Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Identification stories

A group of us met to talk about language development strategy the other day and got to the subject of identity, what identifies a person with a certain group, i.e. language, dress, ways of doing things, religion, accent, food and stories. We're from the USA, and can point to the legends of the founding fathers as something shared, or of conflicts, expansion, immigration, travel, exploration, science, drama and American literature as being somewhat shared. Where does one go from there? I'm from eastern Pennsylvania of southern German descent. I'm grateful to my uncle and other relatives for researching the family history. I have family tree charts and am learning the stories, which identify me with a certain people, even though for me the language, Pennsylvania German, is gone. I'm sure that if Pennsylvania German would've been passed on to me, I would've identified more strongly with that group than I do at present.

While living on Epi Island in Vanuatu, we learned some of their stories, such as how Lamen Island arrived in its present location, having floated over from Malakula Island. They say you can see the hole in the reef where it once stood. Knowing the story, especially in the Lamen language, helps Lamen Islanders identify with their group. It's a shared story of their past.

Even in Vanuatu identity is layered. One can be called 'Man Vanuatu' as being a citizen of Vanuatu, or 'Man Epi' as being from the particular island called Epi. Epi has at least 5 languages though, spoken by around 5,000 people. So, 'Man Epi' is not enough to identify oneself in that situation. Someone might speak the Lewo language and then is probably not 'Man Lewo' as you'd expect, but identified by the village they live in. People there know what language is spoken in what village. After that, people are identified by their clans and families.

We had a good discussion on language and identity, and shared stories that mark that group. What stories identify you and your group? It can be a difficult question to answer, but one worth asking.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Storytelling as an assessment tool

Lately we've been discussing Doug Lipman's course on storytelling (called Storytelling Workshop in a BoxTM, available from or email and most recently the topic of eliciting stories. Doug urges storytellers to hear other people's stories and in so doing this will help them become better storytellers. Some important aspects of eliciting a story are listening and imagining what is happening in the story. At some point in the imagining processes the listener needs to question what they might be missing in the story. What gaps are there in the story? My wife for instance can read a novel and find holes or character changes.

Then I was thinking after listening to some children retell a Bible story they had just heard in church, about storytelling or retelling a story as an assessment tool for comprehension. In one way, this would help the teller see what impressions the story made on the audience, and in another possibly show what the listener understood or didn't understand.

In the field of sociolingusitics, questioning people about stories they've heard is a useful way to assess how well they might understand another language variety. This method can take a variety of forms, answers to direct questions on short stories or a retelling of the story.

So, I did what I usually do, and search Google to see what others have written on the subject of storytelling and assessment and found this e-article on the subject of using storytelling as an means of assessment by George Rooney called 'Storytelling and Contextually Based Design Techniques for Needs Assessment'