Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
All credit for the following goes to Dr. Beniko Mason and was obtained via personal correspondence with Tina Hargaden (email). Thank you, Dr. Mason, for sharing Story Listening along with your thoughts about it with us.
I have taught kindergarten children to senior adults with this story-listening way for over 25 years. It has worked with almost everyone.
I looked for stories at many different places, but I have found Grimm Brothers’ Household Tales the easiest to tell (copyright free, too). Storybooks did not have enough stories in one book and I did not want to spend the money to buy many books, and I did not want my students to buy textbooks. I looked for stories on line.
The Grimm Brothers’ tales deal with many different themes with variety of words. Besides, about 85 to 90% of the words used in the stories are within the high frequency words (2000 word families), but others are 3000, 4000, 5000, 10,000 word levels and some words are off-list words including academic words.
I adjust the words and structures according to the age and level of the students. I have told “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The three Little Pigs” (these are not Grimm’s) to “The Tempest” and several other stories by Shakespeare. In between, I tell Grimm Brothers’ tales and other folk tales from the world including from Japan.
When I tell a story: I am usually standing in front of the students and draw pictures on the board. With my advanced students I just tell and do not draw pictures.
My high school students who stayed with me for six years since their elementary school years eventually just listened for over one hour without pictures. With these students after telling a story, I read the text out loud to them and they followed the text silently and reviewed the story by listening to me read the text. When they had questions they asked me afterwards. Some of these students began to get a perfect score in the English exam on the nation wide standardized tests towards the end of their high school years. I experienced several successful cases with junior and senior high school kids about ten years ago.
One girl (my niece) was failing in English in her junior high school, but she began to listen to stories and read during the summer of her 9th grade, and in the fall she was doing great at tests at her school and then she passed an entrance exam to one of the best high schools in Osaka in the spring of the following year, and in the first semester at her high school she ranked at 14th out of 340 students in the English section of the standardized exam.
Another case is that there was a high school male student who ranked at D in the English section of the standardized mock college entrance exam in May. He began to read and listen to stories in June. In October, after only four months, when he took the test again he ranked at A in the English section. He passed an entrance exam to one of the best private universities in Kyoto in the following spring.
Another female high school student recorded my storytelling lesson on her cell phone and listened to it every night before she went to bed. She scored a perfect score many times in the English section of the standardized tests when she was 12th grade. She passed an entrance exam to a National University.
In class I never talked about grammar. We never practiced writing. We paid attention to vocabulary a little, but it was not forced. The students came to my class to listen to a new story every Tuesday night for 90 minutes. I had 6 or 7 girls in one room and they all listened to a story every week. They listened 40 times a week and they did this for three years at least. That is why I say if they listen to at least 100 stories they can become pretty good. I have adult students (45 or older to all the way to 69 years old right now). Some of these people have been with me for four years. They listen 12 to 15 times per semester, so they must have heard at least 100 stories. I do not have to draw any pictures on the board any more.
With other regular unmotivated weak students who are absent from class 40% of the semester.
Even with these kids, they prefer my class to other teachers’ classes where other teachers do intensive reading explaining grammar rules. I am always given every year the classes of the students who score the lowest at the placement test. I get the lowest 30 students. What happens is that about half of them score high on the next placement test and so they are moved up and I get those at the bottom. Some of them had been placed in the higher class a year before. Even these kids, who don’t come to school to attend my class, get better if they don’t go to sleep in class.
Special Effects: I do not bring in any costumes and puppets and candles and stuff like that. I do not think it is necessary. Once in a while it may be fun, but it is not necessary. If I did, that is a special treat.
Board: Even with kindergarten children, I write the words even when they cannot read them yet. Story-listening is the bridge to reading.
Using other senses: Speaking out loud, repeating, drawing pictures, acting out (role playing), singing and dancing… I am not sure about these activities. I feel that the class time may not be wisely spent if the goal was language acquisition.
1) Theory predicts that listening (input) alone is sufficient.
2) Research shows that input alone is more efficient.
3) My class is offered only once a week for 90 minutes per semester.
4) Japanese college students are passive learners.
Japanese students are mostly passive learners. The culture trains them to be that way. They are not supposed to be showy and stand out. Of course there are some exceptions, but mostly they are quiet. Quiet does not mean that they are listening or obedient, though… In my situation, class is the only place for Japanese students to get English input. I wish to supply them with rich input as much as possible. They will have time to output later or somewhere else to do it if they want to.
Theory, Research and Actual Class: I do not know if you agree with me, but I feel that it is sad that children (students) are required to spend a lot of useless, wasteful time in school. Out of a 50-minute lesson, there may be only 15 minutes of real learning time and the other is a waste (I am only talking about the classes in Japan.) But as a teacher we must fill that time doing something good for the kids. So, drawing about the story may be good if that helps them retrieve the language that they just acquired and also drawing may relax them.
In my class with kindergarten kids, I used to use flash cards. I give them a list of the words on a sheet of paper. We review the words on the list and have the children write a meaning of the English words in Japanese. The kids can take that home and then the mothers would know what they did in class and they may want to review the words with the children.
Like I said before, my high school students used to tape record the lesson so that they could listen to the story again at home. This way they could review the words with images in their head from the story. It is not like skill-building list memorization. Remembering the words with the images that they thought of while they were listening to the story is not the same as direct memorization. Imagination leads to memory and memory leads to learning (Stevic).
Your Own Children: I think it is different with your own children. Your children do not have other people who are watching them how they are performing. Your children have 100% trust in you. Your children enjoy interacting with you in their home. I think it is different.
Story listening for Kindergarten children: I will have a chance to teach kindergarten kids on the 22nd of this month. I will see how it goes with a story. I will let you know.
What to tell: I have always used stories from storybooks. I have always drawn pictures. It is faster to draw than find puppets or create puppets. I do not want teachers to spend unnecessary money or time for preparing visual aids.
Taking them to the library: Yes, I agree with you.
Classroom with less stuff on the wall: Yes, I agree with you on this point too.
Teacher’s job: I believe that my job is to help them improve their English to the next level each semester. I think that when students become confident with themselves, when they develop higher self-esteem, many other problems disappear. I concentrate on my job of providing compelling comprehensible stories and leading them to interesting books. Also when they start reading good books the authors of the books talk to them directly and then they change to become a better person too. I am not the one who is changing them. They are doing it to themselves through experiencing the stories in story-listening and books.
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