Once Upon a Time
In traditional times, storytelling was much more than a pastime. It was a social institution, an “oral university” that taught people young and old about values, beliefs, morals, history, and life skills; it taught everyone how to function in the community. Today in our First Nations schools, storytelling can and should be used as a powerful and interactive tool in our classrooms. Not only does it create bonds, increase listening skills, and foster communication, it indigenizes the curriculum.
Unlike the passivity of television and videos with their one-way communication, storytelling is interactive. It is face-to- face communication. The stories we tell and retell help us return to moments big or small that mark us in some way.
Sharing stories creates classroom connections. It produces a relationship between the storytellers and the listeners. We all live through our stories and the stories live through us. Willingness to listen shows that you and other students care about what the storyteller is sharing and are interested in their ideas, thoughts and experiences.
Stories are dynamic rather than static. Depending on who is listening there are many different messages that can be received. Stories have many layers of meaning, they give the listener the responsibility to listen, reflect and then interpret the message. In using storytelling, you provide connections to ideas that students can understand, so that learning is meaningful and transformative. To motivate, to instill ideas, to try and help students set dreams rather than just accepting that ‘this is what it is’…that is the power of storytelling.
Storytelling indigenizes the curriculum. It incorporates Indigenous ways of teaching within the socially constructed context of classroom lessons. Storytelling has its roots in the attempt to explain life and the mysteries of the world. A story could always be told that would help a parent teach or explain some aspect of life. Storytelling time was a time for the family to be together; it was a time for the Elders to explain history to the children and for learning, listening, interacting, and sharing. Children were regarded as the inheritors of the traditions being passed forward. Today, storytelling still holds value, as it is an empowering link to a sense of identity and traditional knowledge.
The use of a story in the classroom allows students to reveal their knowledge and have others recognize them for being knowledgeable. It also provides an opportunity for their ways of knowing to be honoured and respected in the classroom.
So in your classroom, make it a yearlong goal to talk about your life, the stories that make your family so unique, your experiences, and how you got to be you and not someone else. And have your students do the same.
Use your own experiences to highlight a particular concept you are teaching your students.
Share as many culturally relevant stories as possible. Find and learn songs with stories. Invite an Elder or community member to come to your classroom to share their stories.
As First Nations author Richard Wagamese says, “You can make storytelling non-threatening and valuable for youth by using story circles in classrooms so students can share in a formal, traditional, ceremonial way, because everyone has a crushing desire to be heard despite modern technology.”
Some content retrieved from www. education.gov.sk.ca MacLean, Melanie and Linda Wason-Ellam. (2006). “When Aboriginal and Metis Teachers use Storytelling as an Instructional Practice”.