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Storytelling, Word Intimidation, and Now

Greg Neri talked yesterday about reluctant readers and storytelling. He’s done his share of instruction for those same reluctant readers, sharing the concept that storytelling is merely communications with a twist of perspective. He brings up a very valid point, though.

Every day, whether we’re talking on the phone with a family member relating that incident that happened on the 101 or how the cat coughed up a hairball the size of a small peach, we tell each other stories. And if you think about it, you’ll quickly remember that our species didn’t always have writing. We had vocal chords long before stone chisels and mallets. Humans lived through history telling each other stories of hunts, game trails, the last big storm, etc.

I’m not sure why the written word intimidates people. There are probably theories out there that attempt to explain that reality. I do know that the illiteracy rate in this country seems to be steadily rising regardless of the dollars thrown in the face of reading programs.

I’m not going to debate the whys of this phenomenon. It’s there and we need to find a way to mitigate it or solve it. Now I know some of you are sitting there saying, Mitigate it? Why would we want to mitigate it?

I’m not saying we should, but if you think about it, mitigation is what happens when solutions aren’t forthcoming or working. Think about this. A study was done a few years ago with toddlers, non-readers. The researchers wanted to know how well-versed/saturated the average toddler was regarding advertising logos. Can you guess the outcome of the experiment?

Yep, you guessed it. Those little kids could not only recognize the logos, but hum the jingles, do the dances and generally (if they were lingual) repeat entire commercials.

Now, someone’s bound to ask: What does that have to do with storytelling? Well, I’ll tell you. Isn’t that what a commercial is? A tiny, tiny story. (BTW, they’re getting shorter in terms of seconds of air time with the same effect, too) Also, commercials get more and more air time per hour than ever before. Blame it on economics.

Those tiny stories catch the child’s attention with volume, music, catchy words, visual assists, and short time spans. That’s really all a commercial is. It’s meant to be all of those things wrapped up in a small snatch of time while telling a story.

Remember the Folger’s Coffee commercials several years ago where each one was a vignette centered on the budding romance of a man and a woman. Everyone loved those commercials. They were minute soap operas played with humor and ending with interest-grabbing cliff-hangers. I still miss those.

Those, my friends, showcased storytelling at its economic best. This is purely my opinion, but here’s what I think. When children can be shown how to tell stories about the world around them, about their own place in it, about how the world might change, all things can change. They’ve been given power.

Words no longer intimidate the child when storytelling is shown as the key to opening up the world. If lessons were presented through storytelling, the child could go with the information, retain it once he/she captured the story’s idea, and be able to apply it later.

After all, isn’t that what a child does when they breeze/struggle through a comic and then hurry to tell another kid about the story they just read. The reason for sharing stories doesn’t matter. All that matters is that sharing takes place.

Today’s kids are internet savvy, think fast, and react faster. Info must be fast enough to catch their attention and bring them to a place where they’re willing to pause long enough to read something that takes longer than two minutes to finish. Once they’ve come to that point, they’ve passed the point of word intimidation and can get on with learning what’s there for them.

That path to the reader is a form of mitigation. It takes into account how many of today’s children interact with the world. It bypasses the dry, encyclopedic information-driven lessons performed in schools normally.

Words are visible everywhere you look. Children know this because they can see them, too. All the child has to do is realize that all of those words are speaking, telling a story. Even jokes, riddles, and proverbs are stories. Remember, proverbs were created as teaching tools. Otherwise, Poor Richard would have never been heard and remembered.

Speaking of storytelling, tomorrow I’ll sit down with Stephen Eliasson to talk about plays, and such. I hope everyone can join us. It’s amazing how we just keep coming back to writing, isn’t it?

Take care everyone. Have a good end of week coming up. Stop by and say hello as you go by. Until then, a bientot,


Categories: Life, Writing and Poetry
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