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Curriculum for Excellence: A storyteller's view

Storytelling and active learning? Oh yes! Tell a story to a class and you'll see their eyes light up, hear the cogs and wheels of little minds whirr… add in a couple of rhymes, a refrain, a little action to join in with – and bingo! Curriculum for Excellence delivered! Wonderful for both educators and learners, as we teach and learn while having the great experience of story sharing. Storytelling has been humankind's foremost form of communicating ideas throughout history after all.

We know that storytelling works so well in education as it is stimulating, dynamic, inspiring and a platform to learning in many (if not potentially all) areas of the curriculum. But crucially, I think we must be careful not to see it as just a handy way to deliver CfE. As soon as we pin specific learning outcomes on a story we begin to limit the potential of the story in terms of the ideas, thoughts and inspirations that the story holds.

A story told, by its nature, has a 'High Ceiling, Low Threshold'. This is the educational term for activities that allow all learners in a class or group to maximise their learning from the one activity: the threshold to access the learning is low enough so that even the most challenged learners can participate, but the activity has a high ceiling of potential learning that will stretch even the most able in the group.

Even though it's where I started in education, I've yet to come across something more effective than storytelling that does this. For example, take a story such as The Three Little Pigs. As the storyteller you have complete control over the content (vocabulary, phrasing and expression in the telling). That allows you to sit with a group of children with a wide spectrum of ability, yet engage all.

While some listeners will be beginning to build simple blocks of vocabulary through listening to the story, others will be enriched by the adjectives, adverbs and figures of speech that you as the teller include. I've enjoyed experiencing this process with classes where we have worked on retellings of stories in both oral and written form. I've seen learners who at long last were able to write a meaningful sentence, ones who suddenly began to write with a bit of flare ('Curses!' Snarled the wolf) and those who took the story and transformed it into something unique and out of the ordinary, all from the same telling.

And I've not even started on what they did when it came to telling the story to others… those who at last found their voice, the natural comedians who had a platform for their performance, those who managed to work with someone else effectively, those who found pride in being a part of their school; successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors!

Oh, and by the way, we all had fun too!

Fergus McNicol
Storyteller and Teacher

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