Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Storytelling in 3D: Interrogating Engagement with Oral Storytelling in the School Classroom

Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Storytelling in 3D: Interrogating Engagement with Oral Storytelling in the School Classroom

Article excerpt

Introduction

What is a practising storyteller to do when the story being told to a kindergarten audience of three- and four-year-olds is interrupted by the facility director, who states that the story "isn't being told in the right way"? This surprising incident happened to me after twenty years of storytelling experience. My response was to seek a systematic study that focused on, and evaluated, children's responses to oral storytelling to clarify "the right way." After a long and fruitless search, in the spirit of another early-childhood literature character, the Little Red Hen, I decided that I would "just do it myself." The original question of "how does one tell stories the right way?" however, became the broader question "how do children engage with storytelling?" and I embarked on an eight-year journey to investigate the issue.1

From an initial search of the literature on storytelling, several research questions evolved to guide the project: (1) What is an appropriate, academically rigorous methodology for investigating engagement with storytelling? (2) How can children's engagement with storytelling be defined and measured? and (3) How do children experience story, on the basis of observable, behavioral cues?

Although the term QUEST (an acronym for "querying unexplored experiences in story-telling") was developed to explore these research questions, in keeping with the storytelling theme of the study, the notion of a methodological QUEST to discover the best ways to interrogate a phenomenon will have resonance with many different studies.

Clarifying Engagement with Storytelling

Storytelling can be defined as the act of an individual verbally recounting to one or more listeners, without the use of written text, an account of an event or series of events (Boyd 2-28). The story structure is arranged in a logical sequence, incorporating plot, characters, and context, as well as emotional content, motivating factors, and perspective for the narrator.

The term engagement became a central marker for this research into how children participate in the exchange with storytelling, so a precise definition is essential. Engagement with a story can be expressed as a "committal of consciousness" (Mundy-Taylor 33), in which the listener surrenders to the experience of the story and shares his or her responses with the storyteller and the rest of the audience, in what MacDonald has termed "breakthrough into play" (412). Therefore, in this research, engagement with storytelling was the observable responses, expressed verbally and physically, that a listener revealed as he or she listened to a story. Engagement required that the listener was experiencing some sort of emotional response to the story, and it was essential to clarify multiple facets of engagement as the research proceeded. The spoken, movement, emotional, and the interactive responses of the child research participants were all video recorded and transcribed as the storytelling process proceeded. In addition, the storyteller included her own responses to the children's responses as well as noting any contextual factors that impacted the storytelling events. Clarifying indicators of engagement evolved to become a three-dimensional experience.

How to Study Storytelling: The QUEST (Querying Unexplored Experiences in Story-Telling)

Accepted processes for qualitative research (Agee; Creswell, Research Design; Flick) were adapted to meet the specific needs of research into hitherto unexplored aspects of storytelling. In this study, they were reformulated specifically as the QUEST method to enhance clarity and to better exemplify storytelling as a staged process.

The QUEST method evolved to answer the first research question: what is an appropriate, academically rigorous methodology for investigating engagement with storytelling? It provided a systematic method that aligned with both participatory action research and, to a lesser extent, phenomenology for observing and analyzing aspects of storytelling. …

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