RIC teacher candidates captivated by Len Cabral’s storytelling workshop

Len Cabral
Storytelling has been effectively used as a teaching tool and has been enjoyed by adults and children throughout history around campfires, in drawing rooms and salons, on stages and in classrooms. Telling a good story is an opportunity to share life lessons, make history come to life, inspire imagination, evoke feelings, convey information and simply provide enjoyment. It is the bridge between the spoken and written word, an exercise in oral communication and listening if you are in the audience.

Storytelling, as Rhode Island College teacher candidates recently discovered, has limitless possibilities in the classroom.

On Oct. 5, about 30 RIC graduate and undergraduate teacher candidates were joined by students from other disciplines and college administrators for Len Cabral’s “Storytelling as a Teaching Tool” workshop, a RIC Diversity Week presentation co-sponsored by the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development and the Unity Center.

Cabral has been enchanting audiences with his storytelling performances at schools, libraries, museums and festivals throughout the U.S. and Canada since 1978. As a performer, he uses each of his communication skills in poetry, song, movement and humor to bring out the child in everyone while he creates a setting for the imagination to soar.

He gathers his stories from everywhere – traditional tales from folklore and fable, imaginative yarns from far-off places, heartwarming stories from his own family – and weaves them into a magical performance that wins the hearts of all who hear him.

In addition to performing, Len creates workshops for educators and teacher candidates that enable current and future practitioners to deepen their understanding of how storytelling can be used to enhance teaching and student learning.

The two-hour RIC workshop was customized to address specific goals of teacher candidates shared by participants prior to the session. Common to all was the desire to learn how to bring stories to life in the classroom. Others wanted to generate future lesson ideas for adult English language learners, and many were interested in how to use storytelling to improve student writing.

Cabral’s workshop did not disappoint. Interspersed between his entertaining and enrapturing stories were numerous strategies, methods and tips for storytelling in the classroom. He modeled techniques for working with students on story development, how to use body movement to define vocabulary, and how to prompt students to tell and write their stories.

His suggestion to use “skeletons” of known stories and fables as frameworks for students to tell and write stories and teachers’ use of engagement breaks to capture and keep student attention during story telling provided candidates with a bag of tricks for incorporating storytelling in the classroom.

Following the workshop, participants were invited to reflect on their experience and share their comments using an online survey. When asked how they anticipate applying what they learned during the workshop in their current or future classrooms, their responses ranged from incorporating the techniques and strategies to differentiate teaching to personally sharing stories in order to introduce a theme.

Many attendees also wrote that they intend to provide opportunities for students to orally tell their stories as a pre-writing exercise. At the end of the survey, candidates shared their praise of the workshop and final thoughts, including these two: “This was an excellent workshop that I didn’t even realize I needed or wanted…thank you!” and, “I never really thought about how much goes into storytelling…Amazing!”

The teacher education programs at Rhode Island College do not begin and end within the four walls of the college classroom. Diverse field experiences, service learning in urban classrooms, community service in afterschool programs, practicum and student teaching with dedicated cooperating teachers, and pre-professional development opportunities provided by recognized leaders in the field like Len Cabral, work together to form a comprehensive, enriching teacher preparation experience that is educational and as Cabral proved…inspiring!