Ms. Laura Bobrow on Storytelling
“The Art of Storytelling as a Powerful Teaching Tool”
Presenter: Laura J. Bobrow, Storyteller
Friday, October 19, 2007
Center for Innovative Technology,
2214 Rock Hill Road, Herndon, VA 20170
“Storytelling is the way of communicating with the world. It is the way of teaching and learning. In all the forms our communications take, there is a story. Even the material that is on television or at the movies or in the news starts with a story. Our theories about creation, the nature of the world, the nature of humanity or just how our children grow up are stories.
Storytelling is an art. Thankfully it is being taken seriously as a professional art form, and it is being reborn in the United States. An indication of this is the number of professional organizations, conferences, ways to network and professional publications that have grown up around storytelling.
Before storytelling started its professional coming of age, it was an activity done almost exclusively by the elders of a culture. It was the way wisdom and knowledge was transmitted. This was especially true in pre-literate societies, and we are beginning to recognize that it is also true for literate societies. We are learning that we have been telling stories all along even when we dress it up and called it science, history, psychology or especially language arts. Often the activity termed telling stories is said to be for children, and the only way some contemporary adults allow themselves to hear stories is to bring their children.
In the classroom, students should not only be told stories but become involved in telling their own stories. When students are engaged in storytelling, either by hearing or telling, their communications skills (listening, talking, writing and reading) develop more rapidly, they acquire some appreciation of all the cultures from which stories come, they become more sociable and they achieve some level of assurance and self-confidence when speaking in front of a group.
Storytellers in this day and age are called by many names. They are called reporters, scriptwriters, authors, poets, rappers, singers, journalists, playwrights, novelists, lyricists, actors, technical writers, physicists, musicians, ministers, teachers, lexicographers, correspondents, secretaries, psychologists and professors. And finally, they are also being called storytellers.”
Adora Dupree- The Community Network Arts Reading Room (CAN)
About the Presenter
Laura J. Bobrow is an author who talks out loud. She has been described as having "the mind of a poet,
the wisdom of a philosopher, the wit of a comedian, and the voice and diction of an orator" or, as one young fan put it,
she is "funny and mysterious." Like the ancient bards, she often puts stories into verse to enhance their telling.
Laura’s stories, poems, children’s poems, light verse and lyrics have been published in more than a hundred venues.
In 1961 Louis Untermeyer referred to her as "the American Milne."
Laura has been creating and performing stories professionally for more than fourteen years.
In addition to her original material her huge repertoire includes folk tales, literary tales, story songs and anecdotes
Laura’s work has been recognized by cultural organizations such as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
and the New York City Opera, who have included her performances in their fund-raising auction catalogues.
Affiliations include American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; National League of American Pen Women;
Poetry Society of Virginia; Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; Women’s National Book Association;
National Storytelling Network, Virginia Storytelling Alliance; and Voices in the Glen.
What people have said about Laura Bobrow:
"Her pleasure and animation in the telling of the story rippled through the room as people
were caught up in the delight"
"The storytelling community has been given a great gift through her work."
"Grimm Tales Retold"
"Laura J. Bobrow, On the Air"
"Story Poems" for children of all ages
"I Wrote These for You" original stories for children
"From the Heart" Irish tales retold
"Just Hanging Out" mostly true personal anecdotes.
Further Information on Laura Brobow available at:
Related Learning Links on Storytelling
Storytelling as an Educational Tool: A Collaborative Website of Educational Resources
INTRODUCTION OF PRESENTER
Good afternoon, welcome to our Fall professional development seminar, featuring Laura Bobrow on the Art of Story Telling as a Powerful Teaching Tool.
Storytelling has power. Of course you know this. People have been using stories for centuries in every world culture and religion. Stories have the ability to convey messages in a unique form. Stories have a universal language, much like cartoons, anime and manga.
We can communicate through stories; and, people get the message. Through traditional tales, people can express their values, fears, hopes and dreams. More importantly, it is the power of story that conveys morals and virtues that can not be readily conveyed in other ways; and, people seem to make connections.
Storytelling is a key teaching and leadership tool. Stories are used for healing in hospitals, with people of all ages; in elementary, secondary and higher education classrooms; in ESL programs; in government; in corporate America to train corporate workers, managers and executives; in Board Rooms and in high level advisory committee meetings; and more.
Story has power because people remember stories when they cannot remember facts.
Story telling has stood the test of times and has been used by the world’s greatest teachers: Jesus, Plato, Confucius, and others. And, of course we know that storytelling has historically been an American Indian tradition.
I recall some of my best learning in reading stories by people like: C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia; J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings; Richard Adams, Watership Down; Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull; Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman in the World; Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese; Ayn Rynd, Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead; Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan, Tales of Power, The Power of Silence; Ralph Ellison, the Invisible Man; Tony Morrison, Song of Solomon; and more...
I am sure you can think of many others. These are all powerful stories that engage you and capture your attention, with powerful messages. Thus, we can not forget the power of story as an effective teaching tool. Stories can convey much to our students. [I am not a great storyteller, but I sure aspire to become better at the craft.]
Storytelling is regaining its position of respect. Hundreds of people of all ages gather for festivals in celebration of its power. Schools and pre-service college courses are gradually giving storytelling curriculum space. Storytelling is unsurpassed as a tool for learning about ourselves and about the thoughts and feelings of others.
Today, we have the great fortune of having in our midst an experienced storyteller. Laura Bobrow has come to share her expertise and knowledge, and lead us in discovery on the art and power of storytelling.
Laura is a prize-winning poet and author. She is highly recognized in the field and has contributed to a variety of publications and periodicals that have featured her stories. She has published audio cassettes, poems and books illustrating her creativity and wisdom to convey important messages and virtues through the art and power of stories.
Laura is a teacher and coach. She is recognized by cultural organizations such as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the New York City Opera and they have included her performances in their repertoire. She also is affiliated with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; the National League of American Pen Women; the Poetry Society of Virginia; the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; the Women’s National Book Association; the National Storytelling Network; the Virginia Storytelling Alliance and the Voices in the Glen and more.
Please join me in welcoming Ms. Laura Bobrow.
Introduction by Dr. Rosalyn M. King, Chair, VCCS Center for Teaching Excellence
'FINDING YOUR UNIQUE `VOICE'
From medieval troubadour to modern rapper, the art of the purveyor of stories lies not in the telling of a tale, but in the retelling of it in a unique way. Homer and Ovid told the same story. Shakespeare, Spencer, and Goethe used folklore extensively in their work.
Of course, there are professional storytellers - folks who go around and make their living doing it, like the old time bards and troubadours and skalds. But everyone is a storyteller. You are a storyteller. When you talk to someone on the phone, or when you say at the dinner table, “Guess what I saw today!” you are telling a story. It's just like handwriting. All of us can write. A few of us are calligraphers.
If you are going to use storytelling as a teaching tool, and you should, there are techniques to learn and things to know that will help you become a better storyteller than you already are, whether your purpose is to be the storyteller or whether you intend to teach your students to tell stories.
Why use storytelling in your teaching? There are many reasons, but here are three. First, it enlivens your subject, whatever it may be. At the very least it catches your students' attention, and thereby enhances learning. Second, It allows your students to look beyond mere facts into the realm of possibilities. It encourages exploration. And third, it builds self confidence by teaching children to communicate effectively.
CHANGES WILL INEVITABLY BE MADE
Not only should we change stories by making value judgments for our time, we can't help making them. The creators of the stories we tell could not possibly have imagined our world - our clothes, our subways, our computers. Nor can we ignore our accumulated knowledge and imagine ourselves back into the context in which the original story might have been first told. Even if we tried to reconstruct that environment in hindsight, the very fact of knowing more and having to pretend we don't must alter the nature of our telling.
We can't forget that we know earth as a planet in the solar system and not as the center of the universe. We can't forget that kings wear crowns and sit on thrones and do not live in caves, and dress in animal skins. And, as Boria Sax says in his book The Frog King, “Our understanding of human society has not changed that much, but what has changed is our understanding of frogs. They were once mysterious and formidable creatures. Now they are dumb little balls of protoplasm.”
Pronunciation changes. Rhymes no longer rhyme. Word meaning changes. Jokes which rely on puns are no longer funny.
Ethics change. Opinions about good and evil, reward and punishment may no longer be applicable.
Once you know your story and have researched all the possible variations of it, you must ask yourself why it has survived. What is universal to the human condition so that this story transcends cultural differences? What is the story really about, what are its motifs? Then, too, you must be aware of your reasons for telling the story and, most important, your attitudes toward the material. Then feel free to tell the story your way, from the gut.
Perhaps we should mention political correctness here. Your responsibility is to yourself and the material. Once you bend to someone else's agenda you lose your integrity and you lose your purpose.
INTEGRITY IS THE KEY
Your listener needs to believe that you are expressing your honest opinions. As you tell a story, you establish a relationship with your listeners- dominant or affable, professorial, conspiratorial or secretive. Only if this relationship might be true of you, is directly related to your reason for telling this particular story and is naturally comfortable for you, will you be able to sustain it throughout your performance.
Unlike an actor, a storyteller does not become the characters in his story by assuming other attitudes or different voices. The storyteller remains the storyteller telling about the characters.
Stories reinforce and challenge opinions about broad subjects which are not even in the context of the story -- things like social hierarchies and taste. Stories are truths told with a purpose. A storyteller may try to push the truth a little bit one way or the other, but if the teller pushes too hard or pretends to be what he is not, there will arise a distrust of his words.
Remember that your listener does not hear a story. He hears your telling of a story. Since a story cannot be said to be “right” or “wrong” your feelings, experiences and intuitions about the material are your only authority.
Laura J. Bobrow author/ poet/ storyteller/ banquet speaker
National League of American Pen Women
Poetry Society of placeStateVirginia
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
Women's National Book Association
Voices in the Glen
On Laura J. Bobrow Seminar “The Art of Storytelling as a Powerful Teaching Tool”
by Satarupa Das, Campus Representative, Loudoun Campus
I always enjoy coming to the CTE seminars whenever I can manage time. It is a nice gathering of colleagues and peers. I meet some faculty and staff - some I have met before and some new ones, I enjoy a nice lunch, I listen to a good speaker and participate in a good discussion. I think if anybody is putting in hundred percent into a full load of teaching year in and year out, teaching can become very stressful. Attending a CTE seminar is a good way to relieve such stress and renew and reinvigorate oneself.
The CTE seminar of October 19, 2007 “The Art of Storytelling as a Powerful Teaching Tool” by Laura J. Bobrow was a very different type of seminar compared to previous ones that I have attended, yet it was educating, engaging and entertaining. Indeed, storytelling is an art. Not everybody can tell good stories that can captivate the audience. Ms. Bobrow told us some stories that day - some stories I knew, like the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk and some that I did not know, like the story of Urashima Taro. Ms Bobrow was an artful storyteller and the way she told each of her stories, I felt I was inside her story.
I derived the following benefits from the seminar:
The seminar reinforced that we need to make our stories interesting. For educators, our stories are our subject matter. Many of us have taught same courses for several years. I teach Economics and I have drawn the same cost curves, demand curves and supply curves on the board for a long time. It is the same old, same old story. But think about it from the students' perspective - they are listening to our story for the first time - we need to make it interesting for them if we want them to enter into our story like we enter a world of story when we are listening to one.
I realized that storytelling is important to educators because communication is important to educators. As educators in community college, we are all dedicated to teaching and trying to improve upon our teaching. In Economics I am trying to collect fresh examples and current events to tie up with the economic concepts that I teach. But what if I spend all the time in collecting all that material and knowledge, but it was not delivered or communicated properly? A lot of the effect of such activity is then lost.
Stories were usually told to convey some lessons. As educators we can also find “real stories” to convey our lessons. I found one such story (the story of the baker and the tailor) in the seminar that can actually go very well when I am teaching the concept of “externality” to my economics students. I think that if I look carefully enough, I may be able to find other stories that can be linked to economic concepts and make it easier for me to convey the concepts.
What are some storytelling techniques? We have heard some stories that have survived over hundreds of years. Is there something very timeless about those tales? Or perhaps, is there something in the way those stories were told that made them survive? We have stories to tell about our subject matter and we need our stories to survive. How do we do it? Ms Bobrow gave us a set of techniques to tell stories effectively, for example, using pause, using eye contact, telling a story slowly, bringing one's own self into storytelling etc. To convey her techniques she sometimes engaged us in activities so that her point became evident.
To sum up, I think “The Art of Storytelling” was a successful seminar. Perhaps some of the elements in the discussion were not totally unknown to us but reinforcement is always helpful. Indeed, I brought home some good ideas that can positively impact my teaching.