Storysharing for All – Jane’s blog post, March 2016

Story gathering …. why good stories are so important.

When we’re starting a new Storysharing® course, we need to get our priorities right and start at the beginning – with story gathering.

This detail can be overlooked when there’s so much to be said about the power of personal stories for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), and the Storysharing methods we use to become effective communication partners.

But gathering stories to share sits right at the top of the process.


This is your life!

We are all story gatherers, with our own store of personal stories. We naturally notice interesting things happening, tell others about them, and if it’s a good story, sometimes we’re re-telling years later.

These stories help us build our sense of self …a vital part of making and keeping friends and socializing.

Stories help us investigate and build our identity.

We know that young people with SLCN will need support to tell their stories effectively; they may also need help to listen to others.

Put simply, that’s what Storysharing does.

We can also help by supporting the young people to ‘gather’ these stories, and archive them in an accessible way that makes it easy for others to co-narrate.

This sounds easy enough…. but can require quite a radical shift in the way we notice, process and deal with those ‘little every day events’ that can constitute a good story to share.

What kind of ‘personal stories’ should we gather?

We’re looking for reportable incidents, no matter how small – things that are worth hearing about. A good story to share:

  • is created around unexpected (or at least, non-routine) events
  • contains emotion and feeling – a ‘sparkle’.

If you’re present when something ‘reportable’ is happening to a young person with SLCN, it’s a chance to help them notice and participate in the moment. This aids recall and builds memory and a sense of ownership.

It’s a way of looking at life: observing the surprises and joys (or sadness) of being alive, celebrating our humanity.

Is it good to celebrate departures from routine?

If we examine the type of stories we tell to each other, with friends and family when socializing for example, we find that often they are about something that has gone unexpectedly wrong. Often there’s a conclusion too, or a sense of cause and effect.

Sometimes professionals may feel uneasy about what can seem like a call to celebrate mistakes, unexpected events and deviations from routine.

Complex support needs mean that routines are essential, of course, especially when young people have autism.

We find that professionals are often aware of Carol Grey’s Social Stories, which were developed in order to support individuals with autism to better cope with social situations.

Storysharing offers us an opportunity to explore out-of-routine events whilst building communication confidence. For some young people, this needs to be a gentle and careful process, whilst others love to share the messy, exciting and funny things that have happened to them.

Building a sense of community

Nicola Grove developed Storysharing through her work with a group of adults with profound and multiple disabilities and children in special schools, where she found that very little “storying” of personal experience was going on. (Grove, 2007)

Staff and families, when asked for stories about events in the lives of pupils or service users, would state likes and dislikes, or would give very brief information about routine events or special outings.

What they seemed to find very difficult was to create and share stories about real experiences in a way that helped the person to remember and enjoy and telling them.

However, Nicola found that if you sat and listened in the staff room, you could hear these same staff telling endless anecdotes in a very lively way!

We believe that having the ability to share our own anecdotes in our ‘authentic’ voice – and learning to listen and participate in others’ stories – builds not only a sense of self, but also a sense of community.

Gather stories!

So, at the school we’re working in we ask teaching staff to help the process by gathering stories for us to share. We also ask them to send blank story sheets home – ‘homework’. We ask the people who story gather to remember the sparkle, the emotion at the heart of a good story.

Creative thinking helps – it’s fun to make story trees, story boxes, story clouds, story houses… story gathering can be tactile, age appropriate and fun. Class 9 love to post their story into the Story post box…

post box

We need to know that all stories we share are genuine and important to the young people we share stories with. This way, we can begin to develop the power of the authentic voice, sharing and hearing about the real things that affect us in everyday life.

Finding a genuine story to tell is the first part of a process, but without being able to gather the facts, Storysharing cannot happen.

Storysharing is brought to you by Openstorytellers. Openstorytellers is a charity that works to enrich and empower the lives of people who are marginalised because of learning and communication difficulties. If you would like to contribute to their valuable work (including Storysharing) please donate today.


The Importance of Friendship. By Leah Harwood.


Since starting our training and running the Storysharing intervention at 3 Ways school I’ve been thinking about friendships; why they matter, how they influence our sense of wellbeing and also how we hold onto them.

There is nothing more satisfying than listening to a great friend recalling a fabulous story, full of life and colour and humour.

As Storysharers we also know the importance of being an active listener, enabling the story to be told with all its great embellishments and feeling, and giving it validation and interest through responding in the way the teller seeks.

This 2 way interaction can be the basis of a close friendship. The more stories we share with each other, the closer our bond becomes.

An old friendship can have deep roots and many shared stories, stories which can be revisited again and again without boredom, perhaps becoming embellished over time but at their core being based in fact- a ‘personal encounter narrative’ (P.E.N).

Friendship matters to us all for the quality of life a good friendship can bring, and it is absolutely vital to the positive development of teenagers and young adults.

As teenagers we have a strong urge to be part of friendship groups, to develop a ‘self-identity‘ and secure our place in society.

Feeling secure in your identity can have great positive and long term effects on our health and wellbeing. The key to securing ‘identity achievement’ lies within the adolescents interaction with others, according to psychologist Erik Erikson (see ‘stages and statuses of identity development http://www.actforyouth.net/adolescence/identity/)

The theories behind Storysharing also indicate we forge our friendships through conversational narratives and discussing shared experiences. Therefore our interactions in this way become very important to our personal development, and the development of our meaningful relationships with others.

  • So what happens to your development of self-identity if you find these types of interaction difficult?
  • How do you form friendships if there are barriers to your interactions?
  • What if you have a speech, language or communication need? (SLCN)
  • What if you are bursting to speak, share, listen and join in a conversation, but people struggle to understand you? Or simply do not give you the space and time you need to gather your thoughts and communicate effectively?
  • What if you are surrounded by conversations going on around you, but never actually involving you?

The frustrations must be huge and could eventually lead to people giving up trying to engage with others.

We are working with children who are entering into adolescence, who also have special educational needs which may form barriers to their personal interactions, and giving them the time and support they need to engage in sharing their P.E.N with their peers.

Giving children with SLCN the opportunity to develop these conversational narrative skills and share their personal experiences with each other will hopefully lead to some real, transferrable life skills which they can use time and again to make friends and have meaningful conversations with others.

Having support from home and school and also being given regular opportunities to share personal stories could lead to some long term friendships and bonds being formed among the children we are working with.

I hope we can use Storysharing to set up and enable ‘friendship groups’ for teenagers and young adults who may otherwise find it difficult to engage with others. Because what fun is there to life if you can’t share it with friends?

Storysharing is brought to you by Openstorytellers. Openstorytellers is a charity that works to enrich and empower the lives of people who are marginalised because of learning and communication difficulties. If you would like to contribute to their valuable work (including Storysharing) please donate today.



As the sun begins to rise. By Adam Varney.

The Storysharing project is now well underway and picking up momentum. All of the baseline films and paperwork have been collated and with our new agreed schedule we now have our routine in place. Phew!

The early morning train gives me plenty of time to reflect, formulate ideas and read through the comprehensive notes and resources I have acquired from our training. Fuelled on strong coffee and some suitably gentle music, I can sit back, relax and watch as the sun begins to rise; arriving with the excitement and eagerness to get stuck into this fantastic project.

The Schedule so far…

Our day starts with a quick catch up and run through our schedule, deciding on how we approach each class and how we plan to run the session. The balance is finding the optimal time to lead a group story sharing session as well as the smaller groups or 1:1. This, as you can imagine, can be extremely difficult and needs to be as flexible as possible, because even with the best plans in place they can suddenly require changing at the drop of the proverbial hat. This is because we work with some very complex needs and flexibility is key to making this project a success.

Being able to adapt quickly or identify threads of stories to work with isn’t easy, but armed with our training and reflective practice this is constantly improving. It is a luxury, of sorts, to have the time to reflect on our sessions and talk about any problems and celebrate the successes or unexpected outcomes, at the same time it is an essential part of the project and development. Along with this comes the paperwork for describing the session and any stories brought to the group.

How do you encourage more Storysharing?

 It was suggested by Lara that we should also send some feedback to parents/Carers to let them know we are using the stories they send in and about the other stories shared in class. We write suggestions on how they could be shared at home using the same props, sounds and/or signs we used in class. It was agreed that this would be a great way of encouraging more story sharing at home whilst feeding back more stories to use in School.

 In at the deep end

We have started to run sessions now and each have a class to work with. This has given us a great opportunity to gain the experience of holding the attention of a class and putting into practice the Story sharing principles and skills.

The first session I ran I found quite daunting, even with my colleagues, the teaching assistants and teachers in the room, in fact, maybe that made it all the more daunting having a class room of pupils and peers each with different expectations of how the session would be.

For a moment my heart felt like it skipped a beat or two but once I started I felt more at ease. The majority of the class joined in with our Storysharing song and responded well to my opening story about my Christmas meal with friends. We then went around the group and shared their stories.

An unexpected outcome was the participation of a pupil who usually keeps to the peripheries of the session. He shared his story about Ice skating with support from his TA, and with prompting he was able to add more to his story. The group share lends it’s self nicely to an unpressured environment where, you are encouraged to contribute but it is fine if you don’t. I am glad to say everyone contributed in their own way, something that isn’t easy in such a complex class.

Teasing out stories bit by bit

 The 1:1 time is a great time to pool all of my experiences and recent training. The pupil I am working with can easily feel overloaded if not given time to process and the physical space to feel comfortable. Trying to elicit information from him when he does not have a story from home or school can be challenging.

One technique I use is to move the focus away from him by using his T.A to ask questions. This allows him to contribute when something said resonates with him. For example, I had been told he had been for a walk with his dog. This gave me a thread to work with as there are certain things you can associate with dog walks and knowing, from his profile, how much he likes his dog we were able to chat about things that may have happened; weather or the dog running off. When the weather was mentioned he suddenly joined in with ‘got wet’. This gave us a starting point to build the story around.

This can be a long process but it benefits him greatly and combined with a sandbox it helps him to manage his sensory issues. It is essential for us to have this information in our P.E.N. portraits pro-forma, and is key to us maximising our time with the pupils. We want them to feel comfortable around us and help them to enjoy Storysharing and the process involved. We do this by being aware, sensitive and flexible to their needs; the more experience we have the better we are.

Storysharing is brought to you by Openstorytellers. Openstorytellers is a charity that works to enrich and empower the lives of people who are marginalised because of learning and communication difficulties. If you would like to contribute to their valuable work (including Storysharing) please donate today.

The value of non-verbal communication when sharing personal stories. By Lara Ellender


Since September 2015, I have been working on the Storysharing For All project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. http://www.phf.org.uk/

For the first year of this project, we are being hosted by Three Ways School in Bath. http://www.threeways.co.uk/

We are working with secondary age pupils with learning disabilities, supporting the sharing of personal stories.
It’s the pupils who make it worthwhile

So as I sit down to reflect and write this blog, I am thinking what is it that makes this project interesting and worthwhile? Well, it’s a real gem having the opportunity to work alongside dedicated teaching staff (more chocolate biscuits promised at next team training session…) And, I am fortunate to work in a supportive team delivering the Storysharing approach to communication…. But, it is the young people who really make this project, which seems obvious, doesn’t it, because that’s what this work is all about, making a difference to their lives?

Our society and mainstream education places great value upon the spoken and, therefore, the written word and it is tempting to think that communication is only about words.  In fact, in face to face communication, body language accounts for 50% upwards of the message conveyed. (see research done in the ‘70s by Albert Mehrabian.) http://www.kaaj.com/psych/smorder.html


Going beyond the spoken word

Communication at Three Ways school goes far beyond the spoken word: it may encompass hand signs, objects that have symbolic meaning, the position of the body, gesture, sounds.  In Storysharing, we are looking for ways in which pupils with compromised communication can have the opportunities and means to tell others about the personal and meaningful events that occur in our lives.  This is something that we take for granted if we don’t find speaking and communicating a difficulty.
And, often, we do not place value upon the non-verbal aspects of communication little realising how important they are. For many of the pupils with learning and multiple disabilities, spoken language may be limited or not available as a form of communication.


There is more to speaking and listening than speaking and listening!

This is where skills in using non-verbal expressions on behalf of the communicator (or “speaker”) and skills in understanding and interpreting the message on behalf of the receiver (or “listener”) become most important.  Communication is a 2-way street and we, the non-disabled partners need to become better listeners and observers.  Because, all of the pupils I have met do communicate considerably even if they have no spoken words.

Here is a little about 2 of the students I have met.  ‘A’ uses his hands and eye gaze to show whether or not he is enjoying something and to respond to objects, smells or sounds that are presented to him.  By “listening” to his cues and responses, there are opportunities for turn taking.  ‘S’ uses gesture, clowning and sounds to bring her stories alive.  In Storysharing, we are focusing on her skills in remembering events and repeating actions and sounds.  Not only is this rewarding for ‘S’, it is engaging for the audience. Slow down and hear more Sharing our personal stories is the glue that connects us together and we, the non-disabled adults, do this daily, with friends, family and colleagues.  But, for the pupils we are working with, not only may they lack the communication skills and methods, they may also lack the opportunities, time and support.  By slowing down and taking the time to learn to understand the sounds someone is using, their facial expression, hand gestures, physical contact and whole body movements, we can achieve the aim of making the sharing of personal stories available to all. With less emphasis on the spoken word, there is levelling of the communication ground between all communicators:  using non-verbal communication at the individual’s level allows inclusivity and meaningful exchange.

Storysharing is brought to you by Openstorytellers. Openstorytellers is a charity that works to enrich and empower the lives of people who are marginalised because of learning and communication difficulties. If you would like to contribute to their valuable work (including Storysharing) please donate today.