November 29, 2016

Stories and Freedom

When I learned about the Invisibles from Ben last year, I felt this huge weight lift off my storytelling life.  I had always told pretty good stories, but I was always looking for more authentic language.  Therefore I had sort of strayed away from storytelling in favor of more talking about kids and their lives and interests using untargeted language and just kind of “hanging out with the kids in the language”.  This was a step in the right direction for me so I could plan less and connect more.  However, just talking about their interests was not enough, it was not satisfying enough.  And it was also not imaginative enough.

I missed the imagination of creating together.  But when I told stories based on target structures, they did not feel as natural and flowing.  I craved both creativity and freedom, and the extra mental energy I felt when not focused on targeted structures and getting reps, that gave me more energy to connect with the kids.  I felt a little confined – either talk about something real with no targets or something imaginative with targets.  I wanted both at the same time – less cognitive load in the form of not thinking about the language as well as the creativity that stories bring.

Then when I learned about Ben’s Invisibles, I felt right away that he had hit onto something – creativity and imagination WITH the freedom that I craved, with just enough structure to make the story go but based only on the kids’ ideas.  I trie it right away and never looked back.  I went from telling one story every week or so to doing story after story, day after day, and loving them, and feeling a lot less tired and stressed!  I knew Ben had hit pay dirt and so had I!

Now my classroom feels like a story factory – we can churn out cute story after cute story.  I remember Ben’s writing that almost every story with the Invisibles was like the elusive “home run” stories of the days when we used to use targets.  I find that to be the case as well.  The stories jut can’t help being adorable, when based on these cute characters and the kids’ inexhaustible creativity and the hilariousness only young adolescents can bring.

Today we created a cute story in Spanish in fourth period and something amazing happened as well.  One student was absent so she asked if she could FaceTime in to see the class.  It just shows the level of investment the kids have in their work.

Story of the Cookie Part One
Story of the Cookie Part Two
Story of the Cookie Part Three

In French I told them a story from a book called Contes à grandir, contes à guérir, called La Fille que tout le monde appelait Ma Grande.  I have been going through some stressful ties recently and I thought we all could use a little healing and growing.  After this story we had a good discussion about how some kids are forced to grow up entirely too fast.

Part One
Part Two

I cannot overstate the ease, joy, creativity, and happiness I have found in stories with the Invisibles and Story Asking.  The proof?  Even when I am really down and struggling, I find great solace and healing in my classroom, surrounded by friendly, happy kids expressing themselves through art and language, building memories and community.

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About Lanny Ball

For more than 23 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy and reading consultant in Northwestern Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on Twitter @LannyBall, as well as his literacy blog: lannyball.com or lannyball.blog.

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