Making Student Stories Matter

Stories help us understand the world we live in, and they help us understand a bit more about ourselves. When we interact with stories that affirm our beliefs, we feel validation; when we hear differing stories, we develop empathy. But what happens when the stories we read don’t lineup with our students’ worldview? And what if the problem is as basic as the characters in the story don’t look like our students? Is that important?

Teachers who want to instill pride in their students, so they internalize their daily work, would say yes.

I know what you’re thinking,

“I’ve got (fill in the blank) kids in my class! Between decoding a new district policy, finishing up running records, and finally getting all the kids to make it to circle time, I’m TIRED.”

Rightfully so, and you’re in luck. The magic of validation and affirmation is embedded in your classroom already. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re aware of it or not, it happens everyday. For example, take a look at your classroom library. Do the characters in the stories reflect your classroom diversity? Do the characters look like your students? Do they have the same problems? You don’t have to share your answer with the class, but you can see how these questions illustrate (hehe, book pun) both the problems and the solutions.

If you don’t know where to start, here’s three strategies to keep in mind to help students feel validated, affirm their self-worth, and strengthen their classroom story*.

*Classroom story is a student’s sum of experiences in an educational setting, including their attitudes towards learning.

1. Listen to stories: Choose books with diverse cultures, races, and locations.

When students interact with characters that come from similar viewpoints they’re better able to transfer that knowledge into a different context. Having a classroom library featuring a diverse range of characters ensures all students have anchors for understanding themselves and others, anchors that will later help develop empathy. Furthermore, make sure you have quality titles with real humans as the characters; A recent study found that students who read stories featuring human characters (as opposed to animal characters), were more likely to internalize the story and remember the content.

2. Write stories: Interact authentically with every student, everyday.

It’s overwhelmingly easy for students to become a checklist of objectives (below basic/advanced, meets objectives…sounds pretty clinical). If you ask authentic questions (How’s your dog, Peanut?) you allow students to share an important part of their identity and show students that you’re invested in their lives. It’s also a casual test to see if there’s any underlying needs not being met. Your student-teacher check-in can be as small as you like; ask them about their favorite show or let them pick the music for a clean-up party right before dismissal…maybe it’s even a personalized handshake. These small interactions create a framework for their classroom story. How does school make them feel? What do they think about learning? How to they respond to a simple “Good Morning?”. These questions are data points that can help educators understand a bigger story and look at trends.

3. Share stories: Allow students to share their unique perspectives.

If you have been blessed with a diverse classroom, celebrate, because your classroom is brimming with stories, each of which is a component for creating a culturally-inclusive classroom. As a first grade teacher, I once had a student, we’ll call Dante, whose job the first week of school was to greet any visitors in our classroom (i.e., the principal and parents). Dante very sincerely asked if he could greet them in English and his mother tongue of Akan, a language of Ghana. Of course I obliged, excited that he wanted to share something special, and perhaps more excited that he was internalizing his classroom responsibilities! Dante got to bring his unique perspective to our classroom and in turn we all got to celebrate something new.

Try helping students incorporate cultural sharing in writing exercises, art projects, or family night events.

from Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain

One of my goals at StoryBots is to connect students to stories that are silly, smart, and scary. The most unique feature of the StoryBots Classroom website is the Starring You Books; a series of rhyming readers that feature faces from your classroom. Teachers upload student selfies into a library of animated stories. Students can instantly transform into engineers, wizards, or mad scientists. To us, it’s a fun way to manage a whole group read-aloud; to kids this is a visualization exercise. It encourages students to visualize themselves in new and exciting scenarios. It supports a growth mindset, the idea that your brain can always grow, which leads to increased motivation and achievement. Additionally for teachers, this type of visual feedback is a way to meaningfully connect with students.

The ultimate goal for teachers is to help all students identify and craft their own classroom story (one that includes letter sounds, sharing, snack time, collaboration, and eventually some basic trigonometry). Creating a culture of mutual respect starts by listening to diverse stories, writing personal stories, and sharing stories within our classroom communities.

 

Sources and Further Reading:

Let’s Make a Mother’s Day Bouquet

 

Moms are the original rockstars. They show us how to make the perfect grilled cheese, they know how to fix any injury, and they tell the best nighttime stories! Let’s make a simple craft that you can customize; make your Mom’s favorite flower (roses, sunflowers, hibiscus?). Hold on…I thought I saw a StoryBot around here somewhere. Any-who, let’s make an easy Mother’s Day Bouquet using tissue paper (an idea from our Mother’s Day Activity Book)!

blooms

stems

Time to make the stems. I used coffee stirrers, but you can try pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, straws, or pencils.

Vase

We need something to display our dazzling decor. I’ll use a cardboard tube and some construction paper. That looks like…hmm…never mind. Let’s craft!

tadaaaaa

Check out some shots of the final product. Floral finesse at it’s finest.

Downloads:

Mom with Shadow

Click the thumbnail to download the StoryBots Mother’s Day Activity Book.

Love StoryBots? Learn more about our library of videos, books, and activity sheets at StoryBots.com

Vote for StoryBots at the 2018 Webby Awards!

StoryBots has been nominated for a Webby Award, and we need your help to win! Vote for StoryBots to win the People’s Voice Award here.

webbys_insta (1)The new StoryBots website was today named an official 2018 Webby Award Nominee in the Websites – Youth category by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.

The Webby Awards are considered the Internet’s highest honor and this year received more than 13,000 entries from 70 different countries. As a nominee, StoryBots was selected as one of the five best in its category and among the top 10% of all work entered.

StoryBots is competing for both the Webby Award and the Webby People’s Voice Award. While the Webby Award is chosen by the Academy, the Webby People’s Voice Award is voted on by the public. Help StoryBots win by voting here today!

Voting is open through April 19, with winners announced on April 24. Be sure to spread the word and share the voting link with friends and family.

StoryBots.com makes learning fun for kids ages 3-8 with 500+ educational books, videos and games, while using its iconic Starring You® personalization technology to put the child at the center of the experience.

The website re-launched last year with the new Backpack feature, which lets teachers share the same educational activities and content used in class with parents to use at home for free.

Visit StoryBots.com and vote for the Webby People’s Voice Award here.