The Stories We Tell: Developing Community & Empathy

The Form 3 English curriculum explores storytelling in many forms so that the students develop their critical thinking skills, grapple with abstraction and read and write and speak with proficiency.  Upper School English teachers Michelle Schloss and Mela Frye believe in developing the students’ public speaking ability early on in the year. Currently, their students have been prepping their own stories and learning the craft of storytelling. Frye said, “Stories are important and powerful, and the students are understanding why stories are vital to being human.” Based on The Moth, a non-profit that is dedicated to the art of storytelling, this in-class exercise helps the students gain confidence, develop their strengths and widen their perspective and sense of empathy with one another.

In preparation for sharing their own personal or family tales, Schloss’s class practiced delivering a dramatic reading of the poem, “Like Lilly Like Wilson” by Taylor Mali by emphasizing vocal variation, range, tone, pitch tempo, and volume. With a healthy dose of competition, the class divided into three groups and practiced reading expressively. The groups worked collaboratively, assigned roles from the poem, gave constructive criticism and encouraged one another. Schloss asked the class to push their voices beyond their comfort zone to capture the shifts in the emotion of the poem when they presented the reading in front of the class.

In Frye’s class, the students practiced their stories in small groups and shared their opening sentences to hook the audience. The stories ranged from a summer of mistakes, a student’s adventurous “Crazy Nana”, the war between Pakistan and India in 1947, to getting caught in a riptide. To assuage their fears, Frye emphasized to the class to picture the image of the story and walk through the space rather than memorize the story word for word. “It’s not about perfection. If you forget something, play up the mistake to your advantage. Enter into this world and enjoy it,” Frye said.

Like Lilly Like Wilson
By Taylor Mali

I’m writing the poem that will change the world,
And it’s Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly Wilson, the recovering like addict,
The worst I’ve ever seen.

So, like, bad the whole eighth grade
Started calling her Like Lilly Like Wilson Like.
Until I declared my classroom a Like-Free Zone,
And she could not speak for days.

But when she did, it was to say,
Mr. Mali, this is...so hard!
Now I have to think before I...say anything!

Imagine that, Lily.
It’s for your own good.
Even if you don’t like...it.

I’m writing the poem that will change the world,
And it’s Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly is writing a research paper for me
About homosexuals like shouldn’t be allowed
To adopt children.

I’m writing the poem that will change the world,
And it’s Like Lilly Like Wilson at my office door.
She’s having trouble finding sources,
Which is to say, ones that back her up.
They all argue in favor of what I thought I was against.

And it took four years of college, three years of graduate school,
And every incidental teaching experience I have ever had
To let out only,
Well, that’s a really interesting problem, Lilly.
But what do you propose to do about it?
That’s what I want to know.

And the eighth-grade mind is a beautiful thing;
Like a new-born baby’s face, you can often see it
Change before your very eyes.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, Mr. Mali,
But I think I’d like to switch sides.

And I want to tell her to do more than just believe it,
But to enjoy it!
That changing your mind is one of the best ways
Of finding out whether or not you still have one.

Or even that minds are like parachutes,
That it doesn’t matter what you pack
Them with so long as they open
At the right time.

Lilly, I want to say
You make me feel like a teacher,
And who could ask to feel more than that?
I want to say all this but manage only,
Lilly, I am like so impressed with you!

So I finally taught somebody something,
Namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
It’s going to be one eighth-grader at a time.
 
 
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Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
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