The History of the Storyline MethodHow the Storyline Method came to be
The Topic Web and the Storyline Method
Answers to questions about the Storyline Method
Why the Storyline Method makes sense
» It’s the principle of the thing
It’s the Principle of the Thing
by Jeff Creswell
All right, so what’s the big deal about principles? I mean, when I’m in a classroom with kids the last thing on my mind is some vague set of ideas which are supposed to keep me on track. Isn’t the important thing that kids are happy and engaged? I guess the answer to that question is yes, but... The longer I have been working with the Scottish Storyline method, the more I am convinced of the need to pin down a set of guiding principles. Behind all good practice is sound theory. As a teacher and a professional, I need to be able to articulate why my practice is effective.
A core set of principles can also help us to determine what is and what isn’t the Storyline method within the context of broad interpretation. Principles guide our practice and shape our planning, our thinking and our assessment. Without them, the Storyline method could be reduced to a set of clever art activities planned to enrich a traditional subject by subject curriculum.
The European Association for Educational Design, or EED, is the organization of Storyline educators that sponsors the international Golden Circle Storyline Conference. They have generated a set of principles which I find quite useful. I have defined them in order to assure that we all understand them in the same way.
I am certain that as you read them you will recognize in their simplicity the powerful qualities that make the Scottish Storyline method so effective.
By sharing these principles and examining them more carefully, we can begin to develop a common language among Storyline educators. It is imperative that as we design topics with our colleagues and implement them with children, we allow these principles to shape our practice. In this issue I will provide a brief overview of the principles. In subsequent issues of The Connection I will highlight one or two principles and discuss them in detail. It is my hope that you will discuss these principles with your colleagues, seek to understand them, and internalize them as you teach using the Storyline method.
Principles of the Storyline Method
The Principle of Story
Story is a central part of human experience. Our history, our religion, our heritage have all been passed from generation to generation through stories for thousands of years. When we seek to understand the world around us or the culture of a people, we look to stories to enlighten us. Stories provide children with a predictable, linear structure and a meaningful context for learning what we are trying to teach. The Scottish Storyline method uses this powerful principle to teach required curriculum in a way that closely mirrors real life.
The Principle of Anticipation
A good story draws us into its spell as we predict what is coming and we anticipate its unfolding with joy and excitement. All children want to know, “:What’s going to happen next?” They follow the story from episode to episode, eager to see where it will go. Anticipation is also present at the end of a story when children ask, “What is the next story going to be about?” Anticipation ensures that learning goes on all the time whether in school or at home because children are involved in a process that they feel a part of. They are thinking about the story all the time and bringing their thoughts and ideas with them to each class session eager to contribute to the growing story unfolding around them.
The Principle of the Teacher’s Rope
This principle refers to the critical partnership between teacher and student in a Storyline topic. The Storyline method is also referred to as collaborative storymaking because of the balance between teacher control and student control. The teacher at all times holds the rope which is the actual “storyline” planned to include specific curricular goals. The magic of a rope is that it is flexible and allows for numerous bends and twists and knots while moving from one end to the other. This gives children their control. Still, the rope is the road that is being traveled and, in spite of the unexpected detours and diversions, the children still follow the path the teacher designed and learn the curriculum the teacher had planned.
The Principle of Ownership
This is surely the most powerful motivator for children. Children feel responsibility, pride and enthusiasm for projects in which they play a substantive role. Storyline honors children by beginning with the key question “What is a ______________?” or “What do you think a ___________________ is like?” This idea of starting by building the childrens’ conceptual model first says that children are not empty vessels waiting to be filled. Collectively they know far more about a given subject than they do as individuals. In fact, my experience has been that my children often know more than I do about any given subject. By taking the childrens’ conceptual model seriously and visually bringing it to life in the classroom, we provide the fuel that drives the entire Storyline topic.
The Principle of Context
This principle is closely linked to the principle of story. New learning must be linked to previous knowledge. Children build their understanding by going from the known to the unknown. Context provides children the reason for learning what we want them to learn. Since a Storyline topic mirrors real life, the context is familiar and children see its relationship to their own lives. The linear, predictable structure of the story is also a context they understand. Children research, practice skills, and assimilate new knowledge because the story demands it and because they care about it.
The Structure Before Activity Principle
Before asking children to build their conceptual model we want to make sure that we have given them the chance to push their prior knowledge to its edges. When they have reached this point we know that they will frame their own questions and go about trying to find the answers. Children need to discover what they don’t know by articulating what they do know and seeing the gaps. Once this has been done, children need to be given structures which will enable them to find out what they want to know and to present what they discover. The teacher provides an appropriate structure for creating a frieze, doing some research, writing a report, doing a presentation or creating a person so that all children have a point of reference or starting point. This structure equals freedom for those children who don’t have the skills to accomplish the task on their own. Those who do possess the skills have the freedom to use the structure if they choose, or to diverge from it. This principle supports the belief that all children can accomplish what is being asked of them, provided they are given the necessary structure first.
This list of six principles provides a framework to keep in mind as you plan a topic and implement it in your classroom. Use them as filters to focus your planning, your assessment and your work with children. In the next issue of The Connection we will look at one or two of these principles in more detail and share some examples of how they shape what we do with children in the classroom.