Thursday, July 10, 2014

Storytelling: A Common Core for Empathy by Lyn Ford

Lyn Ford

  1. Common Core
  2. The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.

"Stories are bridges from one mind to another." – the late Martha Holloway, storyteller and former bacteriologist

In the benchmarks of the Common Core State Standards, emphasis is placed on reading, writing, speaking, listening, analyzing, and critically thinking in order to progress and thrive.  These are life skills, tools that are useful and needed throughout one’s lifetime.

Here’s how this is stated at the Common Core State Standard website*:

The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life…

The standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person who is prepared for success in the 21st century.

But where is the vision for the development of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), literacy in the ability to empathize, communicate, hope, and persevere?

Believe it or not, it’s in the standards, too.

Two examples:

1.        One Common Core Math Standard expects the following outcome:  Students make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

In order to manage this achievement, students need to be self-efficient, willing to work, attentive, determined, and optimistic that they will make sense of and solve problems, all benchmarks of emotional growth and development. 

2.        In the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts for Grade 3, one finds:

Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
Such description requires a working knowledge of emotions and emotional reactions and outcomes.

The earliest and easiest format for SEL and universal communication is storytelling.

Regardless of genre, the communal experiences of stories told:
•              Teach the basic format of narrative communication.

•              Offer strong, effective characterizations and clear actions in a time and place that give setting for the action. 

•              Nurture creative thinking and imagination, necessary problem-solving and if-then processing skills in science, math, and life.

•              Encourage reflection, dialogue, and research, as well as an appreciation for clarity in language usage and descriptive phrasing.
•              Connect participants to culture, heritage, and history.

•              Cross and connect communities, and generations.


We must give our children a working knowledge of the world around them.  We must also encourage them to discover, create, or maintain skills that will help them to persevere in that world, and to seek ways of keeping that interconnected world thriving and alive.  We can do that, by sharing our stories, and hearing theirs.

Storyteller, author, and professor Peninnah Schram says, "Since storytelling is a dialogue, shared stories create more understanding; bring people closer together as a community; and serve as a string that binds one heart to another. (And I believe that the universe is made up of string.)"

Lynette (Lyn) Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller and teaching artist for the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, as well as a contributor to several books on storytelling in education, including The Storytelling Classroom:  Applications Across the Curriculum.  Lyn is the author of Affrilachian Tales:  Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition, and Beyond the Briar Patch.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! Storytelling is at the heart of our lives. Thanks for this lucid, elegant explanation of those important connections.