Friday, June 5, 2015

Stories Tame the Drama Class

Lion Tamer
1873 Lithograph by Gibson and Company

Stories Tame the Drama Class
by Mary Garrett ©

Storytelling helped tame my “drama class from hell,” a difficult group, talkative and disruptive, for whom I had played “bad cop” to support my student teacher.  When it was time for her to move on, they begged her to stay and not leave them with “that mean teacher,” but they didn’t get much sympathy from her.  I wished that they would let me be the nice teacher I prefer to be, and I dreaded spending the last month of school with this horrible class.  How could I discipline this group with no “bad cop” of my own to rely on?

I had been looking forward to doing the storytelling portion of this class, the one area in which I felt I had much to give them. The storytelling unit in my short stories class had been a high point; we had even invited a principal to join us.  I had also used positive short stories to help my juniors face the dreaded (NCLB) MAP tests, starting a week in advance of the tests with stories about persevering through tough times, finding many at Story-Lovers.  The stories helped create a better atmosphere with less tension, more confidence, and much less complaining.

The first aspect that made the drama class a bit happy was when I told them NOT to memorize the stories word-for-word. They had complained that memorizing drama scenes was too hard, and I knew they would be relieved.  

I began each day’s work with one of my stories, as a model of storytelling and to show them my “nice” side.  I started with very short tales, “The Smell of the Bread”  and “The Lost Purse,”  recruiting students to play the characters. Laughter and comments like “She faked you out” when the greedy person received his just due were refreshing light moments. Perhaps there was some hope for us.

They fussed a bit when I told them they would be reading silently and taking notes on at least five stories to choose the one to tell.  “You’ll be able to talk once you have selected something to talk about,” settled them down. 

As they read and took notes on the large selection of photocopied stories, all with a focus on positive character traits, I would pull out the occasional story that I thought might fit a particular student. “You have hidden talents like this beetle. You help others, as does ‘Tante Tina.’” I also suggested that they . . . silently . . . pass along any stories they thought would be good for a friend. 

 I knew that they needed a silent room to begin working and thinking.  As they read and chose, I could see them getting interested and motivated, and the quiet students who hadn’t been able to do their best in a chaotic atmosphere were relaxing and focusing in the calmer room.

When they had selected the stories they wanted to tell, they storyboarded and summarized on a 3x5 card to get them away from word-for-word repetition of the story and focus on the essentials.  Students enjoyed an opportunity to work with crayons and markers again. They were smiling and showing off their pictures by this time. Students laughed as they recognized themselves, or others, in "The Talking Skull" -- "Woe is me! Misery! What I said was true. It was my mouth that brought me here, my friend. Your mouth has brought you too!"

They then told their stories to a partner, chosen by me to keep the cliques from regrouping. They were told to begin with compliments, because we all need them, and then offer suggestions gently. This was low-stress enough that even the shy students were able to tell to just one person, and they were enjoying the stories. We then put together pairs to have groups of four.  They had been doing so well with the project that they were allowed the privilege of choosing which pairs to combine.

I circulated in the room, encouraging, offering suggestions and making sure they were actually working.  Several of those whose ©stories were coming along especially well had been the most disruptive earlier -- that talent and desire to perform does come bursting out.  I invited them to share their in-progress stories with the class. The suggestions for improving already good stories were instructive to all, and the applause and compliments kept them from becoming “bored” and disruptive.

Several students declared that they were ready to perform, but the rest were not. The “ready” students became the team leaders or coaches of a larger group of eight, with the assignment to get all students ready to tell. We established rules for positive listening and talked about the importance of a good audience. "You are fighting because you only looked at my coat from your own point of view" (from "The Red and Blue Coat" -- Heather Forest). As we worked together on stories, we saw a bit more clearly from each other’s point of view.

When all were ready, they volunteered for their turns to tell. My most obstreperous young man told first, with pride and enthusiasm.  He had the talent, and his telling of “The Black Prince” was wonderful. The real surprise was his behavior after his telling. He was an attentive and generous listener, encouraging and complimenting not only the students he had coached, but every student in the class. When the final teller, an extremely shy young woman, told her story, the whole class listened as avid fans of her effort, and though her nerves did show, she told the story clearly, and their applause was sincere. 

This storytelling experience was so positive that we moved smoothly through the final days of school, and on the last day of finals I was able to tell them (with misty eyes) that I was proud of them and would miss them.

Mary Garrett is a guest blogger for Karen Chace. All rights to this article belong to Mary. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without her  written permission. Of course, if you wish to link to the article via Facebook or Twitter, please feel free to do so. If you would like to be a Guest Blogger contact Karen at for details.
Mary  Garrett   St. Peters, Missouri
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