Too Cool for School? Why Script-Stories Are Perfect for High-Schoolers
“You teach high schoolers? Oh, I could never do that.” I get this comment a lot.
“What’s so bad about high schoolers?” I’ve asked in return.
I’ve heard many replies: They’re jaded—too cool for school. They’re cynical, world-weary—or at least school-weary. They’re smart-mouthed, sarcastic, flippant, mean-spirited, dishonest, angry, low-energy…the list goes on and on. What’s a teacher to do?
I won’t lie and say that high-schoolers aren’t some of these things from time to time, but almost all these behaviors boil down to this: Many students are bored with school. Can we blame them? They spend eight hours a day completely disengaged, fighting tedium and sleep at the same time—and they’ve been doing so for ten plus years. Let’s put it another way: They’ve been in professional development meetings all day, every day for over a decade. So how do we deal with this? How do we break this cycle of teacher-student negativity?
Reader’s theater script-stories have the unique ability to defeat disengagement with high-school students. (Don’t believe me? Just try a few of the free script-stories in your classroom!) Sure, you’ll find this strategy in elementary schools everywhere, but why not high school? Why do teachers jettison this strategy as their students get older? It’s a shame because it truly works. I am left to wonder—would more of my high-school-aged students enjoy reading if they had been doing script-stories all along?
After using script-stories for nearly twenty years, I’ve analyzed exactly what makes them a hit with older kids. Here are my findings:
Script-Stories are different. Many of my students have never experienced script-stories before, and the ones who have are years removed from that experience. Script-stories are different than simply reading a stage play like Romeo and Juliet or The Crucible aloud. They are designed with the reader in mind.
Script-stories are interactive and collaborative. The very nature of the script-story experience requires students to be active participants, and that automatically engages them. Also, they must cooperate to bring the story to life, and this appeals to their social nature. Although all students enjoy the performance aspect of the script-stories, boys seem especially drawn to it. It’s a chance for them to perform for their friends.
Script-stories are designed for success. High-school students fear failure—especially failure in front of a group of their peers. Whenever I begin using script-stories with my students, there is an initial hesitation—a fear that the reading will be too hard or that they will be embarrassed when they stumble over the language. However, after they have seen other students succeed, the more reluctant readers climb aboard. Although the majority of the language of the script-stories is accessible, it also secretly expands the students’ vocabulary by including more difficult words. Just try reading The Scarlet Letter without defining ignominy, magistrates, and bosom.
Script-Stories let my students’ personalities shine. Students may begin the year as stand-offish and uninterested, but by the end of the year, I know them. Script-stories show me a different side of their personalities. I have seen many students grow and blossom using script-stories. Some students, who would never dare speak out in class, actually volunteer for a reading part. One student commented that using script-stories “allows me to be myself in this class.”
Script-Stories create bonds between students. I have had students refer to our classroom’s “family-like” atmosphere. Script-stories bond the students together—even those who are not reading aloud. Students who are not strong readers can be involved in the story through sound effects. Others simply read along and enjoy the show. Ultimately, they are united by a common mission, which builds a sense of community and “family.”
Script-Stories build excitement for school. In my year-end surveys, many students tell me they look forward to my class—singling out script-stories as the activity that excites them. One student, who had horrible attendance, would scan the weekly schedule and choose to skip any day that we weren’t reading a script-story. A direct quote from this student: “No script-story? I won’t be here.” This student’s approach was not the correct one, but it does illustrate how script-stories can engage an unengaged student.
Script-stories don’t seem like typical student work. One of the most interesting students comments I ever received was “You tricked us into learning.” It was almost an accusation. Apparently this student had not wanted to learn, but it happened all the same. Script-stories feel less like work and more like a fun activity, yet students are learning all the same. When they read aloud, they are reading, comprehending, interpreting, and performing. Script-stories tap into the concept of “flow,” where students are fully immersed in the activity at hand and forget that it is work.
Maybe you are high-school teacher looking for a new way to connect with your students. Maybe you are looking for a way to make your content fresh. I encourage you to give script-stories a try. You may find that students who seem “too cool for school” are anything but.
Let us know what you think of the script-story approach in the comments below!