If I Had Three Wishes: The Educational and Social/Emotional Benefits of Oral Storytelling

By Agosto, Denise E. | Storytelling, Self, Society, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

If I Had Three Wishes: The Educational and Social/Emotional Benefits of Oral Storytelling


Agosto, Denise E., Storytelling, Self, Society


Introduction

Humans have been telling stories almost since the beginning of human language (Agosto, "Storytelling"). In modern times we tell tales for many reasons: for entertainment, for strengthening community and cultural bonds, to teach lessons, to preserve cultural history, and to promote literacy and reading. Professional storytellers and many librarians also tell tales as literary performance art:

Most storytellers perform because they believe in the power of story; find words, images, metaphors, and a strong narrative line intoxicating; and relish the sin- gular satisfaction of interacting with an audience. Those of us who are librarians usually share a deep desire to connect listeners with books. (Birch 26)

Although the purposes for modern storytelling in schools and libraries are well understood, less is known about the actual impact of oral storytelling on school- children. This study sought to examine schoolchildren's impressions of a live oral storytelling performance as revealed through their response drawings and written and oral responses and to analyze the kinds of educational and social/emotional benefits that children can derive from experiencing oral storytelling.

Background and Literature Review

Two areas of research frame this work. First, this works seeks to examine the educational and social/emotional benefits of oral stor ytelling for an elementary school audience. Second, it considers the kinds of mental images that elementary school-age children create during and after hearing oral stories.

The Educational and Social/Emotional Benefits of Oral Storytelling

Within the professional storytelling literature, the educational benefits of youth who experience live storytelling are widely understood to relate to sense making and literacy skills building. Storytelling as an educational tool has been suggested as facilitating both oral language acquisition and the development of reading and writing skills.

For example, Marsh and Luzadder (6) summarize many of the educational benefits of storytelling:

As children listen to a story, they use many skills to make sense of it and integrate it into their lives. Listening to and participating in stories . . . provides children opportunities for practicing a wide range of skills. These include:

* Using their imaginations to create mental pictures of the tale;

* Developing their oral communication skills by hearing new words, phrases, and ideas;

* Refining auditory discrimination skills;

* Strengthening critical thinking skills;

* Growing their creative abilities;

* Expanding their active listening skills;

* Strengthening sequencing skills;

* Distinguishing between reality and fantasy;

* Building self-confidence;

* Growing their love for books and reading.

Those who use storytelling in educational settings also often point to its ability to help children become more effective communicators. For example, Forest ("Storytelling in the Classroom," n. pag.) writes that

storytelling can encourage students to explore their unique expressiveness and can heighten a student's ability to communicate thoughts and feelings in an articulate, lucid manner. These benefits transcend the art experience to support daily life skills. In our fast-paced, media-driven world, storytelling can be a nurturing way to remind children that spoken words are powerful, that listening is important, and that clear communication between people is an art.

However, there is a limited body of research that has used experimental or natural- istic methods to investigate whether storytelling can lead to these assumed benefits. As Mello ("The Power of Storytelling") explains: "Few studies exist that actually investigate the impact of the ancient and seminal performing art of storytelling on children's development and learning" (11). With this research gap in mind, Mello conducted a yearlong ethnographic study of the educational and social impacts of oral storytelling on students in a fourth-grade class. …

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