The teacher’s story

It showed the children… that you could use language to say true things, important things… this can only happen teacher and pupil are on the same side…when the relationship is more like writer and editor, or craftsman and apprentice (Pullman 2003:8)

The teacher’s story is an integral part of Therapeutic Storywriting groups. The teacher uses metaphor within her own story to reflect some of the emotional issues presented by the children. Although it may seem daunting for adults to sit down and write a story – as we frequently ask children to do – it is surprising how engrossing and rewarding this activity can be for the teacher.

In this section we will look specifically at  the role of the teacher’s story in:-

Establishing a writer’s enviroment

The engagement of the teacher with her own writing can create a focused writer’s environment in which children, who normally may have difficulty settling, can also become engaged with their own writing.

It can be much more  effective  to tell a child that they are interrupting the teacher’s writing rather than just asking them to stop talking, fidgeting etc..  This is particularly the case when they have become engaged with the teacher’s story and are keen to hear how their ideas have been incorporated.

The engagement of the teacher with her own storywriting in this writing space creates something of what Pullman (2003) calls the ‘craftsman and apprentice’ relationship. As the children see the teacher also struggling to form her ideas into a story there is a sense of shared endeavour and risk-taking.

By allowing the children to see crossings out and alterations in her writing, the teacher shows that she can get things wrong and that draft work does not need to be perfect but can be improved.  This is particularly helpful for those children with low self-esteem who often spoil their work or think it is not good enough to share with others.

By modelling the creative writing process and demonstrating an an empathic understanding  of the emotional demands of the writing process, the teacher can create  a focused quiet in the room. It is helpful if conversation is kept to a minimum during the writing time as this can easily break the spell and take children out of the imaginary space.

Modelling academic literacy skills

Most teachers will have used shared writing in their teaching of literacy though not so many will have written stories as described in this chapter. Many of the same academic literacy skills addressed by shared writing activities will also be modelled through the teacher’s story. These include:-

  • beginning, middle and end of story
  • use of different genre
  • addressing use of feeling words
  • balancing dialogue and narrative
  • use of description
  • process of editing

Teachers will be familiar with modelling these literacy points and we will not go into these in detail here. In thinking about different genre it is useful to bear in mind the two settings of fantasy and external  reality and how these may impact on the child’s internal world (link).

Empathic relationship through the use of story ‘reverie’

The reading out of the teacher’s story can encourage an empathic relationship between the teacher and children. Empathy can be described as the ability to identify with the internal experience of another.

The sharing of any story with which teller and audience are engaged provides a shared internal experience. It is as if both teller and audience enter a story reverie in which outer concerns drop away and become absorbed in a shared imaginary world. The story audience becomes particularly engaged as they begin to identify with the experiences of the characters.

When the story is actually written by the teacher, incorporates some of the children’s own ideas and addresses personally pertinent issues the identification with the characters can be even stronger.

By projecting the children’s concerns onto her own characters, the teacher shows that she has understood something of the children’s emotional anxieties and uses her story language to provide empathic reflection of their internal worlds.

Providing Choice Points

Choice points in the teacher’s story refer to places where the teacher stops her story and asks the group for suggestions for what should come next.  The purpose of using choice points is to :-

  • acknowledge the children’s ideas by including them in the teacher’s story
  • engage the children with the teacher’s story
  • model asking for support
  • provide stimulus for emotional literacy discussion

The main focus for choice points are around:-

  • Feelings of the characters
  • Action of the characters
  • Transformation/Resolution of dilemmas

The request for suggestions naturally provides a forum for discussion around feelings, behaviours and change. The teacher writes down the suggestions and chooses one of them to include in the next section of her story.

This allows the teacher to retain discretion over what is included and the overall direction of her story but also gives the children an opportunity to make an active contribution.

The suggestions given will often be a projection of the children’s own feelings and behaviours.  This in turn enables the teacher to gain further insight into children’s particular concerns and reflect these within her story metaphor.

Phrasing the request for suggestions in a way that implies the child is ‘helping’ the teacher shows that it is acceptable to ask others for help when stuck for ideas as well as showing the child that their thoughts are taken seriously. The teacher might say something like,

  • ‘I’m not sure what to write next.  I  wonder if you could give me a bit of help with my story’
  • ‘I’m a bit stuck for ideas here.  Can anyone tell me …’

When the children read out their stories they are also invited to ask for suggestions if they wish.

What pupils say about the teachers story

‘It’s probably the best part for me.  She will write really interesting stories and she’ll ask for ideas and even if they could be quite silly or something she’ll do them and make them more sensible and correct.’ (Miles Y6 boy)

‘And they’re usually really possible – like you can basically picture yourself – she’s doing this one about a really nice little otter at the moment- I could really picture myself in one of the people’s place. I could really really picture just walking down this lakeside and seeing an otter with a wound’. (Miles Y6)

‘It was quite nice listening to her because it’s giving us ideas what to write in our stories’. (Maya Y5)

A number of the pupils commented on how the teacher writing her own story made them feel more comfortable about their own writing activity:

‘It doesn’t make you feel like some big human camera is watching us.’ (Nina Y6)

One boy  said to the teacher he particularly liked seeing ‘how much you write because then I wanted to write as much’ (Sean Y4).

Read more …

Therapeutic Story Writing book coverTherapeutic Storywriting – A Practical Guide to Developing Emotional Literacy.

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