Our Common Core

Our Common Core

© by Eileen DeLorenzo
as published in the Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance Journal, July 2014

As a full time professional storyteller, I spend much of my time researching the benefits of storytelling. I often tell in schools and invest a lot of time and energy sharing the importance of storytelling in education with teachers and principals. Often funding and scheduling storytelling programs is challenging. Teachers and administrators already value storytelling, but find “March Is Reading Month” as the only viable time to bring such programs into their schools.

I recently performed “March Is Reading Month” storytelling programs at a school of about 350 students. In an effort to keep groups smaller, the Title I teacher worked me in by scheduling three groups of K-3 programs over two days. It was my first time at this school and I was welcomed with warmth and enthusiasm. My last program that day was with first and second graders. With three minutes left, I asked the teachers if it was ok if I went over the time by a few minutes. Though I had a shorter story, I wanted to close with ‘The Singing Pumpkin’. It’s a great story to close a program because of its repeated phrases shared in unison. When we came to the phrase “A-rika-tika-tik. A-rika-tika-tik. Here I come on my walking stick,” a first grader, in the front row, burst out with a belly laugh that continued throughout each repetition. His teacher and the Title I teacher watched him as they exchanged smiles with me and each other. Each time we repeated the phrase he threw his head back and shrieked with joyful laughter. His classmates next to him soon caught the giggles. As the old woman made her way up the hill with her walking stick, smiles and laughter spread through the gym. This ripple effect gave those who were reluctant permission and those already giggling the go-ahead to laugh a little louder. Just as we made it to the top of the hill, a second grader on my far right, sitting about a foot separate from his class, forgot himself and joined in. The story ended with the old woman safely back in her house. The program wrapped up with sweet smiles and mutual appreciations. Teachers called their students sitting in rows into standing in lines. The physical education teacher, patiently waiting in the hall with her class since mid-way through the last story, filled the gym with her students spreading out to do push-ups while I packed up.

The next day, I asked the Title I teacher about that first-grade student. Her kind face lit up and she smiled, “If you knew this child, you wouldn’t believe he was the same kid during the story.” Her eyes narrowed slightly, “He’s the kid who goes home and goes straight to video games. They are his full time babysitter. He …” She stopped herself and her face softened. “That’s why we were so surprised. We’ve never seen him like that with anything.”

As storytellers and teaching artist in schools, we may seldom get feedback like this. This is also true for other venues. Often audiences don’t know what a storyteller is. Many times adult listeners are unsure about the experience and prefer not to participate. Though we perform to our highest standards, we can be left wondering why a program lacked the shared experience we hoped for. My friend and fellow storyteller, Joe Remenar, and I have a standing joke on this subject. When one of us shares regarding an experience where we don’t know how our listeners felt, we assure the other that it’s okay because we are at least better than nothing. It’s good to have friends that gingerly nudge us past such feelings. There are, after all, a wealth of books, essays and website resources to substantiate the work we do in our schools and communities as much more beneficial and important than we may sometimes feel.

Many of us share the hope that storytelling will be integrated into daily school curriculum. We work to bring storytelling to our schools and communities because we know students, all of us, really, need to feel connected through the rhythm of language and gesture. We know humans thrive when they are in that place storytelling creates, the place where we enjoy being together and expressing ourselves. It’s a place that can’t be seen or measured, yet it causes us to feel and express emotions. It nourishes us, giving us the assurance that we belong.

About the Author: Eileen DeLorenzo is a storyteller/teaching artist and certified Thinking Maps™ trainer. Her classroom storytelling sessions and professional development workshops integrate Thinking Maps™, storytelling, and student-centered, brain-based instructional strategies. Eileen also teaches The Storytelling Connection Performance Ensemble.

‘The Singing Pumpkin’ by Jan Blake can be found at: What Is a Storyteller? International Storytelling Conference 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPBjbW4L3ko