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What’s Your Story?

How To Help Your Complex Learner Unlock The Power of Storytelling 

In recognition of Better Speech & Hearing Month, Wolf’s talented SLP, Kristen Montag shares some thoughts on the power of storytelling and how you can help your Complex Learner unlock their storytelling magic! 

We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.”  – Jimmy Neil Smith, Director of the International Storytelling Center

As a speech pathologist working with school-aged children, I love it when a child has the confidence and freedom to spontaneously stop me in my therapeutic tracks in order to share a story.  Maybe they want to tell me about their birthday party last weekend, or the school bus going over some jarring bumps on the way to school or bowling their first strike at the bowling alley.  While story-telling time may not have been on my agenda for that session, I always feel like I must be doing something right as a clinician if a child is comfortable enough to share a little bit of their own story with me.

The ability to share your story with others is an essential part of a thriving, supportive community, and it validates the importance of each individual connection within that community.  Nancy Tarshis, a Social Thinking© trainer, states that “sharing life events is part of all social relationships and interactions and impacts our ability to function in the social world.

If you think about it, a conversation is actually a form of shared storytelling.  Not only do you have to be able to express a story, but you also have to be able to comprehend another person’s story and in turn — ask questions, make comments, add your own connections, and acknowledge that you are interested. Think about a time when you were really able to bond and connect with another person in your life. Chances are some storytelling was involved. Did you think about those watercooler moments at work when you and a co-worker bonded as you shared a story about your persnickety boss? Or did you think about standing in the grocery check-out line swapping stories with a fellow mom about the sleepless nights you are enduring while caring for your newborn? Or are you transported back to a locker room celebration where you and your teammates shared the step-by-step replay of scoring the game-winning goal?  All of these moments highlight the uniquely human experience of shared storytelling.

While we understand the critical role storytelling plays in building connections and relationships – what about Complex Learners? These students often have lagging communication skills and struggle with the expressive language, receptive language or social language skills needed for storytelling. How can we support their ability to connect with others in their community through shared storytelling? 

A great place to start is MindWing Concepts Story Grammar Marker ©.  At the Wolf School, we incorporate this approach to help our students develop narrative microstructure (e.g. word and sentence structures, such as verb tenses, use of prepositional phrases, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, etc.)  and macrostructure (e.g. the components that combine to create the framework for a complete story, such as character, setting, kick-off events, plans, consequences, resolution).

My favorite tip for parents who would like to support their child’s narrative development is from MindWing’s founder, Maryellen Rooney Moreau.  It is called “The 6 Second Story.”  Sean Sweeney of SpeechTechie created this great visual that explains how the “6 Second Story” strategy works:

As you and your child experience all the fun adventures of summertime, take lots of photos and then help your child to create 6-Second Stories to share with friends and family.  Here’s a great example using a photo from a recent 8th-grade field trip:

Using the visual as a guide, help your child to create their own conversational story starter.

Character: “My eighth-grade class

Where/When: went to Boston last Monday,

What: and we saw all the sights on the Freedom Trail.”

Now, encourage your child to share their photo and their conversational story starter with a friend or family member.  After your child has shared their 6-Second Story, encourage their storytelling partner to ask a “Wondering Question” (e.g. Who was your guide on the Freedom Trail?) or to “Add A Thought” (e.g. Wow! I went on the Freedom Trail too last year, but my guide wasn’t wearing a cool costume.) Once this groundwork has been laid, let the story-telling magic begin!

Have lots of fun this summer making those connections and sharing those stories!!!

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