-related problems.
In seventh period, we told another five-level story using a One Word Image of Eminem, an M&M who is a rapper and who, sadly, ate a bag of M&Ms at a fancy restaurant and then realized he had eaten his fellow M&Ms including his own family. Luckily, he went to another restaurant in a hotel where a doctor induced vomiting and his family is now safely back in their bag. The acting was so good that I had the videographer tape the two actors for our end-of-year class video. In twelve years of working with middle schoolers, I have NEVER heard such amazing barfing sound effects! That there is TALENT.
What I noticed in reviewing that last video is that I said necesita vomitar and the kids had NEVER heard either of the words but I asked what did he say, and they were able to say “he needs to vomit” because of the context. Little moments like this just reinforce my hunch that these stories with emergent language, because the language emerges at the very moment it is needed to drive the story forward, are “stickier” for kids’ memories. It just may well be that they are MORE EFFICIENT because of that, despite the debate that has been ongoing as to whether or not we “have time” to use non-targeted language in the school setting. (To me it is a moot point as the brain does not recognize if it is in school or not…language acquisition still proceeds the natural way, at its own pace. I am looking forward to hosting Drs. Stephen Krashen and Beniko Mason and Claire Ensor at a roundtable on this topic- non-targeted input – next week at our COFLT-WAFLT conference.)
It is also kind of amazing to me how simple it is to create unique and interesting stories when you base the characters on the kids’ ideas, and have a simple track to drive the story train down. All you have to do is add dialogue, thinking, directors cues (such as mira profesionalmente or llora como un bebé) and easily drive the story from the beginning to the end, relying on the kids’ endless creativity and talents. Smiles generally ensue. And now we have nice, tidy stories to write up next time! I am so grateful to have learned from working with Ben Slavic, who hit upon this seemingly-simple way to craft stories with the class.