Why teachers need to embrace their inner storyteller

Delivering a chunk of information from the front of the classroom needn't be boring – in fact, says Emma Sheppard, it can be magical
30th December 2020, 1:20pm
Emma Sheppard

Share

Why teachers need to embrace their inner storyteller

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/why-teachers-need-embrace-their-inner-storyteller
A Woman Gazes, Wide-eyed, Over The Cover Of A Book

It is a rainy, wet-playing morning in my house. Thankfully my children, aged two and a half and four, are not averse to sitting and snuggling for long periods, entertained by an audiobook. 

In this regard, they take after their English-teacher mother who, during her second maternity leave, found that audiobooks and podcasts were the most entertaining way to spend the long hours with a winter-born, cluster-feeding baby. 

Watching the children, I am simultaneously reminded of the feedback I gave a strong new history trainee, as he got to grips with the restrictions - imposed on all of us - of the socially distanced classroom

There came a moment in his lesson when - as in any subject - his students just needed to know a chunk of content.

Coronavirus: not just lecturing from the front

Trapped at his desk next to his MS Teams Live Lesson microphone, within his 2m box, and in the absence of a YouTube video on Edward the Confessor handily appropriate to Year 7, lecturing was his only option.

What struck me when watching this trainee admirably reading a block of text from the board was that, had he joined the teaching profession following a career as a toddler rhyme-time host, or immersive National Trust summer storytelling actor, he would have been able to make Edward the Confessor sound as exciting to a group of 11-year-olds as The BFG does to my children on this rainy weekend morning.

The reason we have entire civilisations built on oral storytelling traditions is because there is nothing more gripping than a well-told story.

The fear that many of us may have, in our socially distanced classroom, of boring our students to death with the monotony of didactic teaching fails to recognise the training that many of our students will have had - in listening to stories and engaging with the images, information and inspiration that they provide. 

The power of performative storytelling

For all the things that our Covid-ready classrooms have taken from us, the opportunity to hone our performances as impassioned narrators of our own subjects is one that we should grab hold of with both hands. Assuming, that is, that our hands are free - because this is also an opportunity to use any props we can find to bring learning to life for our young people. 

The power of performative storytelling is not restricted to the English, primary, or history classroom. From David Attenborough to Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Akala to Michael Palin, the learning in our popular culture is dominated not just by subject experts but by experts who spin beautiful and gripping narratives.

Of course, delivering chunks of information in an engaging and confident manner, as well as perfecting the art of a narrative, takes practice. 

But, as I lose myself in the multiple voices of Indira Varma's narration of The Secret Garden, or remember Science Museum staff telling the story of flight to a group of rapt children, I am reminded that a good starting point is to learn from the best - and to enjoy the show.

Emma Sheppard is founder of The MaternityTeacher/PaternityTeacher (MTPT) Project and a lead practitioner for English

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters