The Weaving Webs of Stories training programme (IO2)

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Introduction

Some say that all the greatest human achievements and most of the technological advances we have made have come by chance. However, as Louis Pasteur put it “Chance favors the prepared mind”. Therefore, the WWS consortium needed to understand what it means to have a “prepared mind” in the 21st century and how we can contribute to developing the skills necessary for it.

In days when technology evolves at a rate, which the average human is hardly able to follow, humanity is bound to focus on other types of achievement, which are not simple supplements to STEM-related skills but which contribute transversally to all quality aspects of life – social, professional, mental, cultural wellbeing.

Humanity has been struggling with inequality, with prejudice, with discrimination far and wide – openly visible in less developed regions and subtly disguised in more advanced ones. No wonder that one of the most important aims of the training programme you are diving in is encouraging equality, inclusion and diversity. Yet, despite the unlimited informational vortex we and our children live in, what the youth and adults of the future will need, is not simply the availability of information but the possibility to analyse the information, consider it critically as well as create new content on their own. This is why the other main aim of this programme is, via non-formal learning, to develop and promote literacy skills. The empowerment, which would be generated from achieving these main objectives, would also manifest itself in a third achievement – the so-called socio-emotional literacy, which stories, books, poems, theatre and other creative activities inevitably pave the way for.

Even if it is never late for anybody to start/achieve anything, WWS training programme has focused its attention on a young audience – 10-14 y.o. children, among whom, struggle with literacy and comprehension.

Skills developed by the training programme

The training programme, which the WWS consortium developed for use in schools throughout Europe, develops:

– Reading skills: awakening children’s curiosity and appetite for reading by means of reading to them and sharing with them literary works, which transmit strong messages in an easy to comprehend way

– Writing skills: creating a safe environment for participants to share ideas via oral and written storytelling, where everyone’s contribution is considered valuable and important and where the facilitator works and shares as an equal of the children

– Analysis and critical thinking: as children progress with their reading, story making and experiential learning (via theatre for example), their level of preparedness for discussing and analysing in depth materials, problems, texts or stories increases, as well as their proactiveness and the ability to formulate and state an opinion

– Collaboration, communication and teamwork: encouraged to work together on common projects or in smaller groups in relation to certain tasks, with the help of the facilitators, leads to the formation of mentioned skills

– Empathy, self-regulation (ability to regulate and control how to react to own emotions) & social skills: not isolated from all the other skills but rather developing gradually, as a group contract of behaviour and acceptance is adopted and adhered to, different roles and stories are lived and relived, thus adding to a virtually unlimited life-experience or at least mind-experience, thriving in a group of acceptance and tolerance, which discusses sensitive topics with utmost care, leaving ground for personal opinions, which never aim to inflict harm or to curb someone else’s rights or safety.

General tips before you start organizing and implementing your story-based workshops for literacy and inclusion

Groups of activities

The activities presented below have been tested by the partners in the consortium. They most certainly are not exhaustive and teachers and facilitators can discover or come up with other possible activities of a similar type, leading to the same results. The implementations, which took place in the different partner countries, are presented as attachments, which exemplify how the process could develop.

The activities presented below are organised within 5 categories, depending on what their main purpose is – Group building, Exploration, Creation, Presentation, Evaluation.

Interested teachers and facilitators need to be aware that:

  • Depending on the group you work with, you may find yourself doing more of the group building exercises in the beginning;
  • Among the group building exercises there are activities which start from basic details – getting to know each other’s names but as you go deeper, you will find activities, which can be done as starters of later workshop sessions, which prepare the children for work and achieve better knowledge and sharing of how children feel on topics which are closer to the essence of the WWS project;
  • One and the same activity can incorporate more than one purpose, e.g. doing both exploration and creation;
  • According to the best-case scenario, facilitators need to cover all five areas, however, should you decide to stick to literary activities, “presentation” might not be that strongly covered. It is however more than advisable to include “presentation” activities in your sessions with the children because these would develop precious transversal skills and confidence;
  • Some of the activities have more detailed descriptions, provided in the national weekly planners, provided by the partners. Where the case is such, this will be clearly stated.

Group 1: Group building exercises/activities

Aim of this group of activities

Children need to make connections of honesty, acceptance and establish an atmosphere of safety and creativity, which requires some bonding exercises and games even for groups, the members of which know each other.

From the first weeks and meetings, the teachers/facilitators need to establish an expectation for something magical, fun and enriching, which would keep the participants attentive, creative, inspired and ready to challenge their own boundaries.

 “Attention is a very limited resource so we need to “kidnap” it and treat it with the sensitivity it deserves”, states Chema Lazaro, awarded Best teacher in Spain (2013). In order to “kidnap” and maintain the attention, he explains that The Brain loves: (1) Surprise and Narratives (“Do you remember this teacher´s unforgettable class where he was leading you to a magical space? The brain embraces this experience that it activates completely”. (2) Things out of the routine. Games. Cooperation: The brain is more active when it works interconnected with other brains, especially in the initial phases of a task. (3) Cognitive dissonances (He gives as an example Escher´s paintings, where for example a staircase can be going up or down depending on the individual visual interpretation.) (4) Laughing (Laughter has been proven to renew and replenish attention). (5) Curiosity is the key to learning (Studies suggest that when some curiosity has been awakened one hour before a task, pupils show better results).

To the above we add Joyce Carol Oates´s advice to start with shorter forms and things that students can finish relatively fast. “We need the satisfaction of the uplift we get psychologically from finishing something”, the American writer states. She also insists that everybody has at least one story to tell. Writing should be pleasurable, fun and exploratory.

Based on these premises, here are presented several activities, which we find dynamic, entertaining and inspiring that are at the same time short and playful and have the potential of building an ensemble out of the group of individuals attending the workshops.

Download suggested activities from this group.

Group 2: Exploration activities/exercises (reading and/or listening to stories/books), focusing on the project objectives (literacy, inclusion, diversity, equality, etc.)

Aim of this group of activities: The stories you select and the reading activities you carry out should strengthen the children’s capacity to empathize with others, i.e. understand what others are thinking and feeling. As many successful books come with a main character who could be our neighbor or friend. Thus, the child can connect emotionally often from the first few pages. Also, books that stick our noses into our own assumptions and undermine stereotypes are important. It is at moments of strong emotions when we and children learn something about understanding people different from ourselves. We believe that fiction and other genres can teach us things about ourselves, about others and the world in general. We also believe that books serve as bridges leading to achieving socio-emotional understandings.

Before you shape up the inclusion of reading activities related to the topics of the project into your weekly sessions, you are advised to consider:

How to pick your books annex (developed by ZAT): download here

Reading tips annex (developed by EuroED and Accesophia): download here

The WWS Book list: download here

Keywords to consider presenting before and discussing with your groups of children: download here

Download suggested activities from this group.

Group 3: Creation

Aim of this group of activities: The purpose of story creation is beautifully explained by You in Europe, stepping on Gianni Rodari’s wisdom and approaches.

Gianni Rodari is widely acclaimed as one of the most influential Italian children’s authors of the 20th century. Rodari earned renown for accessible stories of fantasy that incorporated real-world social issues, including “Il romanzo di Cipollino” (“The Tale of The Little Onion,” 1951)

In 1970, he became the first–and to this date only–Italian to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award for writing, one of the highest international honors in children’s literature. Gianni Rodari was born on this day in 1920 in the northern Italian town of Omegna. Interested in early children’s education, he first taught at an elementary school before he transitioned to work as a newspaper reporter. Based on his previous experience, his editors asked him to write for the paper’s children’s section, beginning his iconic career in children’s literature. By 1960 he had written enough material to publish his first book, “Nursery Rhymes in the Sky and on Earth.“ Two years later he released his hit story collection “Telephone Tales,” considered by some to be his masterpiece. Rodari went on to craft a variety of beloved literature over the following decades, earning his place as a household name in Italy. He simultaneously contributed heavily to the country’s educational reform movement. For his contributions to children’s literature, Rodari won many major awards throughout his life and today his works have been translated into over twenty languages. Gianni Rodari was one of the founders of the innovative educational approach that began in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

In “The Grammar of Fantasy” Rodari presents numerous and wonderful techniques for creating stories. He discusses these specific techniques in the context of the imagination, fairy tales, folk tales, children’s stories, cognitive development and compassionate education. 

As he does not limit the children’s thoughts, he encourages creative thinking which helps them look for different options and approaches as life learning skills to solve problems in their future.

What makes The Grammar of Fantasy such a precious creative tool?
Rodari was funny, smart and he could really understand kids. In the Grammar of Fantasy, he uses his personal experience of working with children. He packed this book with ideas, games, stories, random thoughts and serious silliness.

In his preface, Rodari writes: “I hope this small book can be useful for all those people who believe it is necessary for the imagination to have a place in education; for all those who trust in the creativity of children; and for all those who know the liberating value of the word”. Later he says: “In our schools there is too little laughter, if I may generalize. The idea that the education of a mind must be a dismal affair is among the most difficult things to overcome.” 

In The Grammar of Fantasy, written in beautiful, accessible and poetic language, a teacher who wants to learn how to help children make stories has here all the tools they need. He shows us the process of making up stories, by oneself, in a group and giving the tools to the children so they can do it also. Their stories are quite perfect and like children’s drawing and painting, have a quality which charms both adults and children in the audience.

Schools have traditionally relegated imagination to a very small place, valuing memory and attention much more highly. This book leads us into imagination. It shows us how we can help children use their imagination and make wonderful creations from them. When Rodari helps us see connections between science or math and story, he helps us knit our lives back together. When he helps us see how education and art come together, he helps us do our jobs well.

Rodari says: “By using stories and those fantastic methods that produce them, we help children to enter reality through the window instead of through the door. It is more fun. Therefore, it is more useful.” 

Following this line of thinking, creating stories is among the best ways to grow, expand knowledge, learn to think and analyse as well as develop empathy, understanding and tolerance.

A short guide to process and basic story format (provided by EuroEd): download here

Template for starting the story creative process (provided by EuroEd): download here

Tips on how to write a good story (provided by You in Europe): download here

Videos for inspiration (provided by Accesophia): download here

Download suggested activities from this group.

Group 4: Presentation

Aim of this group of activities:

Getting ready for presenting the story to others / an audience requires some further confidence and teamwork. The exercises provided here will prepare the group of children to share their magnificent stories with confidence and professionalism.

When you are out there, presenting your story, trying to get your audience involved in the dialogue, you need a strong, audible voice.

Having a good voice is not the same as shouting. Shouting might get you heard but you won’t have a voice for long, just a sore throat.

Training your voice to get those words across to the audience with clarity, meaning and emotion is a process of breathing, opening the throat and projection. The voice is a physical action and when we know which parts of the body help voice production, it becomes much easier.

Download suggested activities from this group.

Group 5: Evaluation activities (after each session as well as at the end of the course)

Aim of this group of activities: To measure/capture the progress children are making towards the objectives set, as well as to check whether the workshop experience (from each individual session or in general) is a positive one.

Activity title Description
Simple evaluation at the end of each session Possible questions for discussion: How did you feel? What did you learn? What did you like best?/what you didn’t like? (see children’s feedback) The facilitator could just ask in the form of an open discussion or use such tech tools as Kahoot, cloze, quizzes, etc. Can you explain what a stereotype is?
Mid-term or end of programme evaluation Download the questionnaire here.

How the partners have done it:

Download the curriculum implemented in BG

Download the curriculum implemented in ES

Download the curriculum implemented in FI

Download the curriculum implemented in GR

Download the curriculum implemented in LT

Download the curriculum implemented in RO

Download the curriculum implemented in the UK

Testimonials

Here you have the first person testimonials by experts, who worked with children, on what went well, worked out successfully and what needs improvements as far as the implementation in the different partner countries is concerned. Some very useful comments and suggestions there.

What went well:

Comments from BG

Comments from ES

The modules or content “capsules” we designed for the WWS workshops worked well in several aspects. Being different from a traditional structure, it resulted in more attractiveness for both teachers and students even at the beginning. So, it´s a fascinating and useful approach for triggering the initial interest and engagement in the workshop. 

We offered teachers several sessions to suit themselves. Also, the adaptive nature of the content allowed us, together with the teachers, to choose the most interesting modules and develop the content focused on those. In this sense, even the act of choosing among more options gives the teachers more feeling of decision making on one hand, based on their expertise and close knowledge of their students, and, at the same time allows space for some fresh and innovative extra-curricula approaches. So, wide-ranging possibilities are a big plus, meaning the schools have more options to adapt the workshop to their specific needs. Thus, combining the playful, creative and useful aspects.

The same way that we adapted the contents, we also intertwined the three core values of the WWS Project: equality, inclusion, and diversity. Some of our workshops were held in schools where second generation Bulgarian students study Bulgarian (already a second language to them) which is hard and challenging. The workshop introduced another point of view towards the language and gave them the opportunity to learn, express ideas and create in their “mother” tongue.

Added to this, leaving the structure and content as open as possible gave us the possibility to be more adaptive to children´s interests and inspiration. We opted out of the possibility of an online workshop. Although we decided to have a face-to-face WWS workshop, we opted for mixing the digital input with books, including social media and book clubs. 

Also, another strong advantage when dealing with both school administration and students was convincing them that a fresh approach to literacy would be an advantage throughout all their lives, additionally helping them in their work, personal relations and realization, etc. Literacy, language, speaking, writing, expression, and creativity explained as a much broader dimension and as a valuable asset in one´s life happened to be a very effective tools. 

In terms of teaching, we found that teachers taking part in and “copying” the development of the session with the tutor, and applying afterward in other groups, have highly satisfying results. It means the contents and structure are easy to follow and use.  

Comments from FI

Comments from GR

During our workshops, we had the opportunity to work with children from disadvantaged environments, and especially children from countries in war or poverty, like Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine etc. The children could speak and understand Greek very well, but their skills in writing in Greek were very poor. Could this stop us from making stories? Not at all!

Using non-writing methods of storytelling like drawing, comics, or even pantomime, we managed to give the opportunity to these kids to share their stories and express their ideas, without feeling excluded or underachieved.

Because when there is a will, there is always a way! 

Comments from LT

Comments from RO

Comments from the UK

The students’ interest and motivation in the project was fantastic.

I began the project’s first session focusing on Writing without words. In this session I asked the students to observe two selected artists and look at their work. We analysed and discussed their work as a class, afterwards I asked the students to make their own interpretations of these artworks or idea they had themselves. This was well received as it took the pressure off the students to have high literacy skills and gave them the space and permission to create without worry.  It also enabled and taught them the skills to analyse artwork and stories through enjoyment, expanding their imaginations and creativity.

Throughout the project we read selected stories under the diversity and inclusion category.  We analysed these stories together, focusing on their themes and messages and asked the students to create their own interpretations. 

The handout on How to write your own story! The “8 steps” guide, was essential as it went through a step-by-step guide to writing stories and helpful tips from an author’s/ creative writer’s perspective.  

The Storytelling Cards Icebreaker was a wonderful tool to start the children with creating their own stories i.e., plot, characters, a problem to overcome, character and story development.

Within the project we focused on the word ‘stereotype’ for ensuring the students understood the general meaning of diversity, equality and inclusion.  Within the first session we asked if they knew the word stereotype and what it meant.  Then when finishing the project and in the evaluation, we asked the students if they understood what ‘stereotype’ meant.  This established whether they had understood this word and remembered it.

The Keyword list was essential in ensuring the students understood the general themes of the project. I gave each student a printout of the keywords list to keep in their sketchbooks. We would learn five new words a session and decipher their meanings. On the printout list, next to the chosen word, I would ask the students to write a description describing the word’s meanings. This would help ensure they had learnt their meanings and their spellings.

Suggestions for improvements:

Comments from BG

Comments from ES

The two big challenges are still convincing school administration and teachers not of the need (which they clearly acknowledge) but of the necessary time in an inexorably more busy and time-consuming life. Promoting the idea that literacy is not just reading, we are more likely to persuade schools to give more space to it. Also being open to designing new materials, easy to follow by teachers, and exciting to engage students is a must.

From our experience in face-to-face activities, we still think this is the best way to develop the workshop. Nevertheless, once there is a strong enough engagement and interest from the students, it might be a plus to add some “virtual” side, making the workshop sort of hybrid. But this should be done not pressed by necessity (such as pandemic restrictions, for ex.), but as an added value, an integral part of the literacy project.

The biggest challenge still is to grab children’s attention, and to get them interested a little more, particularly when it’s not compulsory, so the stories need to be interesting and exciting for them. The first two sessions can be used to explore their specific interests, and to adapt or redesign the contents.

Some open-air activities can be included as part of the workshop(as part of the feedback we had from students).

Comments from FI

Comments from GR

Comments from LT

Comments from RO

Comments from the UK

Allow more time on creating the final stories.

More time was needed for the project.  The schools only have limited time and wanted the project to be completed within a term, a 12-week period and this was alongside the unsure time of covid disruptions.    

Spend less time on discussing a range of diversity and equality subjects to focus more on story creating.

Spend longer dissecting the handout on How to write your own story! The “8 steps” guide, with the students and going through examples of these tips.

Spend more time with the Storytelling Cards icebreaker, to enable for development on this process of creating the stories and the character and plot development. 

If possible, invite an author in to discuss their work. This would be exciting and a wonderful experience for the students where they could ask questions such as story development and its twists and turns.