Tag Archives: storytelling

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

My video game shrine

Growing through Research

drama children

Embedded within my passion for literacy is my love for developmental drama.  I do love theatre as well (I as a professional actress for a couple of years), but developmental drama is fundamentally different than theatre.  Theatre is about performance.  Developmental drama is about developing human potential, and that is my heart song.

I was recently asked to present a Literacy Workshop for the Royal Conservstory’s new Smart Start Programme .  This Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme uses a multiple arts approach to develop four specific cognitive skills: attention, memory, perception, cognitive flexibility.  It was my role to model and lead a group of ECE leaders through creative drama experiences so they could experience first-hand how developmental drama can and does develop cognitive skills. We explored many drama strategies in the workshop: storytelling; role play; group drama; teacher-in-role; voice over narration; hot seat; tableaux, and; story drama.  My favourite of the eight listed is story drama which uses the events and characters in a story to stimulate the drama experiences, plus, I got to use my storytelling skills.   We became the characters; good and bad.  We learned about a culture from the other side of the world.  We asked questions.  We problem solved.  We also had fun.  The participants left with many practical ideas and felt they were inspired to explore this world with the children they are responsible for.  But, in all honesty, I think I was the one who left with the most insight.

I used to present this kind of workshop regularly, but have not done one in a few years. Due to my dissertation work in multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), I discovered I was seeing the experiences through new eyes.  I was identifying modes instead of arts disciplines and using critical discernment instead of point of view.  The experience was a literacy event that we constructed within a social paradigm and the participants contributed their own knowledge and expertise in an environment that supported situated practice.  It wasn’t just a new set of vocabulary; it was a much more informed and theoretical perspective of the work.  Vygotsky, Luke, Peabody, Vasquez, Kress, Cope and Kalantzis occupied every corner of the room.  I was well supported.  I recognized a noticeable difference between my role as  intuitive drama leader and informed theoretical guide.  It was progress and it felt good.



Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of             Social Futures. New York: Routlage

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.

Blending old and new world literacies: Storytelling and Technology

I (Cathy) was recently asked to give a storytelling workshop for a third year Early Childhood Education Class. The professor felt the experience might broaden her students’ concept of literacy.   As a practitioner of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) I felt compelled to blend “old world literacy” which in this case would be storytelling (it is the oldest form of entertainment for our species), and new world literacy, which in this case was an online interactive learning system called Today’s Class.  (I have mentioned Today’s Class in an earlier post.  Today you get to hear how I put it into practice).

Initially, the students (a broad range of ethnicities, ages, and English language proficiencies) shared they had never previously experienced storytelling.  They had been read to and assumed this was the same thing.  Most admitted they had never heard of Todays’ Class either, but were game to give it try.  I warmed them up by delivering an old folktale (old world style, just me, them and their imaginations) which blew them away.  “I could see the story!”, and “I was captivated” were some of the responses.  The class was then arranged into small groups of three, each group having a lap top with access to the internet.  Each group was “invited” into the Today’s Class site and asked to give their group a “nick name”.  On the large screen at the front of the room, I posted questions about the storytelling experience for them to consider.  After some deliberation, the groups posted their responses, using only their nick names for identification.  I was intrigued by their reactions as the team responses popped up on the screen.  They were highly engaged.   I could have heard a pin drop they were so intent on reading the other groups’ answers.  When I used to do this kind of activity, the groups used chart paper and markers to record their answers and these were posted around the room.  I usually read out the answers because the printing was often not legible across the room.  Also, I often filtered what I read aloud, instantly deciding what the key points were and only sharing those.   However, with the big screen, it became each students’ responsibility to do the reading and the  filtering. The accountability and engagement levels were higher.

As we moved through the workshop, experiencing different forms of storytelling, the groups returned to conferencing at their computers, analyzing the responses and discussing the salient points.  Both my students and myself were delighted with the results.  Storytelling and technology were a perfect fit.  The students left with a much deeper understanding of an ancient literacy form, many vowing to use it in their child care centers, but also left with a much broader view of the usefulness of modern literacies.   Old and new world do blend.   I couldn’t help but wonder how Aesop might have felt about Today’s Meet.    I think he would have liked it.

New London Group. (1996) A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.  Harvard   Educational Review,1, 60-89.



What is your Munsch favorite?

Yesterday, Robert Munsch turned 70.  If you are not familiar with Robert’s work, he is one of the most famous children’s authors in North America.  Most of his books are delightfully lively and humorous.  Much like a comedian, he likes to take a simple, truthful situation in a child’s life and show the funny side to it. A delightful example of this is his book I Have to Go Pee, which depicts a child getting bundled into a snow suit and then announcing “I have to go pee!”.  His books usually unfold in a pattern that children love to anticipate and participation in.

Beyond his writing style, I love his telling style, as he is a storyteller in the true sense of the word.  He tells stories (like a performance)  and he is very good at it.  I (Cathy) have had the privilege of working with Bob (Robert is his “author” name) several times as I am also a storyteller.  He is a delight to work with. Bob’s background has always intrigued me.  He studied to become a Jesuit priest, but after working in orpahanages and daycare centers, he decided he would rather work with children. After graduating with his Masters in Education, he moved to Canada (he is American) and worked in the preschool at the university of Guelph.  That was where he started telling stories.  People encouraged him to submit the stories he told and he eventually got one published.  The rest, as they say, is history.

One of Munsch’s best-known books Love You Forever, was listed fourth on the 2001 Publishers Weekly All-Time Best selling Children’s Books selling 6,970,000 copies (not including the 1,049,000 hardcover copies).  In celebration of Bob’s birthday, the cbc  hosted a web page for Bob (link below) on which you can vote for your favorite Munsch book.  I suspect  Love You Forever  will win, as  I personally meet parent and educators worldwide that love that book.  I will also vote for Love You Forever but it is not the American version I love.  It is the Japanese version.  I once hosted an event in my home honoring a group of storytellers that came over from Japan.  Many Canadian storytellers and authors came to the event and, of course, Bob came too.  Graciously, these people gave away copies of their books as welcome gifts to Canada.  As there were about 15 Canadian tellers and authors, Bob just kind of blended in with the crowd, and I knew my foreign guests had no idea who he was or how well known he is.  That is-until they got home and Love You Forever was released in Japan, and became an enormous hit.  One of my guests sent me a copy of the Japanese version and a picture of her and two of her friends taken with Bob.  She was so excited and grateful to have met such an amazing/famous storyteller in person.  Bob, being Bob, would not have thought anything of it. He’s just that kind of person. Below are pictures of the book my guest sent me. I find the illustrations in this version tender and beautiful.  As Bob wrote this story in memory of one of his own children that passed away, I think the illustrations are most appropriate.   That’s my Munsch  favorite.  What’s yours? http://www.cbc.ca/books/munsch70/index.html !cid_E57F0443-35EB-47C7-8284-7385C00597B7!cid_B3FC11F1-450A-4314-8935-0DDC2310E39C!cid_8749C332-F0B7-4526-84F5-FB766894EA18!cid_B5F4DDF3-3F8F-48DE-81B7-B9F779472828

All About Me Texts

We had an amazing literacy class yesterday. We (Clare and Lydia) along with the student teachers in our P/J and J/I literacy courses shared our All About Me texts. As a class we meet weekly in a designated classroom on campus, but this week class was extra special, as Clare graciously invited us into her home to share our texts in a more personal space. The student teachers engaged a rich array of storytelling formats including – playbills, a message in a bottle, interactive ABC books, puzzles, dual language texts, a personal timeline plotted out with illustrated cityscapes, e-books, comic strips, Pokémon cards, nesting boxes housing artifacts documenting developmental milestone – to share aspects of themselves to an attentive audience of their peers. The depth of thought and creativity communicated through their texts was truly impressive and inspiring. I’m sure the children/youth they’ll be teaching in their upcoming placements will enjoy these texts as much as we all did. It was a truly enjoyable day. Thank you to all the student teachers in our literacy community!!



What’s Up at the Public Library?

The other day, Natasha a student teacher in the literacy methods course mentioned the Dial a Story program offered by the Toronto Public Library system. Her recommendation reminded us to stay in touch with the wonderful outreach programs offered by public libraries. Dial A Story is a free service that provides stories for younger children (7 and under) and for older children (up to 12) twenty-four hours a day.  Stories rotate on a daily basis and are currently available in 15 languages including: French, English, Cantonese, Gujarati, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Tagalog, and Urdu. Occasionally, Dial A Story features special guest readers such as Toronto Blue Jays baseball players and dancers from the National Ballet of Canada.  A big thank-you to Natasha for reminding to check out the many resources our public libraries have to offer!



A Strong Tradition of Inuit Oral History

This month Parks Canada announced the discovery of one of the lost ships from Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition. The two ships from the Franklin expedition, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and their crews disappeared during a search for the Northwest Passage in 1846. Recent sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island in Nunavut, revealed the wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.

The discovery of the Franklin ship demonstrates the strength and reliability of Inuit oral history. For more than 30 years local historian Louie Kamookak has been interviewing elders to collect the stories about the Franklin expedition. According to Inuit oral history the two ships appeared on the northwest side of King William Island. One of the ships was crushed in ice and the other ship floated further south. The Parks Canada team may not have discovered the Franklin ship without Inuit knowledge and the strong tradition of Inuit oral history. Kamookak noted, “for us Inuit it means that oral history is very strong in knowledge, not only for searching for Franklin’s ships but also for environment and other issues.”



Workshopping Literacy in East Germany

Last month,  I (Cathy) was invited to present a workshop on literacy and the arts in Gotha, Germany, for a group of educators.  At the beginning of the workshop, one of the teachers admitted, “I really don’t know what literacy means.” I wasn’t really surprised as interpretations of literacy are so varied. When a few others also admitted they were not sure, I invited them to find a matching-shoe partner and share with them what they thought literacy meant.

Once the discussion was opened up to the whole group, it was interesting to hear what they came up with.  They started off with the traditional reading and writing interpretation and we decided together these were forms of communication. From there, the definition really expanded. One participant suggested literacy included reality, while another suggested emotion. As we probed deeper the idea literacy was a view of the world was introduced. Eventually I asked them to look around the room at the fabulous paintings hanging on the walls. They were painted by local school children and they were emoting wonderful narratives. Yes, they decided, the paintings were also literacy. Throughout the rest of the workshop we explored ways to use storytelling and drama as literacy.

It was exciting to witness the development of a deeper understanding of an enormous concept like literacy. I like to think this encounter helped these teachers to see meaning-making in a new way. I wonder how it will affect their use of literacy in their classrooms.   On the chart we created together, it was also suggested literacy was fun.  It was.  Hope it is for their students too.

photophoto wall


Mapping my morning commute

On twitter this week I (Lyida) read about a storytelling project that invited teachers to use digital tools to capture and represent dimensions of “their world”. The representations  (e.g. pictures, video, audio) were publicly shared on a blog. It would be interesting to use aspects of this idea in a teacher  education literacy course but I wanted to experiment with it first.

   Fruitstand  Subway1

Subway2  Bike  Museum