What's the story?

3rd November 2006 at 00:00
Elizabeth Buie discovers that the 40-year-old Storyline teaching method is facing a revival with the new curriculum

A cross-curricular primary teaching approach developed nearly 40 years ago by Jordanhill College staff tutors - and killed off by Tory education reforms in the late 1980s - is bidding to make a comeback via A Curriculum for Excellence.

The Storyline method - topic-based teaching which follows a story thread across various curricular areas - has been widely adopted across Europe, particularly in the Nordic countries, Thailand, and the United States. It is known as the Scottish, or even Glasgow, Storyline method.

An international conference held in Glasgow last weekend attracted nearly 350 delegates from 16 countries. In Scotland, however, where Storyline originated in 1967, the approach has largely died out, or been driven underground by the 5-14 curriculum reforms.

Sallie Harkness and Steve Bell, Glasgow-based education consultants who were part of the Jordanhill team of staff tutors who created Storyline four decades ago, believe the methodology could be used to help teachers meet the aims of A Curriculum for Excellence.

Training workshops are being held for primary teachers in Glasgow and Inverclyde over the next few months, and it has already been developed in Falkirk for early years and primary classes.

The approach involves a framework of logical Storyline episodes; key questions in which teachers use open questioning to create dialogue with pupils, such as "what do you think would happen if... ?"; a variety of activities ranging from research to writing, and maths to art and design; and individual, paired and group work.

From the teachers' perspective, team-teaching, assessment of learning, a variety of learning outcomes and evaluation of multiple intelligences are integral.

Ms Harkness and Mr Bell argue that the previous Tory Government's drive against "progressive" teaching methods, and the switch of funding streams for in-service training, effectively spelt the death-knell for Storyline.

John MacBeath, chair of educational leadership at Cambridge University's Institute of Education, who was a young lecturer at Jordanhill College when Storyline was being developed, hopes to run Storyline workshops for teachers in England. He believes Storyline could be the vehicle to draw subjects together in secondary under the new curriculum.

An evaluation of elementary schools in California showed that the single most effective school in the state was using the Storyline approach, he said.

Critics of Storyline have highlighted problems, such as which topics should be pitched at which level, and difficulties in ensuring continuity and progression. Some school inspectors did not like it, and some history and geography specialists found it problematic because story lines seek to place the pupil in a given situation and then hypothesise on ways forward.

However, Ms Harkness and Mr Bell believe the experiences of other countries which have adapted Storyline to their education systems have led to a tightening up of Scottish structures.

For more information, visit www.storyline-scotland.com

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