The Telling…Told Project.
A brief explanation.
My name is Christian Rogers. I have been a professional Storyteller in some form or another for over 30 years. I have been active in schools in Berlin, in the style of the “fireside teller of tales”, since 2008, and from 2009 until 2017 was the resident storyteller in the Nelson Mandela School. I have held the same position at the International School Berlin since 2012. I have been involved in projects at the Berlin British School and, in German, in over 20 different schools in Berlin. At the time of writing this I am working in seven schools and am also working intermittently at Ysgol Glanwydden in North Wales. I have, recently, told stories in schools and orphanages in Kenya and at a wedding in Morocco.
The Telling…Told project involves the telling of traditional oral folk tales from around the world. My repertoire of stories numbers almost 380. I also encourage discussion with the students with the intention to uncover the meanings and significance of the tales as well as their relevance to the present times and to gain a deeper understanding of the culture from which they came.
My interest in bringing Storytelling back into the classroom has several reasons. Aside from the entertainment value of hearing stories, told in a live situation directly from a storyteller and without a book forming a wall between the teller and the listener, the pedagogical value of what I do is profoundly important. In my mind it is vital and even more so in this day and age.
Creativity is at the heart of storytelling. Currently there is a push, globally, towards placing creativity at the centre of formal education. The STEM subjects are, of course essential, but the STEAM movement, being pioneered in China and the United States, places the Arts right in the middle of academic life. There are many studies being done on this subject. I quote…
“STEAM represents a paradigm shift from traditional education philosophy, based on standardised test scores, to a modern ideal which focuses on valuing the learning process as much as the results. In essence, we dare our students to be wrong, to try multiple ideas, listen to alternate opinions and create a knowledge base that is applicable to real life as opposed to simply an exam.”
Former UPES Principal – US's 1st STEAM Certified School
Current TCSS Curriculum Coordinator
It is my belief that on many levels our education system is no longer fit for purpose. The industrial model is struggling, and often failing, to meet the needs of todays students who have unlimited and immediate access to huge amounts on information via their smartphones and computers. This does not encourage engagement with other human sources of knowledge rather, it alienates children who will become overly attached, not to say addicted, to computer and mobile phones. This sort of addiction is on the rise.
My project attempts to pull things right back, to simplify, and through stories to get to the heart of the human condition and relationships. The ideas of right and wrong are no longer the stable basis of our liquid modern world. A world which changes around us at breakneck speed and causes confusion and disharmony. My stories, and by that I mean the stories that I bring to the classrooms, are all about life lessons which not only inform but also encourage, importantly, the students to question.
Montaigne on the education of children…
“Let the tutor pass everything through a filter and never lodge anything in his or her mind simply by authority, second-hand. Let a diversity of of judgements be set before them; if they can, they will make the choice….” (Michel de Montaigne. On the educating of children. Complete Essays p. 171)
Dante said that “More than knowing, doubting pleases me.”
The whole point of a story is to tell it so that the listeners come right inside it, walk with the protagonist, sit with him or her; breath beside them, and, when the story is finished, the only way for them to leave that place is by thinking….
The process is ancient, it has served us since we first learnt how to light fires. It is intimate, it creates a safe, secure and stable environment for the listeners. And the children know that they are listening to a story which gives them the power to think for themselves. Each individual will take from the tale that that they need.
For myself, it is a privilege to share these primal, ancient tales and observe the fires being lit in the students eyes knowing that the flames in their hearts will forever burn.
My work also involves presenting a Creative Engagement project with 5th and 6th grade students as well the various projects and workshops which I have facilitated in the Both the Nelson Mandela School and the International School Berlin over the years. These involve shadow theatre, Kamishibai, Kishotenketsu and the story mountain principles. Observing the pedagogical potential in formalising Storytelling into a creative process for the students to create and present their own stories, I have clearly witnessed the advantages the years of my stories have given the children.
I quote Cornelia Funke…
“Stories of the imagination are a great classroom tool, taking children to new worlds and teaching them to question their own”.
Fantasy stories take us back to the times when humans were a more helpless part of the natural world, troubled by the big questions. Where do we come from? Where do we go? Children want to ask those questions and so they easily embrace the conventions of fantasy, used since the very beginnings of storytelling, to confront what frightens and enchants them.
The question of where we come from and where we’re going can be addressed by introducing children to ghosts and ghouls, for example. The uniquely human experience of being separated from all other forms of life on this planet can be bridged by imagining their human skin turning into fur or feathers.
Fantasy is not mere childish escapism. There is a political aspect to it – we won’t try to change this world unless we are able to imagine another reality. One could say all change starts with fantasy.
Reading the stories of other cultures helps children to understand their fears, their hopes, their religious beliefs and the landscapes that formed their culture. Only imagination can let us wear the skin of the others and question our perceptions of the world”.
The Guardian 27 September 2016
To conclude I would like point out that the feedback I have received from the teachers I have worked with for many years has been unanimously positive and their generous support has enabled me to explore and enact many of my ideas. I can only wish for that to continue.
Education is a challenge and a challenge is educational.
Christian Rogers March 2017