Principal Addie Gaines latches on to any strategy that will make reading more meaningful for the K-4 students at Kirbyville (Missouri) Elementary School. This summer Gaines read about a strategy called Story Bits. She decided it was a strategy worth introducing to her staff. But Gaines took that idea one step farther. She takes a few minutes out of each staff meeting to model the strategy.
Principal Addie Gaines encourages her teachers at Kirbyville (Missouri) Elementary School to introduce special activities to make reading more meaningful for all students. At each staff meeting, Gaines models a strategy to accomplish that goal by taking a few minutes to share an inspirational story with the staff. Each story is accompanied by a special token or souvenir -- called a "Story Bit" -- to help staff members remember the story.
For example, at a start-of-the-school-year meeting, Gaines took a few minutes to share The Story of Mrs. Thompson and Teddy Stoddard. She provided each teacher with a special Story Bit -- a small jewel bought at a local craft store. That jewel serves as a reminder of a gaudy bracelet with missing jewels -- one with an extraordinary meaning to young Teddy and Mrs. Thompson -- that is the inspirational centerpiece of the story. Note: Since our original publication of this article, this story has been identified as an urban legend. For additional background on the story, see Urban Legends and Folklore: The Teacher and Little Teddy Stoddard
The idea behind Story Bits, Gaines explained, is to provide teachers with reminders of the inspiring stories she shares. If a teacher is having a bad day, all she or he has to do is take a look at that little jewel. It is a powerful reminder of the difference all teachers can make and of the many reasons each teacher has chosen the profession over all others.
At the first staff meeting of the year, Gaines handed each teacher a little gift bag to hold their Story Bits. "I have noticed that the little gift bags are in prominent places in many of the classrooms," Gaines told Education World. "I have even been asked by some students what those little bags are about, since they notice that all the teachers have them."
The book Chicken Soup for a Teachers Soul is a good source for inspirational stories to share, Gaines added.
STORY BITS: THE ULTERIOR MOTIVE!
In addition to motivating teachers to focus on the good work they do, the Story Bits Gaines shares with her staff are intended to model a viable strategy teachers can use to make a unique school-to-home connection. That strategy suggests that, after sharing a storybook with students, teachers plan a simple, hands-on activity in which kids make a memento of the story to take home with them.
Alternatively, Gaines added, teachers could simply provide students with a memento of the story, much as she does at her monthly staff meetings.
The Story Bits strategy is not just a teacher-student effort. Teachers have let parents in on the fun, too. The home-school connection is an integral component of the strategy. The teachers sent home a special letter with the first Story Bit. That letter explained the purpose of Story Bits and encouraged parents to use the little mementoes to engage their children in conversations about the special storybooks to which they relate.
CREATIVE STORY BIT IDEAS
Cheryl Sigmon writes a regular column for Teachers.nets 4 Blocks Literacy Center. It was one of Sigmons columns, Home-School Connections -- A Bit of a Story, that inspired Gaines to share this strategy with her staff. In that column, Sigmon offered a list of Story Bit ideas to get teachers started, including having students transform a colorful tissue into a butterfly to celebrate The Butterfly Alphabet Book and providing a circle of foil to remind students of the shiny fish scale in Rainbow Fish.
Teachers at Kirbyville Elementary have used some of Sigmons ideas and come up with some very creative ideas of their own. "One teacher had students make simple antlers out of pipe cleaners after reading Imogenes Antlers, Gaines told Education World. Another teacher provided each student with an acorn souvenir after reading Chicken Little.
See this articles sidebar for links to dozens of additional Story Bit ideas!
"Early this year, the first graders heard a story about Orville and Wilbur Wright and then they made little airplanes out of gum and lifesavers," Gaines recalled. "Just the other day we were talking about the little airplanes and I asked the kids what story they went with and what happened in that story -- and their recall was excellent!"
Some teachers have had their students create special boxes to hold their Story Bits. Each child decorated a small white gift box that teachers picked up at paper outlet. When parents see that little gift box come home, they know just what to do.
The Story Bit strategy is one that really works, said Gaines. She has seen firsthand the evidence that it results in solid learning. It builds enthusiasm for reading, she added, because students have a token by which they remember the story and because the story was talked about at school and at home.