Julie feature

Research shows storytelling is child’s play

Is there a right and wrong way to tell a story?

University of Newcastle – Central Coast Research and Learning Librarian, Dr Julie Mundy-Taylor has researched this question and has been awarded a Doctor of Philosophy for her thesis “Storytelling engagement in the classroom: Observable behavioural cues of children’s storytelling experiences.”

Dr Mundy-Taylor’s research was prompted by some feedback in 2003 from one of the many storytelling programmes she operated at local schools, pre-schools and day care centres.

“I was telling a favourite folktale, The little half-chick to a group of three and four year old children when the pre-school director interrupted,” Dr Mundy-Taylor said.

“She insisted that I stop as I wasn’t telling the story ‘the way everyone knows a story should be told to children.'”

The feedback led Dr Mundy-Taylor on a journey to discover if there was a ‘right’ way to tell a story and a means of measuring how engaged children were.

After six months of searching the literature and asking her academic colleagues, it became obvious to Dr Mundy-Taylor that there was a lack of research in this area and that she would have to find the answers for herself.

To discover the best methods for storytelling, Dr Mundy-Taylor spent five months conducting research in a primary school, where she completed 33 storytelling sessions telling 43 different stories. During that period, she recorded 41 hours of video footage and collected hundreds of pages of transcripts of these sessions. Then after hundreds of hours of analysis of the information, the answers began to emerge.

Dr Mundy-Taylor determined that there is no single correct way to tell stories and that each storyteller develops their own storytelling style, often changing their presentation style to suit a particular story and the needs of each audience.

Reflecting back on the feedback from the pre-school director that spurred on her research, Dr Mundy-Taylor says the director did her a great service as a practising storyteller and as a librarian.

“When the incident I now call “Half-chick got burned” occurred, I had been storytelling for over 10 years. While I was by no means complacent, I had neglected my own professional development,” she said.

“Doing a Research Higher Degree forced me to take an objective and analytical approach to an art form I was passionate about. In the process I learned far more than I ever imagined about the art of storytelling, and also gained a valuable insight into research practice

“I answered the questions I began with and gained research skills that I can now share with library clients. This process has greatly enhanced my empathy and understanding of what researchers undertake.”

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