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Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Importance of Story Telling

There is a rich history of storytelling in every culture I can think of.  Story telling is used to communicate information, teach lessons, tell about events, transmit cultural expectations and histories, and entertain.
This same rich history of storytelling winds it way through child development at all levels of development.  Children are encouraged from an early age to tell about events, retell stories, and make up stories.  Children practice telling about tasks and routine events, narrating activities and play, and producing narratives to tell about their experiences.   Carol Westby speaks a great deal about the culture of storytelling in language development and the importance for language and literacy development of children’s rehearsals of story telling and retelling in play with sibling, stuffed animals and dolls.  Narrative skill is a strong predictor of academic success.
Narrative production requires not only an understanding of event sequences, cause and effect, and story grammar, but also understanding of how people feel and react and respond.
According to Westby, there are different types of narratives; including scripts, recounts, accounts, event casts, and fictional stories. 
Studying narrative skills in children gives us an idea of how the child uses different sentence types and structures, how well they can recall and reformulate, their understanding of temporal and causal relationships between people and events, and much more. 

There are a variety of narrative development schema that have been proposed or researched. In the broadest and simplest terms, children move from:

  1. Heaps - This is the linguistic version of that pile of laundry you have in your head that the name evokes - at least to me. At this stage a narrative is simply a list of mostly nouns and verbs that label or describe the people, things, and actions, without any kind of organization.
  2. Sequences - Now some organization emerges. The utterances revolve around a topic or theme, a character, but without any order or plot.
  3. Simple or primitive narratives have some event that starts the story - an initiating event.  They also have some action after that and a consequence of that action. There is o real ending to the story at this point, and no explanation of why the action occurred or how anyone felt about it.  
  4. The next stage has been called a chain narrative, or can be broken into two stages: unfocused chain and focused chain.  As the name suggests there is some chain of events or sequencing that is either cause-effect or temporal in its elements.  In addition to the initiating event and the subsequent action there is now an additional action or reaction, which the character has some hint of motivation or a plan for. There is a conclusion, but not a strong resolution to the story. Researchers say there is no central character in an unfocused chain.  The chain of actions may be joined by conjunctions; such as “and,” “because,” and “but.”  The focused chain contains a central character and a logical sequence.
  5. A true narrative has a theme and a strong plot.  The character is more developed, and has motivation to react and act, the characters’ actions are logical and sequential. The main elements of stories are included at this stage - initiating event, the character’s plan or motivation, an action or attempt at action, a consequence to that, and a resolution or solution to the problem.
More on narratives next week.  How do you help children tell stories?

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