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Stories are essential to our lives.

Slicer Breakfast at Mei's Kitchen -- Clockwise from left: Brenna, Ruth, Katie, Amanda, Christy, Stacey, and Mary Helen

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Elementary Section Get-Together at the Chicago Hilton. The get-togethers are always fun to attend since they provide me with the opportunity to catch up with people like Karen Caine, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and Franki Sibberson who I only get to see in-person at NCTE. In addition, attending the get-together gives me the chance to meet new people, some of whom are in attendance at their first NCTE Convention (this is my fifth). In addition to socializing, the Elementary Section Get-Together is a chance to listen to the winner of NCTE’s Outstanding Educator Award. This year’s award went to Kathy G. Short who is a professor, an author, and the director of Worlds of Words, which is “an initiative focused on encouraging thoughtful dialogue around literature to open the world for children” (NCTE 2011 Convention Guide, pg. 39).

Kathy Short spoke about the power of stories. Stories bring people together in a critical way. Stories illuminate what it means to be alive and to thrive as we walk through life. She reminded us that stories, both oral and the ones we read to children in books, help us to understand life.

One of the most important things Kathy Short said, which bears sharing in this forum, is that, “If we try to teach every book kids read, then we lose the power of story for understanding life.” She is so right! Too often teachers are guilty of trying to cram as much as possible into the curriculum. There’s so much to do that we try to use a book in as many ways as possible. We use it as a mentor text for reading and writing. We pull vocabulary and spelling words from the text. We lift sentences from the book and use them for grammar instruction. We try to teach so many things with the books that we read to children that sometimes we forget that stories are meant, first and foremost, for us to enjoy.

On page 8 of Ralph Fletcher’s book Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts, Craft Notes, and Practical Classroom Uses, Fletcher reminds us to:

Read at lease once for pleasure. The mentor texts we learn the most from, the ones that have the biggest impact on our own writing, are the pieces we truly enjoy.

We must take time to enjoy books before we use them as teaching tools with our students.

Let me take this a step further. We have to make time and space in our classrooms to read books just for fun. I know it’s really hard to have “just for fun books.” In 2008, I had “Picture Book-Palooza” in my fourth grade classroom. It was an opportunity for me to read stories aloud to my students and for them to soak them in, enjoy them, and use the stories to make better sense of their own lives. While it was my hope that my students would adopt some of the books I read as mentor texts, it was my greater hope that they’d just sit back and enjoy the stories I shared with them. (Click here to look at the books my fourth graders and I read “just for fun.”)

Finally, stories create community. This morning, I had the privilege of having breakfast with six women who have been participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge for the past couple of years. We sat around the table and shared stories about working with children, about our home lives, and about the places where we’re from. I had only met one of the six women (Ruth — but I know you knew that) before this morning. However, I felt as though I knew them well since I have been reading the stories of their lives during thanks to their participation in the Slice of Life Community. How wonderful it was to finally have the chance to meet some of the people I’ve been sharing stories with for the past three and a half years!

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

10 thoughts on “Stories are essential to our lives. Leave a comment

  1. I enjoyed your posts throughout the NCTE. I am interested in ways you suggest incorporating “Just For Fun” reading into classroom time, as I would like to try this approach.

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  2. The number of connections you made in this post is staggering, but not surprising. Once the seed of a thought is planted, it is sure to be nurtured along when you notice it again and again, everywhere you look! This is just how I feel my mind has been working these past two days- one person’s ideas link to the words of this other person, which reminds me of a book I read, and it connects to my life because… What I mean to say is that I enjoy the way your post reflects that you are processing and owning so much of what you pick up at NCTE.

    Thanks again for setting up this morning’s breakfast- you weren’t kidding about having that picture up before the day was over!

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  3. This post reminded me of Readicide by Kelly Gallagher. Teaching reading and writing is such a balancing act. We want to teach enough for students to improve, but not too much for fear of ruining the love for the written word (not to mention intrinsic motivation).

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    • My pleasure Linda.
      BTW: Your name came up at breakfast. Please know that everyone who was there remarked about how wonderful it is to have you as part of the Slicer Community. Everyone agreed your comments are definitely fuel to keep all of us going! Thank you for being such an active member of this community. I hope to, one day, meet you in person too!

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