Jump to Content or Main Navigation

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Story Telling Part Two: Talking in Classrooms

Anthony Bloome, Peace Corps Information Communications and Technology Specialist, interviews Peace Corps Deputy Director Jody Olsen about the essential components of story telling, speaking in classrooms, using different medias in story telling, and reflection on the impact of the volunteer experience.

Anthony Bloome
That sounds great, Jody. It also sounds, in terms of accommodating the audience, and particularly when you're talking about goal three, for example, with volunteers speaking to schools or RPCVs speaking to their schools, would you have any suggestions about how they might accommodate the listening interests of those audiences that they're addressing with stories of their experience?
Jody Olsen
Sure. I want to give an example of when I was in Texas—San Antonio, Texas. And I was visiting a third grade class, and I was talking about World Wise Schools, but I was sharing my stories. And, I am not from San Antonio, Texas; I knew nothing about the classroom, and I was going to be there talking with them for about forty minutes. And I'm not very good at talking with about-ten-year-old kids when there's a class of thirty-five of them, and I'm sort of standing there looking silly. I stood there for a moment thinking, "What am I going to say? How do I begin to approach thirty-some-odd students, ten-years old, in San Antonio, Texas?" And so, I thought, "I need to start where they are." Now I have to think, "Where are they?" And then I can go to where I want them to go. So I threw out the question to these ten-year-olds, "What is your favorite food?" And as I tossed out the question, I knew that their answer would be, and I had all my five favorite American foods in my head including that Jell-O salad, and assuming that that's what they were going to say. Well, all the hands popped up; they were very excited to share their favorite food. Well, the favorite foods were probably thirty-five favorite foods for the thirty-five students. I had three different forms of Korean soup. I had two different Indian dishes. I had seven or eight dishes that were in Spanish that I couldn't pronounce, and the process went on from there. There were almost no two foods that were the same, and foods that many of the other students couldn't describe when they were noted. And I watched the students look at each other with this look of 'What? You eat that?' and their own curiosities at, once they all stopped being a group in the classroom and went home, they became very different people. So we had fun with that, and I was practicing pronouncing the names, and I asked them to describe a little bit about what this looked like. And then I said, "Guess what? You all are now going to have to put away all those favorite foods that we've been talking about because you're now flying to Tunisia, and you are now going to eat a food that none of you have mentioned, that probably none of you have tasted before, that's going to be really strange to every one of you." And from that I started talking about couscous. Well, what I realized in hindsight was that I started the group discovering each other, and so that they could talk about what was comfortable for them, and compare 'Ew, he eats that?' and then take all of them in a group to a situation where they all felt strange together. And from that, I asked them questions about, "How did you feel when I described the couscous? Now, when your colleague named the Korean soup, do you think differently about the Korean soup now that you felt really strange and your Korean colleague felt strange eating the couscous?" So, that's one particular example that taught me that you do need to start where the students are and then wind your own experience into that. I might note that when we did the Coverdell World Wise Schools phone call a couple of years ago, with a volunteer in Malawi and her mother's classroom in the U.S., again of ten-year-olds, and the volunteer was just eager to talk about the food that she was eating in Malawi. And the kids in the class, there were six consecutive questions about animals. And here was the volunteer, you know, answering the animal questions, but she really wanted to talk about food. But it was so clear that the class wanted to know about those animals, that she spent the whole hour talking about animals in Malawi and listening to the kids going, "Wow! Oh, oh that's great! Can you pet it?" So, I think part of it is discovering and thinking about where the classroom is because you can always find something from your own experience that matches an interest in that classroom.