Literacy through Dramatization
kids lying in circle on floor Why Literacy through Dramatization ?

Children are now being asked to demonstrate reading and writing skills as early as kindergarten. Early education teachers are being pressured to choose between teaching academic skills or the more traditional activities involving hands-on, socially oriented learning (cooking, music, movement, art, block-building, etc.). Literacy through Dramatization recognizes the importance of socially oriented learning and is thereby able to bridge the gap between "academics" and "play". Children appreciate the purpose of telling their stories to their teacher when they know that they and their friends will be dramatizing that story to the class. It is important that the storyteller's intention be captured in words, so both the storyteller and the scribe work collaboratively to make the story understandable. Choosing the right words extends a child's vocabulary while acting provides an opportunity for improved oral expression. While the teacher is writing, the child is observing the conventions of print (top to bottom, left to right, spaces between words, punctuation, etc.). Classmates, intrigued by the story, also observe the writing process and imitate the teacher with pencil and paper. After the story is completed, the teacher can use it as a basis for reviewing sub-skills.

As Vivian Paley so colorfully described in her many books about teaching young children, a classroom is transformed by the opportunity to use storytelling as a basis for learning. "The [children] who come to see us, bring us their stories. They hope they tell them well enough so that we understand the truth of their lives". Robert Cole's classic work* on the value of listening to a child's story is validated daily in classrooms using dictation and dramatization. Teachers who understand a child's "inner world" are better able to guide that child in all areas of learning. Classmates are eager to participate in the story and come to value the friendship of the storyteller. Classrooms become more harmonious because children want to care for each other.

Literacy through Dramatization is a peer-teaching approach that encourages a prolonged commitment to both storytelling and other purposeful early literacy-related activities. Teachers acquire tools to better meet the needs of each child and thereby more effectively scaffold their learning. Through monthly seminars, teachers are able to explore current thinking in early literacy and to share their classroom experiences with other teachers. This type of continuing education has more lasting results than traditional lecture-oriented settings.

*The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989
copyright Martha Hartzell marthahartzell@mindspring.com