Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sara DeBeer : Storytelling Ancient Mind Melding

Sara DeBeer

Storytelling: Ancient Mind Melding

 In my work as a teller of traditional folktales, I engage listeners in the experience of co-creating stories. Children often mirror my expressions: when I scowl with greed or scorn, they scowl as well; when my face grows worried and concerned, their faces share the worry, the concern; when my face lights up with joy or triumph, I look out on a sea of smiles. 

While the bond which joins teller and listener is strong, equally powerful is the realization that every listener perceives the characters, the setting, and the story in his or her own way. Story-listening and story exploration provide important opportunities for students to exercise their ability to create their own internal images.

We see what we see!
Being a teaching artist is quite different from telling stories to hundreds of kids in an auditorium (or a cafetorium, or worse yet, a gym). In the classroom, I shift back and forth between being a performer, telling a story while students listen in rapt attention, and being a facilitator, encouraging students to share observations about the stories and the art of storytelling.  Students see that voice, gesture, and language can strengthen the presentation of a story and its impact.  

An artist can serve as a role model for students, whether the students are going to model their lives directly on that artist (becoming artists themselves) or whether they incorporate some aspects of that art form into their daily lives; contact with a resident storyteller strengthens all students' communication skills.  At the same time, by observing the students' interaction with the artist and the art, teachers often perceive their own students in a whole new way. 

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During my visits to classrooms, I include time for students to process the story which they just heard. Younger students draw pictures of their favorite part of the story, and sequence the drawings, creating a book which retells the story. Older students work as a group to create monologues based on different characters in the story. They then take turns reading aloud the monologues. We choose to make parts of the monologues choral, so there is a role for the entire class during the oral reading activity.

Whether I am presenting an assembly program, or working as a teaching artist, I ask for information from teachers ahead of time so my presentations integrate with themes currently being studied in the classrooms. Although some see me as an “entertainer”, I see myself foremost as an educator. With a Masters in Education from the Bank Street School of New York, and years of experience as a classroom teacher, I am able to partner with teachers and design programs which tie in with on-going classroom studies of science, social studies, and language arts.  Teachers who work with me soon recognize that stories can be a tool for helping students learn any subject.

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In these different ways, I aim to instill a love of the value of storylistening and storytelling, as well as an appreciation of the richness of the folktales and folk traditions of a broad range of world cultures. When children lose themselves in the world of stories, they find new understanding of what it means to be human.

You can find our more about Sara at

Happy Teaching!

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