Listening to a Story

I have been using Listening to a Story in my CI classes over the last two years as have my colleagues.  Today, I made use of it in a different way with upper level students and as a result, I learned something for my own practice of it.  I have learned to do what I do by reading and viewing Beniko Mason’s website.  She posts there videos and other materials of her Great Story Reading Project.  If you do nothing else as a result of this post, at least go and learn from her!  I will offer the disclaimer that I do not pretend to represent her or her skillful insight–only what I am learning and trying to practice.

So, the short of it for me is this.

  1. I choose a story that I want my students ultimately to be able to read (so this is backwards design).
  2. I sit down with the story and attempt to draw with paper and pencil a mural like drawing that represents everything in the story–almost to a word.
  3. As a result of that process, I identify 5-6 (could be fewer, might be more, but caveat magister/tra!) words that I KNOW my students will need, and I jot them down on the edge of my drawing.
  4. When I am ready to deliver this story, I make sure I have most of my white board clear, and to one end, I write the need to know words and their English equivalents.
  5. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.  This, by design, goes very slowly.
  6. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words.
  7. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  8. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  9. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  10. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

I’ve been doing this with my Latin 5 students (9 girls) with Latin fables whose themes they chose from Laura Gibbs’ wonderful collection Mille Fabulae et Una.

Recently, I asked them each to pick a single fable out of the collection of fables that had mulieres as characters (one of their top themes).  For their midterm, I assigned them to prepare to deliver that story to the rest of us using the Story Listening approach.  The rubric requires them to:
A. tell the story while drawing (30 points)
B. tell the story again  (30 points)
C. Give a copy to the class and re-read, fielding questions about meaning (20 points)
D. Lead a discussion in Latin about the “septem inchoamenta fabulae” which I developed from Kendall Havens’ Story Proof. (20 points)

We are almost done with the 9 presentations, but today something happened that really opened my eyes to how this practice can be improved, and how I can improve my own practice of it..

The young woman was delivering the fable “Rhodopis et Aquila.”  It was immediately clear that she had spent some time developing the mural-like images that she would use to tell the story.  What nearly knocked me out of my chair in the back of the room was the silence.  Because she took great care in her drawing, she also created longer spaces of silence than when I delivered a story like this.  It dawned on me that as the teacher in the room, I felt compelled to be constantly talking and making Latin words sound through the room.  As I watched this unfold, I realized a truth that Havens makes in his book.  Humans have been telling story for longer than we have had language.

The images began to tell the story in the silence.  Then, this young woman began, slowly, to add the words in meaningful chunks, pointing to the images, pausing and pointing to the new words, repeating meaningful chunks, and so forth, until the entire mural was on the board and the entire story had been told.  I now have a revision of my own “steps” for delivering a story like this.  Given all the prep mentioned before:

  1. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board–allowing for spaces of silence while I draw–no rush to fill in words–and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.
  2. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words–again, with no rush.
  3. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  4. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  5. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  6. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

Doctor a discipula doctus est!

Bob Patrick

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