Practicing Situated Practice through Storytelling

As mentioned before, I (Cathy) am a committed supporter of  implementing a pedagogoy of mulitliteracies (New London Group, 1996) in the classroom.  There are many components to multiliteracies, but for this post I will highlight my use of  only one  component- situated practice.    The situated practice component suggests that pedagogy must consider “the affective and sociocultural needs and identities of all learners” (NLG, 1996, p. 85).  By the inclusion of  students’ “lifeworlds” or home-life and culture, a classroom environment is created where students feel secure and will take risks (NLG, 1996, p. 65).

In a recent storytelling workshop I delivered to ECE students (in a higher education setting), I was intrigued at how the significant situated practice became.   Prior to the class,  I asked the professor what cultures were represented, so I could reflect at least some of these cultures through my story selection.  The list was long, so I had to be selective.  I decided to tell a story from Jamaica, the US and one from India.  These represented not only a range of the participants’ cultures, but also a broad range of storytelling styles, which I thought might be useful for the students to see.   During the workshop I explained to the students that eventually being inclusive of all of the cultures and backgrounds represented in their classrooms  through the stories we tell (and books we read) was essential.  It was our responsibility to get to know our students and know what was important to them.  They agreed that this was important.  But I had a lot to learn about how important,  even when working with adults.

I knew how much the  participants  enjoyed and learned from the experience, as they were highly engaged during the workshop, but i was also treated to written feedback  as the  professor asked the students to post their critiques online.  The following comments caught my interest:

“The workshop really resonated with me… I learned about stance, gestures and facial expressions”

“I was amazed to see how storytelling could grab our attention”

“I am excited to step out of my comfort zone a little bit and try out these strategies with children”

My favourite was:

“I really enjoyed the ending of the workshop using the Urdu [story] “Ek thi Raja, ek thi Rani, doono margy khatm kahanni'” as Urdu is my mother tongue and I was able to understand this very famous [story].”

I did indeed end the workshop with a very short story in Urdu.  In case you do not understand Urdu, in this story there is a  king and a queen, they  die, so the story is over.   That’s it.  It is a traditional ending to a storytelling set.  I usually ask a participant to translate the story for the rest of the group.  Even though my Urdu is not the best, I can always tell who understood the story, because they are the only ones laughing.  Children  are usually delighted that I took the time and effort to be able to tell , regardless of how short,  a story from their culture.  But this small gesture never became more evident  to me than at the conclusion of this workshop.   I was approached by a woman wearing  a khimar (a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist, but leaves the face clear).  The woman introduced herself and told me that she was most impressed that I told a story in Urdu.  She said she felt it made her Urdu speaking colleagues very happy.  She then asked me to do something I was not expecting.  “Would you”, she asked timidly, “consider sometimes ending your storytelling in Arabic?”  I smiled and immediately answered “of course, if you will teach me!”   She was delighted and proceed to teach me  the following traditional ending:

Touta touta.  Kelset el haa do tah.

This is now part of my repertoire.  I was never more convinced of how significant it is to honor the cultures of our students.   Young or older, it is their identity and they need us, their teachers, to validate this.  I will endeavor to enlarge my commitment to situated practice by sometimes speaking in Arabic for my students and hope my  students, whether ECE students, student teachers, or teacher educators will consider doing the same.

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