Professional Storyteller

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Looking forward to telling stories in a self-contained special education classroom.

Going to observe tomorrow and tell next week. Is there anyone else with experience in this setting with tips for me?

Tags: Education, Self-contained, Special, classroom

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All my storytelling work is with children and adults with special needs.  What are your questions/concerns?  How old are the students? 

One of the nice things about telling in these classrooms is that there is generally more staff available.  Make it clear to the teacher and the staff that you will need them to stay engaged, to model good audience behavior (sometimes they take advantage of this much-needed "break" to chat and get paperwork done) but you need them.  You need them to -- as I've said, model good audience behavior -- but also to help intervene if a student needs to leave the group due to behaviors, over-stimulation, etc.

Depending on the age and cognitive abilities of you audience, keep you stories short and simple.  Repetitive, rhythmic stories work well.  Longer, more, plot-heavy stories may be difficult for your audience to follow.

Please feel free to contact me at if you have specific questions.

Gwen, thanks for the input. My observation tomorrow will confirm the abilities of the group. I am planning on telling a short story and then letting them develop a Story Map in small groups to identify beginning, middle, and end. The teacher says there are 15 students with different needs but first grade is a general target level. One goal is to touch Language Arts Standards.

I want to find out how the students transition to small groups.


I belong to a group of 14 teachers who work with SEN children..we only teach English as a econd language through stories and Drama techniques.. everything must be simple and easy, with a lot o visual there is no frustration in the audience..noises ..and colourful props!!

We belong to the Ministry of Education , Buenos Aires Argentina.Only ipprogramme in the world!1 WE have been doing this for the last 4 years..good results but have made several mistakes on the way...We have learnt by doing because there is not much about this..

I once told stories to a group of children  with Down Syndrom  .I told stories in Spanish..their mother tongue.And I discovered taht they enjoyed and understood the stories I chose because there was  alot of body language ...some visual aid and onomatopoeia.

Any more help?'just ask!!

I would be interested to have this discussion reactivated.  Like most of the discussions, things have become dormant, with private messages probably being exchanged among members likely to have answers.  I'm completing six residencies for special needs students.  While I did some of this several years ago, it's been a while.  Along the way with five of my classes I have read two helpful books to accompany stories told: Early Intervention Games by Barbara Sher and 100 Learning Games for Special Needs by Johanne Hanko.  I plan to look for more of the same through the computerized catalog of my library since the subject headings are good for searches.  My biggest complaint with these two books is they presume a more typical special needs student able to perform at a preschool level with assistance or adaptation. 

My reason for writing has to do with the fact that these classes (with the exception of the delightful hearing impaired preschoolers -- yes, I do sign) have been more severely impaired than I have worked with in the past.  Most have little or no communication other than possibly using communication devices consisting of pictures fastened to the device.  Many of the students are on the severe end of the autism spectrum.  Because there's no mention here of who or where the classes are, I trust I'm not violating the privacy of all concerned since I know this discussion is open to all to view. (The sixth residency is with a group of autistic young adults and we are putting together a puppet play of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."  They are fairly verbal.)

Searching to know more feels overwhelming and that's why I'm writing asking for more discussion about how to work with storytelling for students without oral or signed communication.  The topic of Autism in a library catalog generates tons of books that don't seem to stand out from each other.  The organizational site, Autism Speaks, is similarly fairly overwhelming.  Their search feature let me put in "Resources" which gave me tons of materials for families.  Putting in "Resources for Teachers" was also enormous.  As the visiting artist, of course, I've worked with the teachers to bring Language Arts opportunities for their students.  In the case of the oldest students of high school age, once we got past a student who needed to be in his swing at the back of the classroom so the rest could hear beyond his loud outbursts, the group has been able to accomplish exposure to a variety of stories.  In contrast, the two classes of preschool boys have such behavioral issues it's difficult even for their staff.  In one class the original teacher was long gone, but in the midst of my residency the long-term substitute gave her immediate notice at the end of a week.  The new substitute is fresh out of school with the teacher of the other class having been her own teacher in college.  I asked each teacher if I'm giving them what they wanted, since too often it doesn't seem to be reaching their boys.  Each assured me it was.  Still I feel frustrated.

The remaining class has health-impaired students who all are wheelchair users, but also lack verbal skills.  Their teacher came up "through the ranks" from paraprofessional (and family?) through getting her degree.  She's quite the crusader, but I'm not sure we're always on the same wave-length.  While email is possible, it only has been originated by me and, while supposedly I have five minutes to spend with the teacher after a session, it's hard for the teachers to get away even with the assistance of paraprofessionals helping them.  I confess, for example, that when working with a class, I haven't made breakthroughs with any deaf/blind students even when I've brought objects.  The impairment seems better able to be handled one-to-one and so I find myself leaving this up to the staff.

So, Gwen, the ages go from preschool on up with staffing a help, but not always up to the challenge even when they stay with the class.  Behaviors?!?  Over-stimulation?!?  You bet.  Keeping material to the mental age level of the students is a definite.  As for getting participation from the students, this is definitely an area where I want to find more.  The classes tend to use large pictures on a computerized screen, but this can be difficult when the suggestions come from beyond the classroom teacher.  As a "traveling dog and pony show" I've found even using their Yes/No device slows things down terribly.  Andrea, I'm an animated storyteller (theatre background) so, yes, body language, sounds, props, some music -- although I've not brought in my instruments because they are yet one more thing to "schlep" and I also want to protect them.  My puppets and props get quite a bit of handling by the students.

So the series of ten weeks plus a final "Show and Share" is coming to an end, but it's looking like I will be doing more of this.  I would like to spend the summer getting ideas to do it even better and to understand my students even better.

Quick note: I referenced the Autism Speaks site.  In looking further, there has been controversy in the past (and continuing?) with the organization.  My intent is to find resources for working using storytelling with severely impaired students with neither oral nor sign language communication and also to understand better the disabilities involved.




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