Teachers of young children often collect dictated narrations as a strategy to elicit a child's developing linguistic capacity while making sense of their world. For example, a teacher will ask a child to draw in a journal and the teacher will write, in the child's own words, what the picture is about, or a child will bring in a family photo for the classroom and dictate "about my family," or, after, a scraped knee, a child will dictate a note home "about how this happened" and "how I felt."
Story plays is a method used by teachers to collect young children's dictated stories and then coach the classroom group in acting out the stories as plays. The teacher directs specific questions to the child during the dictation to encourage clarity and focus and confirm the teacher's accurate understanding ("Who ran all the way home?" "Wait, I thought she already was home."). To help the children follow a story line and come to appreciate how a story progresses, children act in each other's story - both animate and inanimate characters: a bird, Sleeping Beauty, Sacramento, Batman's house, night, a wicked thing, the river, trees. Acting out the story play is a significant feature in this method. Children embed details from each others' stories and influence each others' themes.
The project described here uses the teaching method of story plays to examine how the teacher collects, documents and assesses children's developing linguistic capacity to narrate. This method has been used by Jane in her classroom for 15 years. Seeing fifteen successive sets of different children involved in the story play activity, it is clear that children display significant gains in narrative capacity over an academic year. The results of this study will inform our understanding of how the teacher can support and document the development of a narrative voice in young children. Of particular interest is how the specific questions asked by the teacher facilitate development in individual children. For example, are children who have been asked repeatedly about the time at which something happened more likely to spontaneously include temporal information later on.
This study will also illuminate how the teacher negotiates a teaching method within the context of the children's peer culture. When a teacher acknowledges a child's thoughts by writing it down as accurately as possible and then sanctions those thoughts by inviting others to join with the author in her imagery, a possibility is created for the children and teacher to make sense together of typical themes in the play of young childhood: power, control, danger, safety, life, death, family, and home. Because this study follows the interaction of the teacher and children, and tracks themes of the children's peer play culture, it is essential to locate this research in the day-to-day experience of the classroom and include the teacher and children as participants.
Jane Perry, the circle time teacher, will collect children's individual story play dictations as part of the regular instruction in the classroom. Jane will approach children individually and ask if they have a story to tell. If the child says "Yes," Jane will invite them to the writing area. Children sometimes will ask Jane to write down their story without prompting. The child will sit or stand next to Jane, telling their story, which Jane will write down. Jane will ask clarifying questions to confirm understanding (e.g.: "So how many Power Rangers were there?") and directed questions to prompt details (e.g.: "What did the monster do when it came?") and may ask the child to speak louder and/or in the direction of the teacher. Jane will ask the child if they want to be in the story when it is acted out at circle time, and if so, what character the child wants to be. Recording will begin by videotaping an index card containing subject information, such as subject number, age, sex, and session, but without their name. Dictation lasts between one and five minutes in general.
Jane will gather children for circle time, at which time the author of the story will choose other children to act out the other animate and inanimate features of the story play as Jane reviews the story prior to acting it out. Jane will keep field notes on who is chosen for which characters and any conversations among participants prior, during and after the story play act. Jane will read the story play once more, with children coming into the center of the circle when their "character" is introduced. The story play activity ends with the end of the story and the end of any relevant conversation arising from children's experience, feelings and ideas about the activity and the topic of the story. Recording will begin by videotaping an index card containing subject information, such as subject number, age, sex, and session, but without their name. Story play acting lasts between five and ten minutes in general.
Video recording equipment will be shown to the children, who will have the opportunity to examine the equipment and see how it works. The equipment will be set up in a protected writing area of the classroom during the dictation, and moved to an open area for daily circle time. Jane will explain that "the camera is here to take our picture and the microphone is here to record our voices to help teachers learn how story plays work." Equipment will be visible during the course of the study. Video-taping will begin with the storytelling and will continue with the acting out of the story. No video-taping will be done when the child telling the story does not have consent to participate in the study.
Video recording and field notes will be collected over a consecutive eight month period beginning in the Fall.
An important feature of this study is that it is naturalistic. Participants will not be selected into different experimental groups to receive different treatments. It is a normally occurring activity in this classroom. This study will allow us to better understand the dynamics of the narrative activity, especially how it might be helping the children gain narrative competence.