I am a storytelling researcher using oral storytelling as a method with young people, of 12-14 years. I am interested in what storytelling as a social space might tell us about the role of stories in society. I am also working on a book of short stories inspired by my research.
Dr Analia Meo from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, came to
discuss a short documentary called Teachers' Views on Returning Schools. The
Film looks at the experiences and views of teachers and young people at schools
in Buenos Aires, which cater for kids who have been excluded from education.
Aires (2002) a national education policy was created to keep young people in
secondary school education. As a result all inclusive schools were set up in
2004. These were experimental. The idea being that they would transfer the
knowledge gained back from the school system to shape educational policy. Ten
years later their work is not acknowledged. These returning schools are
invisible to the wider education system the hoped to influence.
the film one phrase from a teacher struck me, she said, that their school was
‘an institution that keeps asking questions.’ These are schools that believe in
the relationships between students and teachers. Social context and individual
learning is their main focus rather than a National Curriculum. This is not
without issues, but the students feel supported, and there is less ‘acting out’
say that UK films within exclusion units in the UK where pupils are placed who
are felt unteachable, rather than trying to adjust and ask what can we do to
get these students involved in their own education. It is a failing of the
system rather than the student.
discussion that followed the film Dr Analía Meo said that rather than coming from
a critical pedagogy perspective (see the work of Paulo Freire), teachers were
more concerned with the right of every student to have a good education. The
school was not a place to transform society, but one to provide young people
with options into society. Education is viewed as ‘a trampoline to future
opportunities’ said Dr Meo.
expressed the tensions that exist between research and creating a documentary.
A film is not a critical paper. Sociologists have an ethical responsibility. So
different choices are made in creating a film than what the research focus is. The
role of the film is really a trigger for discussion and dialogue.
Hearn came to speak, at the University of Warwick, about power and the role of
competition in society.
‘Competition is part of
the deep structure of how society is organised,’ he said. ‘I am not a supporter
of competition. I used to be a musician and thought I would escape the constant
competition over gigs by working in the ivory tower of academia. Of course
competition kept chasing after me!’
competition as rituals that may or may not succeed. Competition between
belief-making institutions may be responsible, in part, for the dissemination
of certain ideologies in society. Of course because my research interest is
stories I probably ignored his real message and began to make connects of
isn't a new concept. It is an historical point of view, as Winston Churchill said 'History is written by the victors.' Whether through news stories, education, or reality TV like I'm a Celebrity Get me out of Here! These forms
of story as society’s narratives may be feeding back to anyone watching or
listening that competition is a “natural”
part of society.
out, the word competitive relating to the characteristic of a person didn’t
exist until the mid-18th century (I hope I remembered accurately). Is
it then a socially influenced phenomenon?
are competing all the time… in this way they might contribute to social
stability or social change. Certain ideologies would be reinforced as “the norm”
and others frowned upon, in different ways in different societies. I doubt that
society is structured around competition on its own, and this isn’t what Hearn
was trying to say. He acknowledged the difficulties of separating competition
from other factors that contribute to the complexity of our social world. And anti-competitive
individuals also have to be considered, although as beings there is an element
of competing for resources that we cannot escape. Especially in the academic
world when it comes to funding. Should we be funding the best competitors who
may hold very conventional and therefore definable ideas, or should we fund the
ideas. Now there’s a thought.
proactive approach to Professor Jack Zipes in 2013 I went to Minneapolis in
September 2014 to work as an assistant on the Neighbourhood Bridges Program
(Bridges), an arts for education charity. During that trip I spoke to Dr Ingram
at Minnesota University to ask questions about the way in which the charity
assesses its critical literacy targets and talk about some research ideas I had
on oral storytelling.
In 2015 Dr
Ingram will be analysing data for both Neighbourhood Bridges and Building
Bridges—an anti-racism project which uses story to connect people in the
community through the reading and discussion of fiction and nonfiction. I was
invited me to join her analysis team as a research assistant. I also intend to
present my research findings to the faculty.
Good news, I
applied to my department and was successful in being awarded the funding to
cover my trip to Minneapolis in the coming year.
has also been taken up with research software courses such as SPSS, and a
seminar on the 15th on Field Research, Transparency, and Analytic
Rigour through Coding which was useful to reframe some of my current thesis
ideas and refine future research ideas.
Attended a Q&A to hear director Ken Loach talk about
his new documentary ‘The Spirit of 1945’. A film showing broken promises made
by the Labour party,
nationalisation, and the subsequent dismantling of the welfare state
over time. During discussions at the end a member of the audience said, what
can we do to protect our NHS? Our welfare? Loach suggested that socialist
parties group together and co-ordinate, with voters supporting one another, negotiating
and backing the Green Party (as an example), and in that way trying to ensure
welfare is not further degraded by the current government. Gave me a lot to think about. I really enjoyed the way that the documentary captured the stories of real people and how the welfare state benefited them and how it's removal is detrimental to our quality of life.
Organised by Siobhan Dytham and Carlie Ria Rowell.
The event was about innovation - what it is, why do it, and does it improve our research?
Keynote speakers included Prof. Melanie Nind (University of Southampton)
Dr Nicola Ingram (University of Bath)
I very much enjoyed talking to everyone, like Nicola Ingram
who I had met previously at a BSA education conference in London, and Jessica
Heal and her co-workers from TeachFirst. It was great to hear about the
research that they were doing in education to hear from young people how they
benefited from different teaching styles, and the way in which this was fed
back to teachers to improve practices.
Nicola Ingram’s talk included the use of innovative
techniques, like using art. During her presentation plasticine was given to
every table and the audience created models to represent their academic selves
and chat about the result. Here is mine. Please feel free to comment on what
you think it might be!
Other speakers included Nadena Doharty, Farhat Syyeda, Lauren
Doak, and Jacqui Shepherd
One thing which I took away from the day was that there is a
large underrepresentation of people from “lower functioning autistic spectrums”
for instance due to a lack of innovation in research methods. This conference
was a call for the inclusivity of research.
I was invited to Minneapolis by Professor Jack Zipes to participate in the work
of Neighborhood Bridges. This involved presenting my research to staff,
teachers and teaching artists of Neighborhood Bridges, meeting with academics,
and going into a number of different schools to see the project in action.
A brief overview of Bridges
Walker Sculpture Garden (Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburgh)
Bridges is recognised by the US Department for Education as a national model for arts
education. Highly trained teaching artists take storytelling and drama into
schools and work with the teacher and their classroom from autumn to spring.
The breadth of the work is impressive as Bridges works with almost forty
teaching artists and teachers in schools across Minneapolis. I assisted four
teaching artists in the class room during their first sessions. The teaching
artist works with the teacher and a classroom of approximately twenty to thirty
young people within primary and secondary schools. Throughout the year the
classroom works on encouraging the students’ individual and group storytelling
and drama skills, including creativity and the ability to question story from
their own experiences. The year cumulates with storytelling performances created
by the students at the Children’s Theatre Company which is an opportunity to
see performances from other schools and meet other classrooms on the program.
Dr Deborah Ingram at the University of Minnesota, and others, assess the
program to ensure critical literacy targets are met.
Presenting storytelling research at
After introducing myself to roughtly forty teachers and teaching artists on September tenth Maria Asp at Bridges kindly arranged a two hour slot on the fifteenth. This was an opportunity to hear the perspectives of various
teaching artists, teachers and Bridges staff. My research aims to investigate
if oral storytelling, within a school context, can be used to understand and/or
assist the transitions of young people of 12-14 years into adult roles. To
answer this question a total of thirty focus groups were conducted across three
schools over five weeks using an innovative storytelling method called the
storytelling space because it creates an area within a school separate from
conventional goal-focused education.
presenting an outline of this work I asked how storytelling research might
support the work currently done in education. A number of themes arose during this
The social aspects of storytelling
Director and Teaching Artist Maria Asp reflected, ‘To me it just seems right on
that the social trigger is where the learning happens. That’s because
everything that we know about true critical pedagogy is that learning is
relational, that when they’re in a space where they’re knowledge is valued, and
their experiences, if it’s family or whatever, is seen as valuable sources, as
opposed to another author or something, that’s where kids, that’s where they
show their greatest compassion and understanding for each other.’
discussed how current assessed education stifles potential and creative
thinking. Maria Asp said ‘Making space for non-scripted teaching is an argument
that I think storytelling could support’ for example in terms of information retention.
Storytelling in education over text-based work led has in the group’s opinion led
to an astounding recollection of details from Bridges’ storytelling games from
the start of the year. Narratives are remembered, they see this in action
working with the classrooms. Sandy Agustin, Teaching Artist, points out
education is ‘about asking questions it’s not about right or wrong. It’s what
do you think?’
teaching artists described the way in which storytelling breaks barriers so
teachers see pupils differently and vice versa. They have seen how the program
improves class relationships, and how the teachers learn and enhance their own
skills over the year and beyond. Engaging the teachers engages the students.
The role of the storyteller
The group I
presented to were surprised, and shocked!, when the storyteller was asked to leave
the room during the research focus groups (the storyteller’s role being to
deliver the story then leave the group to their discussion). The purpose of
this, due to lack of time to train the storytellers in the research method, was
to avoid adult-led discussion. This technique avoided leading the storyteller
to perform in a particular way to enhance the research goals which I felt would
be interference. Although by being present and conducting the research this has
an effect. Tessa Flynn, Community Engagement Manager and Teaching Artist, said
‘It’s interesting too, that it’s just the kids. Just taping what they are
Jack Zipes said, ‘you’ve got to talk to the storyteller. They’re going to
emphasise certain things. All teaching artists in bridges go in with the
intention to animate students, to think about particular problems. The way they
tell their stories will emphasise certain things.’
This I saw
in action whilst assisting Bridges in different schools across Minneapolis. The
teaching artists told the same introductory story of Minnie and St Paul; a folk
tale about the founding of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St Paul). However
the relationship between the two characters, Minnie and Paul was retold in many
different ways. Jay Scoggin for example emphasised Minnie’s gratefulness to
Paul for building a bridge to return her cows to her that had wandered onto his
land. In Katy McEwen’s version Paul gave Minnie back her cows, which allowed Katy to
ask the classroom what else Paul could do to say sorry. A student suggested
that Paul could offer Minnie another cow and Katy wove the idea into the story.
Aaron Radatz’s version of Paul captured his love of pranks so that Paul
purposefully hid the cows in his barn as a joke as he cleverly drew the
students into the story. And Tess Flynn had her classroom feeling comfortable
enough to be acting out the character of Minnie, copying her actions of
Minnie’s cranky personality whilst telling the story.
is relational, and in education research the relationships between storyteller
and teacher has time to evolve into a richer learning experience. In the
Bridges program the storyteller facilitates discussion of the story by placing
questions in the students like ‘who has the power in this story?’.
Differences between US and UK
I was able
to obtain school approval to record the audio of student’s conversations. Shannon
McManimon who did her PhD on Bridges wasn’t allowed to record and had to take
notes by hand. This creates an obstacle to research. Though she noted, as I
did, most of the time the students forgot that they were being recorded. And
that a researcher by being present is an interfering presence. Shannon’s PhD
was based about a story she narrated: ‘who told the story was no longer
important because they had taken ownership of that story’.
I was stuck with how to end this blog because
there is much more that came out of the discussions.However it is most fitting to end with a
question from a Bridges member of staff.
Rachel Austin Bernstein, East Metro/Early Bridges Manager
‘These students were doing this means
nothing against all the standardised test scores. Yet this is serious
educational research. That’s a different research language than analysing test
scores. How can we compare the two different kinds of research?‘
thanks to Professor Jack Zipes, to everyone involved with Neighborhood Bridges Project for being so welcoming, and the Sociology Department at Warwick for their support