Teachers Revisit Singing and Story-Telling

Revisit Singing and Story-Telling

Singing and story-telling used to be very much a part of school activity. Curriculum changes and pressures placed on teachers have almost assigned these activities to history. Yet they can fill an important place in our classrooms.

Children love singing. When it comes to a personal vocalising adventure it is also something many teachers decline because of self-consciousness. It is unfortunate that many teachers are reluctant to engage in singing with children at classroom level. In many schools singing is left to the music teacher. The activity is one in which classroom teachers, even those responsible for early childhood children, rarely engage.

Singing is an activity I enjoyed with children in many different school settings, in all grades and in all kinds of schools.

I’m no expert in musical terms, but enjoyment should be the key to singing. Holding a tune helps, but if that does not come naturally, it can be cultivated.

Singing is confidence building for children. I believe that to sing can also build teacher confidence. The exercise is one that promotes vocal projection, facial expression, and correct word usage. Listening skills are enhanced because singers have to listen out for each other.

Memory building

Learning the lyrics and music that goes with singing, helps when it comes to memory building. Songs learned stay with people for years, sometimes a lifetime. The stimulation of memory is important because the ability to memorise, one of the characteristics with which we have been blessed, is enhanced by practice.

Part of the appeal to memory is that of challenging children to learn the words and tune of the song as quickly as possible. Make singing exciting.

When I was a primary school student back in the 1950’s, we used to have singing lessons to our schools broadcast over the radio. Lessons were weekly for 30 or 45 minutes. Once the song we were learning was introduced, the singing teacher would drag the learning out over several weeks. We poor children would back up phrase by phrase, line by line and verse by verse for what seemed an eternity. The enjoyment of singing became entangled within this torturous learning process. When teaching singing, be smart about methodology.

Linking

Singing can be linked with other elements of the curriculum, especially Social and Cultural Education. ‘Linking’ similarly applies when it comes to musical appreciation. Music and instrumental appreciation is helpful when it comes to studying countries, cultures and people of the world. Musical appreciation is a strategy that helps us better understand and appreciate Indigenous Australians.

Creative appeal

Children are asked to use their imaginations to create stories, write poems, manufacture art/craft pieces and to carry out scientific experiments. This may extend to electives studies, speech preparation and other activities. There is no reason why children, even very young children, can’t be encouraged to create and teach (under guidance) their own songs.

Telling stories is an enriching teaching and listening experience.

At the risk of sounding old fashioned, I extol the virtues of story telling. These days, with the advent and use of smart-boards and connecting devices, teachers often use audio-visual technology when it comes to story reading and story telling. The possible reluctance that teachers may feel about telling stories to children is not new. When I was a primary school student we used to have ‘Junior Listener’ stories broadcast to us by radio. For half an hour or so we would sit at our desks in rural Western Australia and listen to the story of the week being read to us by a presenter in Perth. Memory fades with time but I cannot remember our teachers being much into story telling. We were read to from time to time. However in those days, books were not attractively presented or full of colourful illustrations to be shared with children.

Teachers should not feel reluctant about telling or reading stories to children. Sadly, the skill of story telling is becoming a lost art. I always gained great satisfaction from being able to share stories with students from Transition to Year Seven. I believe that teachers of older students can fashion their delivery of material in a way that transmits it to students in story form. Story provided ‘setting’ and helps place the context of message into a feasible environment. It helps students understand the application of theoretical contexts.

To tell stories with and to children is to engage with them in a primary conversational context. Stories told with animation and conviction, with supporting gesture and eye contact, engage children and switch them on in a way that draws them close to the message being conveyed.

Advantages

Story telling offers many educational positives.

* The quality, meaning and context of language, word usage and meaning can be followed up by discussion during ‘conversational pauses’ within the story or at its end when the story is being reviewed.

* Questioning to test listening helps to build the notions of concentration and listening. To have ‘mini quizzes’ where there is some sort of contestation build within the group (for instance, girls versus boys, contest between class groups and so on) adds to student focus and engagement. This strategy discourages students ‘switching off’ and mentally wandering off into the distance.

* Having students work on ‘prediction. and ‘forecast’ by sharing their thoughts about where the story will head and how it will conclude can be an interesting and testing strategy. This approach helps develop the skills of logic and reasoning within thinking.

* Language study is enhanced. Asking children the meanings of words and words within context is an example. Similes and antonyms can be developed as a part of word study.

* Some texts which share stories are written in the ‘language of yesteryear’. There are two volumes that come to mind, ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ and stories by Hans Christian Anderson. These stories not only introduce children to a vast array of very colourful old fashioned words that have been superseded by the idiom of modern language. They are also set in social situations of the past, largely replaced by the social attitudes and disposition of today. These stories lend to wonderful exploration of word development and a comparison of historical and contemporary social mores. They help with developing understanding of what has changed and why behaviours once acceptable have been replaced.

* The appeal of stories to imagination and ‘the mind’s eye’ is such that art growing or flowing from story presentation can be colourful and creative. If the story is one drawn from history, asking children to think of clothing, transport, buildings and other artefacts from the past can help with differentiation and clarify understanding.

* A great way of treating longer stories, is to serialise (or mini-series) them, with ‘to be continued’ as part of the understanding. That is a great way of helping children anticipate what may happen. A good story being well told can also be a motivator. Continuation can be applied as a reward for effort and endeavour.

Qualities

* Make sure when telling stories that you use clear, expressive language. Take the part with language variations, of the characters you are describing.

* Engage children by asking them to respond by being characters in the story. Have them thing about and describe the characters, moods and attitudes of those around whom the story is centred.

* Have children act or visit the story or parts thereof through dramatic expression. Drama is a subject very rarely considered these days.

* As a story teller, make eye contact with the group. Vocal expression is important including pitch, rhythm and other elements of speech.

End Point

I could go on about story telling. A good story well told, will be remembered for a long time. I still have people, now in their late teens and adult years, tell me they remember my story telling and how much they enjoyed stories I told.

It is a sad fact of life that adults tend to lose their imaginative capacities. To engage in story telling is to keep the imagination of the story teller alive and flourishing. As a school principal, I used to talk with children about the importance of imagination and imaginative thought. To tell stories has helped keep me in touch with this advice.

Singing and story telling are enjoyable activities. I recommend both.

Henry Gray

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