No More Stories

After a most terrible teaching experience (i.e., remote year 2020-21), I wrote about wanting to double my storytelling efforts for the next year. In 2021-22, it didn’t really happen, with us creating only 10 class stories total, all very short, amounting to something like 700 total words of Latin. Come this year, we made just four (about 300 total words) up until November. This is not much Latin at all, and I’ve come to question its value in my classes.

Besides, I don’t miss it one bit, not really enjoying the storytelling process as of late. Did I ever? Not sure. The learning curve for collaborative storytelling is real steep. It’s hard to tell what might have been productive struggle or just stressful struggle. I certainly loved being a student in storytelling demos—what a friend dubbed “Workshop CI”—but I can’t say for sure that I loved asking stories to a classroom of actual teenage kids who were neutral at best, but who usually couldn’t care less. I know I know, the key is to bank on interests and personalize and make class fun and memorable and make students forget they’re learning a language, blah, blah, blah, but that just doesn’t match my reality. It never has (though it was much closer when teaching middle school). Such a magical storyland context certainly exists for some teachers in some schools teaching some languages to some students. Not mine.

So, I’m getting rid of storytelling.

No worries, though. We have plenty of other activities, and plenty of texts since I began writing these for the absolute beginner. Granted, we still need MORE low level books for independent reading options, yet we’ve reached a point where the number of books exceed what could be read as a whole class for the year (which would be boring, anyway, only reading these books by just one author). In terms of novellas (and now novellulas Pīsō… & Quīntus), we really do begin reading a book the first week. No need to wait until the spring. So, books are a significant part of class content. They’re anchors we use to explore Roman topics. Aside from those anchor texts, we actually have enough sometimes feels like content overload:

I do, however, want to keep the idea of students-as-content. In my experience, this has helped build a safe learning environment and sense of belongingness right from day one of school. Our class stories were always based on something the student liked. Therefore, this new idea just eliminates the story…

Slide Talk Comparisons
It turns out there’s also an early-year anchor activity to capitalize on: Slide Talk. While this digital update to Card Talk morphed into sources of those few student stories, we can still use them to generate informational texts (vs. narratives). Interests of two students will be discussed in a way structured somewhere between simple “he likes, she likes,” and a more detailed Discipulus Illustris interview. I plan to lean into a couple interests to get repetition that would otherwise be in some stories, and then move on to another student, and compare. At the end of the comparison, questions will be posed to the class—in Latin—we’ll then type up a description, process the Latin together (i.e., Write & Discuss, or Type ‘n Talk), and then have that new class text.

That questioning is key.

I wrote about issues with asking questions when reading a text, and at some point it became clear that students were having a difficult time answering questions in Latin. Having a solid activity during which questions can be asked in the target language is definitely important. But does it have to be about story events that are being created in real time? I’ve been observing how this is actually quite demanding for 9th grade students these days, especially when interest is neutral or lower. Merely having “look & listen” expectations doesn’t mean students will be capable of doing it automatically.

So question-wise, the idea with Slide Talk Comparisons is to have something more concrete for students to answer questions about rather than more abstract story details to recall. For example, “who likes cats, Ramesh, or Jillian?” Or, “does Ramesh like dogs? No. Ramesh doesn’t like dogs. Ramesh likes cats.” These are familiar circling questions from the storytelling world, but with the purpose of learning more about who’s in the room. In my experience, ALL students are more likely to enjoy talking about themselves (and others) than create a funny story. Again, that’s my reality. Besides, our essential questions are “Who am I? Who are we?” and “Who were the Romans?”

I also like how the input is provided a few different times, in two different media; once while asking students and eliciting details (English is fine, I’ll just recast in Latin), again while confirming with the rest of the class (e.g., circle-like questioning), and finally as its being typed and copied by students.

Of course, this whole process risks having a lack of “…and now what?” to it all, so I was thinking of a final product, something input-rich, and that didn’t waste 20 minutes of class each week, either. I also didn’t want to spend the bulk of my planning time creating this product. Then again, I have a massive amount of planning to teaching time…so why not?! Instead of typing up stories, I could certainly do something with this that would create a tad more of a hook. Once again, the groundwork is already there: Slide Talk. A simple transfer of the Write & Discuss (Type ‘n Talk) to a student’s slide can result in a class “yearbook,” revisiting and adding to it throughout the year.

3 thoughts on “No More Stories

  1. Storytelling comes in all kinds of ways. I have younger students and I have a theatrical personality so I use storytelling in the more “traditional” TPRS way. But I have changed things over the years to make it fit my students and my teaching style. I tell people who observe me or use anything from my class that this type of storytelling is not a mandatory teaching method. Create stories and content that you feel works best with your students and your teaching personality. THAT will work better than anything! It is always so freeing to let go of something that wasn’t working for me and my students and find something that makes class so much more enjoyable and easy because I was fighting against myself and dragging my students along.

    • Indeed! Glad to hear. Yeah, the number of collaborative storytelling variations I’ve done over the years is considerable: OWATS, COWATS, Story Cubes, Invisibles (OWI), TPRS to name a few.

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