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.
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…
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.