REBEKAH: My kids grew up in a front-yard kind of neighborhood. Many ideas were hatched sitting on someone’s front porch, usually Dawn’s or Beth’s. Our kids all played together, and they were all wildly creative. One day we thought, “What if we had a theater camp and invited the kids on our street?” And so began three years of staging shows in my backyard, complete with homemade costumes, props, and hand-painted backdrops. The kids performed to an audience full of parents and grandparents in lawn chairs. It was magical.
REBEKAH: Backyard theater sparked an idea that I couldn’t let go of, so back to graduate school it was! I had always used theater in my work as a speech-language pathologist, but now I wanted to find a broader reach. At the University of Texas at Arlington, Dr. Marc Schwartz had just started a new program called Mind, Brain, and Education. My capstone project was built on an ambitious combination of educational neuroscience, narrative language, and theater. I ran a pilot at Cook Children’s Hospital. After only 9 hours of intervention, we got amazing results. In fact, the project won UTA’s 2015 Provost Award for college-wide graduate research!
The Missing Piece – Leigh!
LEIGH: The day I received the news my daughter had a language disorder, I felt as if the rug had been ripped out from under me. It wasn’t that it was entirely shocking: I had certainly noticed that Jenna’s speech and language were delayed compared to her friends. But it didn’t prepare me for seeing her diagnosis written in black and white. Things would not unfold as I had envisioned. Jenna began speech-language therapy with Rebekah, who I knew from church. I was teaching in a private preschool at the time, and wanted to learn more about how to help children with learning differences. I decided to take my career in a new direction: training as an Academic Language Therapist.
And then Leigh and Rebekah went on a long walk. They talked and talked. Later, they wrote lessons, tweaked theater games to align with language skills, collected costumes, and decided to call it all “Story Stage.”
Learning should be anchored in a sensori-motor experience
By speaking and moving their bodies to represent stories as plays, children can experience the words of the text in a sensorimotor way. Grounding learning in a sensorimotor experience sets the stage for more complex understanding. Preschool children naturally engage in dramatic play creating a rich platform for building higher level literacy skills.
Feedback should be immediate and intrinsic to the activity
There’s a difference between your goals and your students’ goals. We are well-versed in writing student objectives, but thinking about lessons in terms of what students perceive the goal to be will change the game. Students aren’t movtivated by “building more complex sentences” or “building vocabulary.” Students are motivated by solving puzzles, repairing mistakes to make something work, or winning games. Create activities with student perspectives mind so that lessons are meaningful and engaging. Students will not wonder how to take action or need lengthy explanation from you. This is why we write “Dual Perspective Goals” … teacher goals and student goals. We’d love to show you how!
Motivation and self-confidence for writing can be built early
Children typically view the process of writing as negative and laborious. Motivation is increased by a group writing experience where the topic is self-generated rather than teacher-assigned, and the learning is active and social. Having control and autonomy in their learning can influence children toward a positive affect and motivation to mastery of writing (Posner & Rothbart, 2001, p.23). The Story Stage program guides children to create stories that arise from their own personal knowledge or experiences. Grounding learning in prior experience strengthens understanding (Schwartz, 2013; Powers, 1998; Schwartz & Sadler, 2007). Children are intrinsically motivated to connect their ideas in a way that the listener can understand because the stakes are higher when the story is your own.
Practice should be scaffolded and repeated across contexts
Using theater to build narratives as a group creates great potential for repeated practice across many language contexts. Children listen as peers tell their stories. Children offer guided feedback to peers about missing story parts or favorite characters. Children start their own stories, while peers offer suggestions for what happens next. Jonas (2002) notes that students benefit from solving problems together before being charged with solving the same problems alone. A collaborative story building environment generates repeated practice that evolves in a natural, authentic way.
We build our programs on current thinking in cognitive neuroscience including theories from Fischer, Powers, and Vygotsky. These models guide us to design programs based on current research about how children learn best.
We focus on narrative language skills to help students use language to tell a story. These critical skills are linked to both improved academic accomplishments and successful social relationships.
We integrate theater arts with writing to build learning from a sensorimotor experience. With this, children see their words come to life and are intrinsically motivated to build stories.
We believe in:
- Feedback and revision
- Letting student ideas fuel the lesson
- Collaborating over competing
- Leading by guiding
- Embracing the chaos
- Being kind
Co-founder and Educator
B.A., Academic Language Therapist
Co-founder and Educator
M.A, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Administrator and Teacher
Teacher and Speech Therapist