Symposium at Literacy Research Association 63rd Annual Conference – Dallas, Texas

WHAT? Symposium at Literacy Research Association 63rd Annual Conference

WHERE? Dallas, Texas, USA

WHEN? 4th – 7th December 2013

WHO? Rosie Flewitt with OU colleagues Teresa Cremin, Joan Swann, Dot Faulkner and Natalia Kucirkova

Against the backdrop of a spectacular ice-storm which brought Dallas to a complete standstill for the best part of a week, in December 2013 Rosie Flewitt co-organised and participated in an international symposium which drew together USA and European researchers to discuss the influence of Vivian Gussin Paley’s storytelling and story acting curriculum for young learners.    

Paley developed this technique while working as a kindergarten teacher in Chicago, as a means to promote the power of fantasy play and the potency of storytelling, dictation and dramatisation in the curriculum. Her work is underpinned by a child-centred, play-based philosophy, which reflects a view of children as active meaning-makers and creative thinkers. Using this technique, children are encouraged (but not obliged) to tell stories to an adult who scribes them verbatim. Later the same day, the whole class gathers round an improvised stage (a rectangle marked out by masking tape) and act out these stories with their peers. Paley’s approach has made a rich contribution to theoretical discussions and professional practice in the USA, but is less well known in Europe. With Open University colleagues Professor Teresa Cremin, Professor Joan Swann, Dr Dorothy Faulkner and PhD student Natalia Kucirkova, Rosie recently completed an evaluation of an adaptation of Paley’s work in the UK, known as The Helicopter Technique (funded by Esmée Fairbairn. See Full Report or Executive Summary )

The LRA symposium included six presenters, each adopting a different analytic lens for a specific kind of data. These included: a US study, which considered how Paley’s approach can promote low-income pre-schoolers’ oral language, emergent literacy and social competence (Agelilki Nicolopolou, Lehigh University, Pennsylvania. NB Nicolopolou was caught on the wrong side of the storm and represented by a co-presenter); four papers from the ‘Helicopter Technique’ evaluation focusing on the potential of the technique for nurturing children’s ownership of the literacy curriculum (Cremin), for multimodal communication and literacy development (Flewitt), for collective meaning-making (Faulkner) and for capturing a new sense of self through iPad recordings of the stories (Kucirkova).  The session ended with lively consideration of the future of such approaches to play and storytelling in the emergent literacy curriculum, both theoretically and practically (Karen Capo and Margaret Immel, Rice University, Houston), with rich discussion led by Eithne Kennedy (St. Patrick’s College, Dublin).

The large auditorium was packed, possibly in shelter from the raging storm outside, but whatever the reason for the audience’s presence, their enthusiasm was tangible and we were roundly applauded for what one attendee termed ‘offering a ray of hope’ for children growing up in an era of highly prescriptive literacy curricula.


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