First posted on Learning through Stories, a publication by Li’l Stories.
Since the launch of Li’l Stories earlier this year, we’ve been busy working on the next twists and turns of the storytelling project. We’ve fulfilled 99% of our Kickstarter rewards and have donated — thanks to our remarkable 144 Kickstarter backers and to you, friends of Li’l Stories — an astonishing 122 story pads to 12 elementary schools (encompassing 25 classrooms) and the Children’s Museum of the Arts.
Now, with students back in class for the fall, we’ve had a chance to see how Li’l Stories is coming to life as it is introduced in classrooms. We’ve learned a lot about how educators and parents are using the framework and would like to share these lessons and how they’ve helped pivot and shape our plans for the future. We hope you enjoy the read and might find a helpful tip if you’re using Li’l Stories with your students or child.
1. Teachers need all the time they can get.
While teachers love Li’l Stories, we’ve discovered many don’t have the time to integrate a new system into their classroom lesson plans. The framework is introduced more easily when we assist in the beginning of the process, or when the teachers attend one of our professional development workshops. We realized we needed to create more support for teachers to make implementation and integration into existing curriculum units easy and flexible.
To help with this, Li’l Stories has recruited its first curriculum design fellow, Julliene Gatchalian, who joined us in the spring. Julliene, an early childhood and elementary school teacher, is currently pursuing her graduate studies at Teachers College, Columbia University, with a major in game design and development. With her input, we have developed individual lesson plans for Grades K to 2 and Grades 2 to 4, as well as plans for self-guided activities and for English Language Learners. All are now available on the lilstories.com site.
The lesson plans include everything educators need to get started with the framework — storyboards, story element question cards, as well as lesson-specific materials like custom storyboards, idea cards, and content cards. They also provide teachers with a lesson outline, procedure guide, tips on adaptations and modifications, and assessment rubrics and activity expansions.
2. Talk the talk.
Thanks to Julliene and Felicity, a teacher friend who is the founder and director of Hands on World, an international language and art center in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, we’ve been able to refine our message, aligning it with the values and goals of teachers. Our new mission statement is: Li’l Stories nurtures creative thinking and cooperative learning. We use storytelling as a platform for learning across multiple content areas and combine oral storytelling with a visual creative process.
3. You can never have enough space.
Shipping oversized story pads is expensive and we, like teachers, don’t have a lot of space to store them. The solution is in the cloud: All Li’l Stories materials (storyboards, lesson plans, idea cards, content cards) are now available as digital downloads. Teachers can project storyboards on their smart boards for easy modeling, and print storyboards as needed on 11” by 17” sheets.
4. Nothing beats hands-on learning.
We’ve expanded Li’l Stories for Educators, our professional development workshop program that introduces classroom teachers and school staff to the Li’l Stories framework and approach to learning. The sessions provide educators with concrete understanding of use cases for each tool, as well as support for how to implement them in specific classrooms. Using the Li’l Stories storyboard tool, we reverse-engineer an attendee’s lesson plan and then brainstorm how to integrate the Li’l Stories system of tools into existing curriculum units.
We run workshops on a regular basis at Civic Hall in New York and at schools by invitation. Join us for our next event on Tuesday, October 18. (Registration information here.) In addition, we are planning to create online versions of our workshops to reach teachers and parents who aren’t in the New York area.
5. Create custom content.
We’ve noticed that teachers sometimes require special customization of our storyboards or other materials to better meet the targets of a certain lesson or unit. We are now offering consultations to educators to help develop materials specific to the classroom needs. For instance, this past May we worked closely with the Brooklyn-based tutoring service Brienza’s Academic Advantage to develop custom storyboards for one of their programs.
6. Web-based apps are the way to go.
Working with a limited budget, web-based apps are a great way to reach a wider audience. Our Li’l Stories app has been in beta (TestFlight) for iOS devices for the past six months. While most educators we’ve worked with directly use iOS devices in their classrooms, not all teachers do and many parents don’t. In addition, it is quite expensive to create and maintain both iOS and Android versions of the app, so our reach has been limited to iOS users. To remedy this, we are planning to relaunch the app as a web-based app. This will allow teachers to use any device, even their laptops or computer with a built-in or attached camera. (Thanks to Kickstarter backer Mike for helpfully pointing us in this direction.) We are currently looking for a web developer — if you have any recommendations, please send them our way.
We’ve been surprised and delighted by the fantastic response Li’l Stories has received from educators and parents and love to see how the use of the framework evolves in the classroom. Thank you for your continued support and interest. If you would like to attend one of our workshops, watch the schedule here for future dates. We hope to see you soon.