For 21 years, Bill Harley has been bringing his special brand of music and storytelling to schools all over the country. Find out how students get hooked on the power of Bill's "every kid" stories and songs and then can't wait to write and tell stories of their own! Included: Download a Bill Harley song and share your creative ideas for using the song "Dad Threw the TV Out the Window" in the classroom!
Education World caught up with Bill Harley at Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Groton, Connecticut, where he gave two performances and chatted about storytelling and its place in the classroom.
Education World: Why is storytelling so important for kids?
Bill Harley: We tend to forget that language is first oral. I think it's maybe even more significant for a kid to stand up and tell a story than it is for the kid to sit at the desk and write it. If kids have the confidence to use their language in that way, to talk in front of their peers about an experience they had on their own or something they made up, then another step in literacy -- reading or writing -- is much simpler. And standing in front of people and telling a story is something most adults can't even do!
EW: What about the stories themselves?
Harley: I am very conscious of the power of story. Sometimes we are so eager to focus on the techniques and structure of writing that we forget that stories give kids a framework to begin to make sense out of their lives. I tell teachers that their job is to give kids stories so that kids have the tools to make their own stories. It's not just about taking stories apart and learning about the plot and all that other stuff. Kids use stories to help decide who they are.
EW: How can teachers use stories and storytelling in their classrooms?
Harley: In terms of story, the most important thing that teachers can do is tell their own stories to the kids. I'm not the first one to say this, but the culture in a classroom and in a school is much more defined by the stories we share than it is by a particular math table or reading lesson. Kids are desperate to hear the growing-up stories of their role models! When we understand and know each other's stories, relationship is established, and better learning can take place.
EW: What do you hope kids will take away from your visit to their school?
Harley: I think it's very important for kids to see someone who loves language and music. And I want to provide a place where we all share a positive group experience. When the kids see teachers laughing and having a good time, that's great for the culture of a school. I want to say to the teachers, "Now for 45 minutes, everybody just drop your roles, OK? I'll be in charge." The other thing I want to do is honor and identify what happens in kids' lives.
EW: I notice that your stories are "every kid" kinds of stories, aren't they?
Harley: I tend to talk about the mundane in my stories -- a regular kid that something happened to. When I talk about writing, I say to kids that the things that happen to all of us are the best things to write about. When I tell stories, kids say "Yeah, that happened to me," or "Yeah, I get that." They need that affirmation.
EW: Do you spend all year on the road visiting schools?
Harley: Spring and fall are very busy for me. I go to 30 to 50 schools a year for one-day visits or longer residencies. I'll do a couple of performances in the morning to show kids the finished product, then visit classrooms in the afternoon to talk about my process. I try to work at home in the winter. When I visit classrooms, I show kids drafts of my stories that are all marked up. I tell them that, sure, writing is hard, and that's OK. Good things are hard.
This e-interview with Bill Harley is part of the Education World weekly Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.