« Participatory Stories »: another way to teach literacy

The foundation of literacy hinges on mastering the basic skills of reading and writing – if a child can comprehend a piece of text he/is reading and then be able to write their own, they’re well on their way to writing a novel, pitching a screenplay for a movie, hosting a podcast – i.e. participating more freely and knowledgeably in society and the economy.

Yet what is regarded as a so-called ‘basic’ requirement is considered a hurdle for many pre-primary and primary school-aged children first encountering letters, words, sentences and stories. According to PISA 2018 statistics, the challenges in overcoming these hurdles are so pronounced that they’ve become statistically significant and they paint a bleak picture on the state of literacy attainment in the EU among our youngest learners:

  • By the age of 15, 17% of pupils (13% of 15-year-old girls and 27% of 15-year-old boys) have poor reading skills and have difficulties comprehending their own school textbooks
  • 18% of nine-year-olds (13% girls and 24% boys) never or almost never read for pleasure outside school
  • Around 13 million children under 15 years of age have literacy difficulties

With the project STORIAS, we believe that getting ahead of this outcome begins in the early years of a classroom. It requires sparking pupil engagement with learning material in such a way to cultivate a love of reading/writing within them, in order for the mastery of the ‘basic’ literacy skills themselves to follow. In practice, our approach entails the use of a hands-on and creative literacy tool called Participatory Stories.

The crux of Participatory Stories is simple – we aspire for children to be in the driver’s seat of the storytelling process; therefore, we give them the encouragement and space needed to develop their own stories, all the while still guiding them within the confines of a basic storytelling structure to follow (a story base and/or writing prompts).

The creativity begins when their imagination takes over, with them being able to mold the story structure how they see fit by determining the traits of the characters and setting in the story, adding story elements to the plot and even changing the story’s ending!

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

This approach not only aims to enhance the natural gifts and skills of pupils by giving them the freedom to express and channel their ideas into our story framework, it is especially conducive to greater participation of students with learning disorders who struggle with traditional approaches to literacy which prioritise memorisation and inflexible repetition.

The focus and difficulty level of the Participatory Stories have been differentiated according to age (with stories being divided into 3 age groups for the children ages 5 – 10), yet the purpose and end objective remains the same: allowing the children to exercise greater autonomy in the reading and subsequent writing of their stories and increasing their self-confidence in their literacy skills.

An added bonus to our approach is that the children will be able to make their stories come alive by recording their storytelling creations once they’re complete. We strive to, therefore, target three dimensions of literacy attainment: reading, writing and speaking.

Stay tuned for more news about our project and how you can apply this approach and its resources for guiding your own pupils to be better storytellers!

Photo credit: Nong V sur Unsplash


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