Telling Stories and Literacy: The Things You Don’t Usually Get To See

Telling Stories and Literacy: The Things You Don’t Usually Get To See
Photo Credit Jonathan Van Ark

I am an unrepentant bibliophile and logophile.

I love words and word games and reading. I could spend months sitting by a lake with a stack of books and little else and I would be in Heaven.

I can’t imagine a life without books.

I know, however, that not everyone feels that way about literature.

Apparently, there are people who haven’t read a book since college. There are other people who haven’t ever read a book at all.

There are lots of reasons why people struggle to read, and those reasons are as varied as the people who have them.

If you are a literacy specialist working in an elementary school, you get to peek into those worlds. Today, because of a very specific set of circumstances, I got to peek into one.

I had three shows at a school today. This basically means I’m there for half a day. I don’t do my usual run in, do a couple of sets, and then head out of the building.

The kids in the first couple of assemblies leave me and have time to go do a few other things before I am out the door.

Today was pretty perfect. I had K – 2, 3 – 5, and 6 & 7.

I got to do my traditional sets, and I let the middle school group decide if they wanted the family story I normally tell for the seventh grade or the gory scary set I tell for the sixth. Not surprisingly, I ended up telling Morgan and the Pot of Brains and The Boo Hag. They never pick the family story even if I promise them it is fun and they will love it.

I got to the school at 8:30am and I left at 1:15.

After my last set, I was chatting with the artist liaison. (the person on site who volunteers to babysit me! They make sure the space is set up properly, get my room temperature bottle of water – snacks sometimes – and ask me if I need anything else. They are wonderful. I wish I had one for everything, but alas, the second you leave the school you are once more on your own!)

We were laughing about something as we went down the hall towards the front office. I’d had a chance to see all the kids in the school, and they were shocked to see me walking through the halls like a normal person. They said the usual things:

“I loved that!”
“You are the best storyteller ever!”
“That was amazing.”
“You are very good at telling stories.”
“Thank you for telling us stories.”

As we passed one of the closed doors, a teacher opened it, let a kid out and saw me.
She said, “I am so glad to see you! I have to tell you something.”

A kid that she has been working with all year came to see her right after the assembly. The literacy specialist said that this girl has lots of struggles with literacy. She reads the words one at a time with a flat affect, and her comprehension is almost nonexistent.

She said, “I always tell the kids to read with expression, but they never do.”

Today, when the girl got to her session, she read the sentence. “The. dog. was. angry.” The specialist said, “After she read the sentence she looked at it for a second and she said, “No.” she read it again, and this time she made it really dramatic. “The dog was angry!”

She looked up at me and there was a huge smile on her face. She said, “I have to learn how to read this the right way so I can go home and read it to my parents!”

The specialist said the girl was so excited about the story that she worked on it until she had it so she could read it all the way through with inflection.

“You helped her make a connection between words and stories that I have been unable to get her to do all year. I have never seen her so excited about reading. I just wanted you to know that. You made a difference for her.”

One of the bookcases in my kid’s rec room

I rarely get that kind of immediate feedback about the work I do.
Normally, I just hope stories clicked with someone.

I walked out of that school today with so much joy. I was so proud of that kid. I don’t know who she is. I might never meet her. She may never see me again, but if she keeps hearing the words with emphasis and images…reading could very well go from a struggle to a friend.

Don’t ever doubt that what you do makes a difference just because you aren’t always there to see it.

Happy Telling –