reading-writing connections · stories · writing workshop

Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning

story cover image

“Stories make us human.” This is the introduction title of Katie Egan Cunningham’s newest book, Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. I would like to believe that highlighting this statement for our readers is like “preaching to the choir.” I think for the most part this is true. However, even myself, a person who advocates for storytelling, talk, and time to write loses her way at times.  Katie says she wrote this book to, “…reclaim the central place of stories in our classrooms and our curriculum.” Katie continues in that she “…wanted to encourage teachers to look carefully and critically at the stories they share and whether they represent the children in their classrooms.” If you ever find yourself wavering, Katie will bring you back on the trail toward story. If you need more convincing, here are a few highlights from the book and my big take-aways.

Katie shows us the power of stories and where they live. She talks about how stories are the “mirrors and windows” of our reading life, the “inky courage” of our writing life, and the “wide-awakeness” of the speakers and listeners within us as we participate in our world. She highlights the importance of diversity in our classroom libraries for students to see themselves inside the literature on the shelf. She shares a list of “I” statements to help students connect to the center of their own story as they craft it in their notebook.

The book challenges us to really look at the diversity and multiple identities of our students. Ideas and suggestions are offered on how best to create text sets that will connect to our students individual interests as well as capture several genres serving multiple purposes. As I read, I felt her constantly reminding me to keep the students in mind when making text set decisions.

Katie shows us how to look deep and beyond in the far reaches, challenging us to see and show our students that story dwells in unexplored crevices. She shows us how to look to inside poetry, within the sound and structure of a song, and on the noticings of our artistic eye. There are sections on multimedia and the power of video as well as “mash-ups” to create new and unique stories.

When you reach the middle of this gold mine, Katie shares multiple ways to bring story to life. One of my favorites was the inclusion of wordless picture books. I have long believed that there is great power within wordless books. Katie includes a great list of questions to use with any age group when interacting with wordless books as a catalyst for story.

When building stories with our students we can make parallels to architecture as Katie does. Learning about design choices, space, and materials the foundation of our stories comes from our ideas. She makes unique connections to the bricks and mortar of teaching writing as we teach students to be creative while composing a structure. Through all this work we ultimately want to encourage students to share their stories while caring about the stories of others.

Within the last chapter, Katie tells us to put her book down and watch a video of the fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Kanamori in Children Full of Life. She states, “Watching Mr. Kanamori may have had more professional impact on my own thinking about teaching and learning than any graduate course or professional development session.”

Katie reminds us that story is the center of all things. It is behind every creation and can be built from any level of experiences. Katie shares this through multiple personal stories throughout the book and shows us how we are surrounded by the comfort of story and the power it brings with each student we impact.


2 thoughts on “Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning

  1. Love this book. It’s like having a chat with a teacher friend. She really makes you think plus gives a lot of practical ideas.


  2. Five minutes into the video, and I was in tears. Developing a community of children willing to take such personal risks doesn’t happen over night, but it does start with an honest experience, a hint of emotion, and a thread of words, which is what Mr. Kanamori honors and embraces. This immediately connects to our current 4th grade unit – an author study of Patricia Polacco’s gorgeous books as an entry into literary essays. There has been an overwhelming response from teachers as I hear about their students’ enthusiasm in reading/listening to story after story. This was further impacted recently in a particular classroom where one student’s mother lost her battle with cancer… (the third death in the school this year…). The children’s notes to him included lines from her books, but one specifically from Mr. Falker’s, “We will all eventually let go of the grass and go where the stars are.” Your post and this video will be simmering in my mind for a while… thanks for opening the door, yet again, on the power of writing.

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