By ALICE MCTYER
Animated infographic: Effective Story Literacy: The secret to making great literacy teaching easier?
Teaching literacy strategies: a true story
Every English and primary school teacher I’ve ever met knows how much literacy matters for all students – regardless of their age, ability or interest levels. They also know that the challenge of engaging every student in writing or reading is enough to make them lose the plot.
One of the simplest, most powerful – and scientifically proven – literacy strategies harnesses the amazing power of effective stories to do just that.
It shows even the youngest and most reluctant school readers and writers how to:
- Compose the stories they want to tell – the stories burning inside them – in a way that engages the audience, and regardless of the topic or task required of them;
- Easily make these stories logical, meaningful and cohesive;
- Use the same literacy strategy to comprehend the point, purpose, structure and themes of fiction literature they read or watch;
- Enjoy reading and analysing more (once they know how great stories really work).
But there’s a catch. The secret to authentically engaging students to boost their literacy outcomes likely means that you will have to flip the way you teach fiction reading and narrative story writing on it’s head.
Effective story-based literacy strategies are key to reading comprehension
First, good stories are more likely to be absorbed, understood and recalled than any other form of information. This is why stories are such a powerful and useful tool for teaching children to read and write well. It makes sense to use effective story literacy strategies for reading comprehension for other reasons too: school students spend a lot of time analysing literary texts. Of course, they also start their literacy and language journeys with stories way before school age.
Most importantly, school students of all grades and most abilities can learn to use crucial and precise narrative information to effectively mentally organise, comprehend and recall stories. This is true, however, only if they are explicitly taught this crucial narrative information and how to wield it.
Effective story-based literacy strategies for composing are key to success in school and beyond
Every society on the planet has used stories to share and pass down important survival information for individuals and communities. Stories must be both entertaining and meaningful if they are to go viral and echo down the generations. Good stories are an integral part of understanding -ourselves, others and the world around us.
Even today in the information-age, stories remain the most powerful force for communicating ideas; for changing hearts and minds. Stories cut through this ocean of information.
Given this, are we letting our students down if we don’t teach them how to truly harness the amazing power of effective stories for success in school and beyond?
As Apple Inc. co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs said:
Classroom reading and writing versus zombie movies
Indeed, humans have always loved stories (and still do, otherwise Hollywood actors would be earning a teacher’s salary). So why do so many children dislike reading and writing them? The truth is, children love stories – both creating and consuming them. They fall about laughing with their friends over the retelling of the hilarious incident involving their mate. They stay up all night binging Netflix zombie series.
Of course, classroom writing and literary analysis is a very different beast. Large-scale surveys show that most children report they don’t enjoy writing, a problem that worsens as they grow into teenagers.
There’s reasons for this, of course. Often, students aren’t interested in the writing topics, prompts or scenarios they are given. They don’t know how to connect to – or understand – the stories they want to compose, or the literary texts they read.
Literacy strategies: time to flip learning on it's head?
There’s a surprisingly simple literacy strategy that genuinely engages students in reading and writing – and boosts their outcomes too. Actually, this literacy strategy’s value has been proven in the scientific literature for decades. Despite this, it’s also the opposite of what is usually taught in schools – at least when it comes to writing, and teaching reading comprehension and writing together as part of a unified literacy strategy.
Revealed: the surprisingly simple secret to boosting outcomes and engagement
Instead of teaching your students to read and write like school children,
teach them to read and write like good adult authors.
You see, reading and writing like authors and reading and writing like children are two very different things. And the research tells us that one of these things is much easier and more engaging for school-age children than the other. Can you guess which one, and why?
The answer to that is surprisingly simple, too
How young, reluctant writers wrote logical stories rich with creativity, theme, meaning and purpose (without much apparent effort)
Doesn’t it make sense then, to show children how to understand the character, point, purpose, structure and themes of the fiction they read, and use the same learning strategy to control these same elements in the narratives they write?
When I started teaching young, reluctant school students to compose narrative fiction, I was amazed at how they could plan and write stories so rich with creativity, theme, purpose and meaning – without much apparent effort.
The key was to show them how to use a few simple, intuitive questions to unlock a small set of effective narrative elements. These children analysed short excerpts from quality published children’s fiction to unlock these elements.
It was fascinating how they seemed to use characters as proxies to unlock and explore topics and themes that were important to them in their narratives, either consciously or unconsciously. (This work, called, Bullying, lonliness, feeling different and rejected: How writing like an author allows children to safely explore difficult themes, was presented at the 2021 ASEPA Conference and SEPLA-CON.)
Given all this evidence, it will hopefully make sense to consider teaching children the meaning-based authorship literacy strategy that both story industry experts (authors, screenwriters, playwrights, etc) and scientists say works.
What literacy teaching strategies work for you?
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