Curriculum for Excellence: A storyteller’s view

Fergus McNicol has been a primary school teacher for the past 20 years, as well as an active Scottish Storytelling Forum member. Here’s his view on why incorporating storytelling into the classroom will delight any pupil.

Storytelling and active learning? Oh yes!

Tell a story to a class and you’ll see their eyes light up, hear the cogs and wheels of little minds whirr. Add in a few rhymes, a refrain, a little action to join in with – and bingo!

Storytelling has been humankind’s foremost form of communicating ideas throughout history after all.

We know that storytelling works wonderfully in education because it’s stimulating, dynamic, inspiring and a platform to learn in many (if not all) areas of the curriculum.

But crucially, I think we must be careful not to see it as just a handy way to deliver CfE. As soon as we pin specific learning outcomes on a story we begin to limit the potential of the story in terms of the ideas, thoughts and inspirations that the story holds.

A story told, by its nature, has a ‘High Ceiling, Low Threshold’. This is the educational term for activities that allow all learners in a class or group to maximise their learning from one activity: the threshold to access the learning is low enough so that even the most challenged learners can participate, but the activity has a high ceiling of potential learning that will stretch even the most able in the group.

Even though it’s where I started in education, I’ve yet to come across something more effective than storytelling that does this.

For example, take a story such as The Three Little Pigs. As the storyteller, you have complete control over the content – vocabulary, phrasing and expression in the telling. This equips you to sit with a group of children with a wide spectrum of ability, yet engage all.

While some listeners will be beginning to build simple blocks of vocabulary through listening to the story, others will be enriched by the adjectives, adverbs and figures of speech that you include.

I’ve enjoyed experiencing this process with classes where we have worked on retellings of stories in both oral and written form. I’ve seen learners who at last were able to write a meaningful sentence, who suddenly began writing with flare (‘Curses!’ Snarled the wolf) and who took the story and transformed it into something unique and out of the ordinary, all from the same telling.

And I’ve not even started on what they did when it came to telling the story to others… those who at last found their voice, the natural comedians who had a platform for their performance, those who managed to work with someoneelse effectively, those who found pride in being a part of their school; successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors!

Oh, and by the way, we all had fun too!