And thereby hangs a tale ..

27th June 2008 at 01:00
The first professional qualification in storytelling skills in the UK will begin in September

The first professional qualification in storytelling skills in the UK will begin in September

If you are a teacher, you are a storyteller. You can't but be a storyteller, whether you're constructing a scientific or mathematical formula, recounting the Battle of Bannockburn or warning children about "stranger danger".

Pupils, too, are natural storytellers, and not just in the sense of telling how the dog chewed up their homework. They learn by sharing the narrative of the teacher and by constructing their own narratives from that experience.

"Storytelling is not a monologue. It is a dialogue, a sharing of ideas and experiences, and it is central to teaching and learning," says Donald Smith, director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.

The centre has joined forces with Newbattle Abbey College in Midlothian, to offer the first professional qualification in storytelling skills in the UK. Accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (at Level 7), the first 10-month course will begin at the college this September and is designed for professionals who use aspects of storytelling in their day- to-day work, including teachers, librarians, literacy workers, museum and heritage interpreters, youth workers and environmental rangers.

The course combines theoretical perspectives, on how oral storytelling works as an effective form of communication, with practical experience of how it is applied in specific professional contexts like the classroom, playground or after-school club, and how it can be used to enhance practice.

Participants will focus on the three "big skill" sets which make the successful storyteller: sourcing, creating and editing materials for their specific professional context; how to present a story to different kinds of listenersaudiences; and how to facilitate others to become engaged in sharing, learning and telling.

"There's an old Jewish saying that `The right response to a story is another story', and you will always get a response, a story back," says Dr Smith.

"The really good storytellers engage the listeners as active participants in sharing the story creatively. The emphasis then moves from the storyteller to the listener and what she or he is going to do with it.

"A pupil might make a drawing, design a video game or undertake a scientific investigation, for example. Good storytelling is always the start of something fresh," he says.

Dr Smith also sees storytelling as "the most fantastic tool for cracking the Curriculum for Excellence", not only because it engages with the pupil as an individual learner, but because it is about the teacher taking the initiative in developing the young person's learning and because it is "totally affirming" of the teacher's own creativity.

As part of the SQA course, which includes two residential weekends at Newbattle Abbey, participants will create a written project contextualised in their workplace practice. In teaching terms, this could range from a whole-school project, a peer-group storytelling or out-of-school club to a library or eco-school project or an early education project working with families.

"Storytelling is an art form which belongs to all people in their different contexts and the course treats all participants as creative professionals on an equal basis," says Dr Smith. "In educational terms, storytelling relates to all subject areas. There's always a narrative element included in subjects like science and maths."

The partnership between the storytelling centre and the college is based on their shared ethos of providing lifelong learning opportunities to people from all backgrounds.

"Storytelling is a democratic art form and Newbattle's core principles are about access and cultural skills for everyone," says Norah Fitzcharles, the college's vice-principal.

"We are very excited about this unique qualification which will give the participants a fantastic set of skills to enhance their particular areas of professional practice, as well as helping to support one of Scotland's proudest traditions."

There are also cultural and historical connections between the two institutions. The writer and poet George Mackay Brown, founding patron of the storytelling centre, was a student at Newbattle when its principal was another poet - and a champion of traditional myths and legends - Edwin Muir.

There are currently around 110 professional storytellers living and working in Scotland, evidence that the art form has undergone a revival, if not indeed a renaissance, in recent years led by the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

But there are also hundreds of other professionals who have already trained with the centre and who use storytelling in their work, ranging from teachers to social and care workers and health professionals. A strong desire among this group to further their training and to gain an accredited qualification, also spurred the storytelling centre to link up with an SQA-accredited centre.

The fact that Newbattle also has a beautiful setting makes it perfect for the two residential weekends which are crucial to the course, as storytelling is very much a community experience.

"Contemporary storytelling is about much more than the preservation of an ancient art. It is about living culture and, even more importantly, a practical tool for engaging with a range of people from school pupils to the elderly and those with mental health problems," says Dr Smith.

"Storytelling is about inclusion and the desire to grow and develop. It is THE human art.

"We are all storytellers, I believe. But I also believe we could all be better storytellers.";

For course information or applications E: office@newbattle

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