A Class of Thirty Authors: Helicopter Stories in Year 1

Guest Blog:

Islas teacher

Shernice Donovan

Year 1 Teacher, Rusthall St Paul’s, Kent

Back in June 2018, when I found out I would be teaching Year 1 the following year, I was asked to dedicate every Friday morning to Helicopter Stories. This was a concept I knew very little about, only what I had heard from the Reception teacher about the work. MakeBelieve Arts Education Director, Isla Hill had been doing with our Reception aged children.

At first, I had so many reservations. Why should the children have a whole morning of unstructured time to write stories for the whole year? How much would this impact on the curriculum? How much formal teaching time would my class miss?

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The prospect of a Year 1 class still having free flow time throughout the year was a scary one for me. There is so much to pack into the curriculum and so little time.

However, I am glad that we have our Friday morning Helicopter Story sessions. The impact on my class has been huge.

IMG_0015On a Friday morning I have tried as far as possible to create a story session, which still links to our topic. In my school, our topics lasts a term, so I have been able to use resources multiple times. The children are free to choose any activity in the classroom, just as they were able to in Reception. We have Lego and construction areas, trains, a creative area, role play, maths area and writing area.

I try to add topic related challenges or items to each area and hope that these will influence the children’s play. For example, during our Frozen Planet topic, the children have had polar animal masks and puppets to use, and polar word mats for their writing.

One week we had a tough spot full of ice. The children naturally love how familiar this free flow time is to them, especially early on in the year, and children love to play.

The amount of children who become immersed in storytelling during this time has shocked all of us at the school. There are often over ten children at the writing area, writing incredible stories.

The impact of Helicopter Stories has meant that the children BELIEVE they are WRITERS. They have taken to the idea of storytelling and embraced it. They tell stories whilst they play, and they all love sitting with a gel pen and notebook and writing their own story.

This has obviously had a huge impact on the curriculum. The writing the children produce during their English lessons is of a very high standard, and even those who may struggle with the physical demands of writing, have become articulate in story language so they can dictate a wonderful story.

In short, for us at Rusthall St Paul’s, Helicopter Stories has created a class of thirty authors.

For more information on Helicopter Stories visit http://www.makebelievearts.co.uk or contact Trisha Lee at info@makebelievearts.co.uk – Or on twitter @TrishaLeeWrite

princesses

Trisha Lee’s best selling book ‘Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories’ is a how to publication on the Helicopter Stories approach.

My Monster is Raaah: How Helicopter Stories Supports Children with Delayed Language Development

Ggggggrrrrrh,   Ggggggrrrrrh, Ggggggrrrrrh, Ggggggrrrrrh,
Ggggggrrrrrh, Ggggggrrrrrh, Ggggggrrrrrh, Ggggggrrrrrh,
He scares the people away. He scares the people in the garden.
My monster is Raah. Then he scares my monster away in the house.

The story above was dictated to me by Zandra aged 4.

Every time Zandra growled, I repeated her sounds exactly as she said them, before writing her story down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pattern went like this; Zandra growled. I growled back. She put her hands over her ears. We smiled at each other, reassuring ourselves that this was was just a game. Then she looked at the paper I was holding, and watched as I wrote and growled her exact sounds onto the page. Another growl and the pattern repeated.

There were eight growl in all, and each was accompanied by exactly the same ritual.

Her teacher sat next to me. She had already informed me that Zandra had delayed language development and that she was a bit shy. Once the growling was over, Zandra smiled.

It looked like she had finished, so I placed the A5  paper I was writing her story on, upside down on my lap, thinking my job was done.

But I wanted to know more. I was curious. So I asked a few questions.

‘Zandra, does the growling come from a monster?’ I asked. Zandra nodded. ‘Is that the character you are going to play when we act out your story?’ Zandra nodded again. ‘That’s a great character.’

And then Zandra surprised us all.

She turned the A5 paper back over, looked at where I had written her story and continued to dictate. ‘He scares the people away.’ I repeated Zandra’s words back to her as I wrote them down.

And then she was off, telling a story about the monster who scares people from the garden and who is then scared into the house.

The teacher was surprised. Zandra rarely spoke and yet her story is strong, articulate and follows a very clear narrative progression. The monster scares people and then monster is scared away.

We shouldn’t really be surprised. Zandra did what children all over the world are doing. She made up a story. She started from a place that was safe for her, using sounds and growling to communicate her message, and then she found her voice.

Story dictation at pain tableI turned the A5 paper I was writing Zandra’s story on over because I never want to drag a story out of a child, because I believe that every story a child shares with me is their gift. It would be wrong to take a gift from someone and to demand more. ‘I like your gift, but I would like it to be longer, more descriptive or a slightly different colour.’ However, I might be curious about a gift. ‘Wow, that is really interesting. What were you thinking when you said that?’

The fact that Zandra found her voice is incredible. The fact that she did it through a story about monsters, and that every time I growled at her she backed away and covered her ears, made me think about how many fears we have to work our way through in order to feel confident enough to share a story with another. This is a brave thing to do, and yet it is something our children are boldly doing every day in their fantasy play.

Seeing the light in Zandra’s face as she dictated to me, was proof of the joy she felt in the telling. Zandra found a meaningful reason to communicate that day.

What better reason is there for finding our voice, than to share a story that will be acted out?

For more information on Helicopter Stories visit http://www.makebelievearts.co.uk or contact Trisha Lee at info@makebelievearts.co.uk – Or on twitter @TrishaLeeWrite

princesses

Trisha Lee’s best selling book ‘Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories’ is a how to publication on the Helicopter Stories approach.

Helicopter Stories – Helping Children Make Sense of the World…

Guest Blog:

isla+hill

Isla Hill

Education Director
MakeBelieve Arts

Chelsea’s Story*

Once there was a little boy called Oscar. He went to the park with Riley. And he went to see Chelsea. And she went home to see Oscar. And Oscar loves Chelsea. Then they all went home to see my dad because he went up to heaven. And then Mum went home to see her dad and they all cried. Happily ever after.

Before I entered Bluebells Reception classroom that morning I spoke with the teacher who told me that Chelsea’s father had died during half term. Chelsea is 4 and for the last two years her father has been living with terminal cancer.

It was Chelsea’s turn to tell a story that day, so I asked if she would like to, just as I would on any other day.  She said ‘yes’, and came and sat next to me.

Chelsea started telling her story. She seemed happy and relaxed, and told it as she would normally. But then, as she got half way through her eyes left mine and fell to her lap. She picked at her fingers.

‘Then they all went home to see my dad because he went up to heaven’ she said in a small voice.

Screenshot (31)Then she looked at me and said ‘My dad died.’ I didn’t write this down it wasn’t part of the story, she just wanted to let me know.

We had a cuddle. I waited until she was ready to pull away, and then she resumed telling her story.

‘And then Mum went home to see her dad and they all cried.’

This part came out in a rush. Once she said it, Chelsea gave a big sigh, like it was a relief to have got it out. Then she smiled at me and added ‘Happily Ever After.’

Chelsea chose to be her Dad for the acting out of her story. She showed me a band that she was wearing around her wrist that read Stand up to Cancer.

‘I can wear this when I’m being my Daddy, he wore one too’ she said.

During the acting out, Chelsea stood up to take the role of  Dad. She immediately pulled up her sleeve to show everyone the special band. The whole class looked at it quietly, as Chelsea walked around the stage making sure everyone could see. Then she flapped her arms, pretending to be Dad, flying up to heaven.

It was a powerful moment, embedding the value of Helicopter Stories at the heart of this community of Storytellers. Chelsea had a place to share her sadness, and her friends were given an opportunity to love and support her.

The poignancy was lost on no one.

So many things happen in the lives of children, good and bad. Why I  trust Helicopter Stories, is that it gives all children an opportunity to share what is going on in their lives, to bring their stories to life through acting them out, and to use metaphors, like flying up to heaven, to make sense of some of our hardest moments.

*All names have been changed to protect the identity of the child  and her setting.

For more information on Helicopter Stories visit http://www.makebelievearts.co.uk or contact Trisha Lee at info@makebelievearts.co.uk

princesses

Trisha Lee’s best selling book Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories is a how to publication on the Helicopter Stories approach

List Stories: How do we act them out?

I am often asked about List Stories, and how to act them out. Naming a list of characters or objects is often one of the first stages of storytelling. The moment I realise I am being told a list story I write each character/object on a separate line, like a list. For children who want to see their story reach the bottom of the page, this is effective in containing the length of the story, so that it is possible to act it out without it becoming unweildy. It also makes the story look like a poem.

A list story from a two year old:

Sometimes a list story will weave together to create a narrative in its own right.

cake-two

Olly’s story is a good example of this. He was two months away from being three when he told this story.

But how do you lead the acting out of a story like this? This first example is based on how I use the approach with groups of two year olds.

When I work with two’s, all of them are involved in the acting out. To place value on the story, I read a word. Then I look up and invite the children to act it out. Then I read the next word.

For me leading the acting out of any story is this process of reading and valuing the child’s words, phrase by phrase, with my head looking at the paper, and then looking up, to ask for an action and observe how the children respond. None of these suggestions are meant to form an exact script, but what I hope to demonstrate in the three examples below, is how it is possible to open up the story (or subtext) that is contained within the list.

  1. I read the first line of the story – Cake.
  2. Then (as I’m working with two year olds), I asked “Shall we all pretend we are eating some cake?”
  3. Next I read the second line – House.
  4. “Can I see you walking into the house?”
  5. Eating.
  6. “Pretend we’re still eating the cake.”
  7. More Cake.
  8. “Shall we pretend that there’s lots of cake everywhere.”
  9. Eating.
  10. “Let’s pretend we’re eating.’
  11. Cake.
  12. “Mmm cake.”

But it’s not just two year olds who create lists stories. Even in Reception and Year 1 some children start their journey to storytelling by telling a list story. So here are two examples of how I work to support the acting out of these types of stories.

A One Word Story:

cinderella 2

Here Natalie, from Reception is telling a one word story. The process of leading the acting out of a one word story is exactly the same as a list story.

1. I read the word – Cinderella.   

2. Then I ask – “Can I see how Cinderella walks around the stage?”

3. Then I watch, and give Cinderella her moment to shine on the stage, before clapping thank you at the end of the story.

Asking with a verb: By asking to see Cinderella WALKING around the stage I verbally encourage the child to move.

Don’t ask to SEE the action – be more specific

When I start team teaching Helicopter Stories, I often hear teachers asking the following type of question. “Can I SEE what Cinderella looks like?” This is a really hard question. It’s not an acting question. Although it’s great that a ask is being used, rather than the adult demonstrating what that action might look like, for me the question doesn’t work. What often happens with this type of question is that the children end up standing and not moving. “Can I see how Cinderella walks around the stage?” This question allows the child to feel safe to move. They have been invited to move. We can then enjoy watching them walking around the stage as the Princess, or the Cinderella, or the Batman in their own one word story.

Lots of Characters:

Leo 2

Leo is in reception and this was his first story. His baby brother is called Mark. Mark recently had a bad cough and went to see a doctor. Immediately we can see how children’s life stories begin to fit into the ones they dictate.

Once the story is dictated, I read it back to the child and underline all the characters or objects that we will bring to life. Leo wanted to be his baby brother Mark in this story. That character is circled so I remember that this is who he is playing. This helps me to see clearly what characters are needed and reminds me what part the author wants to play.

So how do we act this out?

  1. I read the first line of the story – Mark.
  2. I say – “Leo is going to play Mark in his story. Leo do you want to come onto the stage and show me how your brother Mark crawls around?” (notice the verb – Crawls)
  3. Then I read the next line – Doctor.
  4. I point to the child whose turn it is going around the circle. “David can you be the doctor? I wonder how the doctor might check on baby Mark to make sure he’s okay? Can you show me?  Leo do you want to pretend to be baby Mark coughing.(Here I was able to pull in my own knowledge of something that had happened in Leo’s life recently, Having spoken to Leo after he’d finished dictating his story I know this is why the doctor is there.)
  5. Then I read the next line – Shopping.
  6. “Can I see the doctor and the baby walking around the stage to get to the shops?”
  7.  House.
  8. “One, two, three. (pointing to the next three children around the stage). Can you show me how the three of you would pretend to be a house?  Leo, since it is your story, does the doctor and the baby go into the house? Can I see them?
  9. Dinosaur.
  10. Inviting the next child in the circle – “Come and be the dinosaur. Can I see how the dinosaur moves around the stage? Oh I like the way he’s stomping around outside the house.”
  11. House.
  12. “Leo, are the people in the house frightened by the dinosaur? Can I see them looking very scared?”
  13. Pig.
  14. Next person around the stage – “Can you be the pig? Can I see the pig crawling around the stage? Make sure the dinosaur doesn’t see you.”
  15. Cow.
  16. Next person – “Jonathan, come and be the cow. Can I see how the cow moves around the stage? And there we have a cow, a pig and a dinosaur, outside the house, with the doctor and baby Mark inside.”
  17. “And that is the end of Leo’s story. Let’s clap thank you.”

Key Points:

Showing what something looks like is NOT asking for an action. Action questions support children in feeling confident to  move around the stage, and to know what is being asked of them.

If you ask a child to show you what a car might look like – you won’t get as good a response as if you rephrase it to – “Can you show me how the car drives around the stage?”

Spotlight things you see in the acting out. “I love the way you were holding the steering wheel when you were pretending to drive the car.” Or “I can see your fingers making the dinosaurs claws.”

I hope you enjoy incorporating Helicopter Stories in your setting. Any questions do please ask, and I love hearing about how it is going on my twitter feed @TrishaLeeWrites

For more information on Helicopter Stories visit http://www.makebelievearts.co.uk or contact Trisha Lee at info@makebelievearts.co.uk

princesses

Trisha Lee’s best selling book Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories is a how to publication on the Helicopter Stories approach.

 

Hearts beating as one…

At theacting out beginning of a new academic year, I am often asked, ‘When is a good time to start Helicopter Stories?’

As schools and settings are meeting new children and settling them in, it can be hard to imagine how to get started. But my answer is always – As soon as possible.

Helicopter Stories is closely linked to fantasy play, and children engage with it quickly and easily from the moment it is first introduced, as if they have been waiting for it to happen. Although it is an adult led activity, it is one that is so inherently child-centered and so carefully conceived by Vivian Gussin Paley, that it meets the needs of all children, and fits easily into any classroom. Because children take on many roles, from storyteller, to actor, to audience member and even writer, Helicopter Stories is quick to set up, highly engaging, and hugely beneficial. Plus it’s a great way to get to know your children.

It is not the monsters children invented that scared them in the kindergarten. It was being told to sit still and pay attention for long periods of time.                              Vivian Gussin Paley

I have seen so many children on their first day in a seOsmani-21tting – walk over to where Helicopter Stories is taking place and join in as if they’d been doing it all their lives.
To me this makes perfect sense. How do we find our place within a community? We do so by finding where we fit within the stories of everyone around us. When we hear other people’s stories, we discover the connections between us, our similarities and the differences. When we tell our own stories, we share the things we see as important and the way that we look at the world.

You like batman? I like batman too. I have a dog. I don’t have any pets. I want to fly. I’d like to be a firefighter.

What greater way is there to get to know a new group of people, than to take time to enjoy each other’s stories. Adults who run Helicopter Stories on a regular basis report that they know their children far better than they have ever done before. Isn’t that what we all want? To get to know our new group, to find out what is important to them, to see what makes them tick.

In 2017, a group of neuroscientists from UCL conducted a study at the Savoy Theatre in London during a performance of Dreamgirls. They monitored the heartbeat of twelve audience members who were seated in various places across the auditorium. During the performance, the heart monitor showed that all of the hearts sped up and slowed down in response to what was happening on the stage. But, even more surprisingly, from the moment the performance started, all twelve hearts began to beat at exactly the same time. Past studies have shown that when heartbeats synchronise in this way, people are more likely to make friends and like each other.

Now, I have no scientific evidence for this next bit, but, having seen a lot of theatre shows, I am pretty sure I know what it feels like when the hearts of an audience beat as one; that moment where you gasp together, or laugh together or jump together.

I am also pretty certain that this sometimes happens during Helicopter Stories. When HITACHI HDC-1491Echildren are acting out their stories, there are moments when the whole group are focused, whether as actors or audience members. When it feels like a piece of magic is happening , and the concentration in the room is immense.

So if you haven’t had a go already, what better time is there than now. Engage your children in making up stories, and acting them out.

Use it as a way to get to know your new group, and see if you can sense those moments when the hearts of everyone in your room, really do start to beat as one.

Have a great Autumn Term from everyone at MakeBelieve Arts…

If you would like to know more about Helicopter Stories visit http://www.makebelievearts.co.uk or email info@makebelievearts.co.uk

Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories is a how to book on the approach.

princesses

A celebration of the many positions children adopt when they engage with writing

The Ofsted Bold Beginnings report stated a need for children in Reception to be taught proper pencil grip and how to sit correctly at a table.

But why does writing always have to happen at a table? For the children I work, with the amount of self-elected writing they engage with is phenomenal. But hardly any of it happens in this conventional way.

As a writer, I often find myself adopting a range of positions when I write. I quite like sitting cross legged on the floor when I’m outlining a story by hand. Sometimes I lie on my belly and sketch out a character, and more recently I purchased a laptop stand that sits on my desk so that I can write standing up.

Sitting  all day long is not good for any of us, regardless of our age. Our bodies are not designed for it. When we move less we burn less calories. Its harder for our bodies to digest food if we sit down on a full stomach. Sitting for long periods of times strains our neck and our shoulders and can give us back pain. We’re just not built that way. So why is there a growing insistence in the early years that children should get used to sitting at a desk, when any of us who work at a desk all day long know far too well how bad that is for us.

In this short blog I want to celebrate the writing positions of Reception aged children who have taken it upon themselves to start writing, and are doing it for the sheer fun of it.

Children write in many positions…

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Lets celebrate it…

All these children started writing their own stories, self-elected as a result of regular engagement with Helicopter Stories and the knowledge that each of these stories would be acted out and reach an audience.

And for those of you who are interested in impact…

From September 2017 to July 2018, I have been delivering Helicopter Stories on a regular basis with a class of Reception children in one of the highest Super Output areas in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

When the group came in at the start of the academic year, only 27% of them were reaching the expected level in writing for children of that age. By the end of Reception this had increased to 76%. With the national average at 75% in 2017 I think that is pretty impressive.

Speaking went from 41% to 82%

Self confidence 58% to 88%

Imaginative Skills 59% to 100%

For more information on Helicopter Stories visit http://www.makebelievearts.co.uk or contact Trisha Lee at info@makebelievearts.co.uk

index

 

Scribing Verbatim Part 2 – Creating an Exact Record

Bella sat beside me. I wrote her name at the top of my A5 sheet of paper, and she started to dictate her story. Like many of the children I run demonstrations with, I had never met her before and I had no idea what words would come out of her mouth.

“W. A. Pon. A. Tum.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you, could you repeat that?” I asked, leaning forward and making sure that this time I was listening more carefully.

“W. A. Pon. A. Tum,” she repeated.

Immediately I understood.

“Once upon a time,” I repeated, saying each word out loud as I wrote it on my A5 page.

“A prin-ess live in a car-all,’ Bella continued. Her speech was difficult to understand, but I tuned my ear into the various nuances of her language and was able to scribe her exactly.

The final story went like this:

‘Once upon a time a princess lived in a castle.

And with really long hair.

With a cape. A pink cape.

Her got high heels on.

And her got pink hair.’

While I was scribing Bella’s story, I was making a lot of choices. I could see that she had a range of speech and language difficulties, and was struggling to shape the words in her mouth. Where this is the case, I always write what I believe the child is trying to tell me, rather than the words they actually say. If I had repeated W. A. Pon. A Tum, that would have felt like I was making fun of her.

W. A. Pon. A. Tum became Once upon a time.

By repeating these words back to Bella, I acknowledged that I understood what she was telling me.

However, when it came to the grammar side of her story I wrote her words verbatim.

Her got high heels. And her got pink hair.

An Exact Record:

By writing verbatim, we create an exact record of the children’s grammatical understanding. This gives us a range of information on where each child is with regards to their speaking, narrative development and comprehension. I keep copies of children’s stories in individual books, made out of a cover and a treasury tag, and in this way I can also see progression.

To change the sentences above to She has got high heels and she has got pink hair, would be to change the rhythm of the authors speech. When Bella dictated her story to me, she said these words with such pride, looking into the distance as if she could see the princess she was describing.

Modelling language during the Acting Out:

When Bella acted her story, I read each phrase back to her, exactly as she said it, and then I asked to see the actions.

Can I see the girl walking around the stage in her high heels? Can you pretend that you have pink hair?

Bella moved her head as she walked, as if shaking out a mane of pink locks. She smiled as she stepped into the castle that had been created by four of her classmates.

At that moment, I didn’t need to correct her grammar. The learning that was happening without my intervention was plentiful, and I doubt she would have noticed anyway, she was so engaged in her own creation.

Bella was demonstrating creativity. During the scribing she created an imaginary character. During the acting, she demonstrated comprehension, by bringing the story to life. During the process her confidence soared, which isn’t surprising, as that is what happens, when our ideas are appreciated and our unique way of expressing ourselves is accepted.

 

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A Language Rich Environment:

I am always modelling language with children. I do it through conversation, through telling oral stories, and through repeating back sentences in the correct tense.

But when I do Helicopter Stories I write each word exactly as it is told.

Often fight becomes fighted, go becomes goed, run becomes runned. This is one of the most common errors that occurs in early language development. When children add an ED in the wrong place they are demonstrating an understanding of the grammar rule where we add these two letters to a word to move it to the past tense. What we see with these errors is children applying a rule correctly, and the only reason it’s incorrect is because the English language is full of irregular verb. I have never heard an adult say fighted, or goed or runned. Linguist, Gary F. Marcus refers to this error as over-regularizing the past tense rule. In an article entitled Why Children Say Breaked, he stated, “Because parents almost never over-regularize, these errors demonstrate that the language learning involves more than mere imitation.” Children are making sense of a rule, and over time they will learn when not to use it.

If we bombard children with questions, corrections, or comments about what they are saying and how they should say it correctly, we are stopping them from discovering these things for themselves.

I am told beautiful stories each day by the children I am lucky enough to work with. Regardless of where they live, or what their lives have been like so far, all the children I meet understand Helicopter Stories and engage with it, as if they have always known about it and have just been waiting for someone to ask. This is their opportunity to express themselves, however they choose, a place where they can play with language and develop their narrative ideas without fear of getting anything wrong.

Believe me, the rewards are worth it.

Here is a story from 5 year old Max:

Once upon a time there was a shark. The shark lived in the water and the shark can jump high. And then there was a lot of mermaids in the water. And the shark ate all the mermaids up. And then all the heroes came and killed the shark. And then the mermaids were free again.