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Rice Literacy Storytelling Program at The Fay School

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Rice Literacy Storytelling Program at The Fay School

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Rice Literacy Storytelling Program at Fay PrimaryStarting in the 2020-2021 school year, The Fay School’s Primary I & II classes began to enhance our early literacy instruction through teachers’ participation in the Rice Literacy Storytelling Program. Developed through Rice University’s School Literacy and Culture Project, it brings together preschool teachers from across Houston to learn with and from each other.  

Every day our Primary teachers pull aside one student for a one-on-one storytelling session. The student recounts a story from their life while the teacher dictates the students’ exact words. By observing the written word, students begin to correlate sounds, words, and letters. The teacher fosters this process by asking questions or making suggestions. For example, if a student tells their story and sounds excited, a teacher may say, “Wow, you are excited,” and suggest an exclamation mark. Witnessing their teacher write helps our Primary students understand the craft of writing. They learn that writing moves from left to right, top to bottom. They also gain a sense of story and an understanding of how stories progress. Teachers are able to differentiate their prompts for students. For example, a teacher might call one student’s attention to space between words and another student’s attention to vowel sounds, depending on what the child is ready to learn. Former Primary II Teacher, Sissy Witte, said:

“Instead of drill and practice, this is more organic. Primary students are learning writing and reading through modeling and observations.” 

At the end of the exercise, the student-author directs their classmates in a student-led drama where their classmates act out their recently written story. They choose which of their classmates will take the roles in their story. Students enjoy seeing their stories brought to life and are more interested and engaged in the written word because it comes from themselves and their friends. A sense of leadership is also fostered as students take director-like roles when their story is being acted out as the teacher reads the stories out loud. With daily exposure to classmates’ stories and that of published authors, as the school year progresses students learn more about stories and are able to dictate more sophisticated stories. 

Though dictation and the acting out of the story are the hallmarks of the Rice Literacy Storytelling program, the teachers learn much more about how to foster a literacy-rich environment in their classrooms. They create story baskets from familiar read alouds. After reading The Three Little Pigs several times, the books and tiny characters are available to students to retell the story. Through these retellings, students learn more about the structure of stories such as stories usually have a problem and a solution.  They also become so familiar with these stories that they can get playful and creative by changing story elements. Other literacy activities include figuring out riddles, making class books, and group storytelling. Students also share the pen during the writing of Morning News each day as the teacher calls upon students to fill in letters and words as part of a daily morning message.  

“Through Rice Literacy, we can create a classroom that inspires them to be readers and writers,” said Lindsey Stewart, Primary Teacher. “The program brings life to the written word and meaning to learning. It also gives every child a chance to feel valued because they are heard when sharing their stories. In turn, it creates a sense of community in our class because we can all relate over the stories we share.” 

The Rice Literacy Storytelling program is used in Primary I and II at The Fay School. It prepares them for Kindergarten where students begin to participate in Writing Workshop. Here students take the pen and begin writing their own stories.  After a year or two of Storytelling, they are well prepared to take this next step! 

Other aspects of Rice Literacy include: Rice Literacy Storytelling Program at Fay

  • Morning message and news  
  • Storytelling 
  • Group story – Each child in the class adds a line to a story 
  • Story baskets  
  • Class books  
  • Student-led drama – Students act out a story that their classmate wrote 
  • Adult-led drama  
  • Group drama  

About Melissa: Melissa is entering her third year as Fay’s Principal. Her love of literacy began at a young age when an elementary school librarian opened the world of books to her. After earning a Master’s degree in Reading Education from the University of Virginia, Melissa spent the early part of her career as a reading coach in elementary and middle schools. She has continued her journey as a word nerd studying etymology and morphology with linguists in the States and abroad. One aspect she enjoys most about her current position is working with Fay teachers at all levels to bring rich literacy experiences to our students.