Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids

Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids


Video Courtesy of CBS News This Morning


Children begin telling stories as young as age two or three. And they continue to develop storytelling skills in their interaction with parents and others who provide guidance and feedback.

The ability to tell a coherent and well-developed narrative may be important for children’s literacy development. However, most of the studies on children’s storytelling and reading skills have been conducted with samples of middle-class white children.

To address this gap in the research, my colleague, Iheoma Iruka, and I studied data of children from different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups from across the United States.

What we found surprised us.

Storytelling among African-American children

For our research, we used national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a study of about 14,000 children born in the US in 2001, that examined their development, school readiness and early school experiences. We focused on 6,150 children who were identified as African American, Asian American, Latino and European American.

To understand the role that storytelling skills play in the link between language and early literacy, we used data from when children were two years old until they were five years old.

When the children were two years old, parents were asked to describe their children’s language abilities. Later, when children were four years old, their storytelling skills were measured by asking them to retell stories they had just heard a researcher tell them. At five years old, children were given an assessment of their early literacy.

For most racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups of children, we found that children who had better language skills as toddlers did better on the literacy assessment when they were five years old.

But when we looked at how storytelling plays a role between early language and early literacy, we found that when it came to African-American children, it made a big difference. For these children, the higher their storytelling scores, the better they did on the early literacy assessment. Interestingly, it didn’t make a difference for the other groups.

What this study tells us

Storytelling skills may be less important for the early literacy skills of most children. But for African-American children, these skills seem to be important for early literacy in a way that may not be true of other children.

African-American culture inculcates orality.
Rod Library, CC BY

We also know from other research that from early on, African-American children tell stories that are vivid, elaborate and rich in imagery. The quality of stories produced by African-American children has been found to be on par with or exceed that of stories told by their white peers. Other studies find that African-American children have a wide repertoire of storytelling styles, which they use flexibly depending on the context.

The strong storytelling skills of African-American children may stem from the cultural and historic influences that have fostered a preference for orality among African Americans.

All this should lead us to believe that African-American kids, with their strong storytelling skills, should do better with their reading skills. However, we know that African-American children are failing to learn basic reading skills. A nationwide test of reading achievement showed that four out of five African-American fourth graders failed to achieve competency in reading in 2013.

So, why are African-American children not performing better in reading? More research is needed, but possible explanations suggest that the low-quality schools many of these kids go to end up having a negative impact on their reading skills. In addition, many of these kids may have language skills that differ from those expected at school.

Why does storytelling matter?

For most other kids, studies suggest that storytelling skills may show their influence when children are older.

And that could be because storytelling uses “decontextualized” language. Decontextualized language differs from conversational or contextualized language in that decontextualized language functions independently from the immediate context or shared knowledge between listeners and the storyteller.

As children tell stories, they gain practice in using the same type of language that is used in written text, which can help them as they learn to read.

While teachers and parents have been told to read books to children to support their language and literacy development, encouraging children to tell stories as a way to support language and literacy has received less attention.

So, what can teachers and parents do?

Many schools have a “show-and-tell” time that can allow children a chance to practice storytelling skills as they share information about a valued object. As teachers and peers ask questions, they can facilitate children’s storytelling skills.

Parents and teachers can also model storytelling for children by sharing their own experiences, in the form of a story that has a clear beginning, middle and end, and addresses the questions of who, what, where, when and why. Using props like wordless books, puppets, dolls and photographs may also help children in developing stories.

The ConversationWhile learning to tell stories can be useful for all children, this skill may be most needed for those at risk of achieving reading competency.

Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Investigator, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids

Why storytelling skills matter for African-American kids


Video Courtesy of CBS News This Morning


Children begin telling stories as young as age two or three. And they continue to develop storytelling skills in their interaction with parents and others who provide guidance and feedback.

The ability to tell a coherent and well-developed narrative may be important for children’s literacy development. However, most of the studies on children’s storytelling and reading skills have been conducted with samples of middle-class white children.

To address this gap in the research, my colleague, Iheoma Iruka, and I studied data of children from different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups from across the United States.

What we found surprised us.

Storytelling among African-American children

For our research, we used national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a study of about 14,000 children born in the US in 2001, that examined their development, school readiness and early school experiences. We focused on 6,150 children who were identified as African American, Asian American, Latino and European American.

To understand the role that storytelling skills play in the link between language and early literacy, we used data from when children were two years old until they were five years old.

When the children were two years old, parents were asked to describe their children’s language abilities. Later, when children were four years old, their storytelling skills were measured by asking them to retell stories they had just heard a researcher tell them. At five years old, children were given an assessment of their early literacy.

For most racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups of children, we found that children who had better language skills as toddlers did better on the literacy assessment when they were five years old.

But when we looked at how storytelling plays a role between early language and early literacy, we found that when it came to African-American children, it made a big difference. For these children, the higher their storytelling scores, the better they did on the early literacy assessment. Interestingly, it didn’t make a difference for the other groups.

What this study tells us

Storytelling skills may be less important for the early literacy skills of most children. But for African-American children, these skills seem to be important for early literacy in a way that may not be true of other children.

African-American culture inculcates orality.
Rod Library, CC BY

We also know from other research that from early on, African-American children tell stories that are vivid, elaborate and rich in imagery. The quality of stories produced by African-American children has been found to be on par with or exceed that of stories told by their white peers. Other studies find that African-American children have a wide repertoire of storytelling styles, which they use flexibly depending on the context.

The strong storytelling skills of African-American children may stem from the cultural and historic influences that have fostered a preference for orality among African Americans.

All this should lead us to believe that African-American kids, with their strong storytelling skills, should do better with their reading skills. However, we know that African-American children are failing to learn basic reading skills. A nationwide test of reading achievement showed that four out of five African-American fourth graders failed to achieve competency in reading in 2013.

So, why are African-American children not performing better in reading? More research is needed, but possible explanations suggest that the low-quality schools many of these kids go to end up having a negative impact on their reading skills. In addition, many of these kids may have language skills that differ from those expected at school.

Why does storytelling matter?

For most other kids, studies suggest that storytelling skills may show their influence when children are older.

And that could be because storytelling uses “decontextualized” language. Decontextualized language differs from conversational or contextualized language in that decontextualized language functions independently from the immediate context or shared knowledge between listeners and the storyteller.

As children tell stories, they gain practice in using the same type of language that is used in written text, which can help them as they learn to read.

While teachers and parents have been told to read books to children to support their language and literacy development, encouraging children to tell stories as a way to support language and literacy has received less attention.

So, what can teachers and parents do?

Many schools have a “show-and-tell” time that can allow children a chance to practice storytelling skills as they share information about a valued object. As teachers and peers ask questions, they can facilitate children’s storytelling skills.

Parents and teachers can also model storytelling for children by sharing their own experiences, in the form of a story that has a clear beginning, middle and end, and addresses the questions of who, what, where, when and why. Using props like wordless books, puppets, dolls and photographs may also help children in developing stories.

The ConversationWhile learning to tell stories can be useful for all children, this skill may be most needed for those at risk of achieving reading competency.

Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Investigator, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Tales from Freshman Year

Tales from Freshman Year

Are you a freshman in high school? What were your assumptions about high school before you got there? Were you afraid? Nervous? Excited? What have you discovered since the start of the school year? What kinds of things are helping you to adjust?

Whatever your responses to the questions above, I bet you can still use some advice from upperclassmen who have been in your shoes. Inteen and UrbanFaith recently assembled a diverse group of veteran high school students and asked them to share their memories of freshman year and their advice to new high-schoolers on how to navigate that all-important first year.

Take a look at this video and see what this group of high school students had to say about their experience during their first year of high school. Then let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Standing Up to Power: A Chicago Teacher Speaks Out

Standing Up to Power: A Chicago Teacher Speaks Out

SCENES FROM THE CHICAGO STRIKE: For seven days, Chicago teachers went on strike for a fair contract as well as better learning conditions in the city’s most under-resourced schools. (Photo by Jen-Morales Crye)

When I moved to Chicago from Onalaska, Wisconsin, to begin my teaching career, I chose to move into the Westside neighborhood where I taught. I figured it just made sense to be part of the same community as my students. Soon I realized that being part of a community isn’t just a one-sided choice. I was humbled and blessed to see that the families of my students chose to welcome me into their community. With that acceptance came a new responsibility to learn about and represent our mutual needs.

As a math teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union for the past eight years, I’ve learned a lot from my neighbors about what they want from their schools. Consistently, parents wanted schools that provided quality learning opportunities, stable places for their children to grow, and challenging and supportive environments that prompted academic, social, and moral development. The community wanted and needed schools that encourage the ripening of all the potential stored inside each of their children.

Unfortunately, I saw a system of schools that focused on students and their teachers only as statistics. Priorities have focused more and more on raising test scores at the expense of the growth of our children. The system has ignored so many of the needs of our students and when we attempt to meet some of these needs, we are chastised for not focusing on academics. My colleagues and I feel isolated by this system. Imagine how our students and their families feel!

Standing Up to Authorities and Powers

Every day, I try to remember the source of my hope. In Colossians 1, Paul writes of Jesus Christ: “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” Later Paul writes that Jesus reconciles all things to himself “whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

TAKING IT TO THE STREET: Over the past week, Chicago teachers marched in support of the city’s first teachers’ strike in 25 years. (Photo by Matt Crye)

As a follower of Jesus, I know that he is the ultimate hope we have for the reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus Christ cares about systems like the Chicago Public Schools and wants to reconcile them back to himself — to bring them back into their proper role as systems that empower and improve our communities.

I now live with the responsibility to be an agent of reconciliation in my role as a public school teacher. In Chicago, I believe the public schools are a part of a system of power, run by the mayor and the school board, that is unjust. It hurts our kids and their families. When the rulers decide to give the taxes collected from our communities to corporations so they can remodel their bathrooms, something is wrong.

This system needs reconciliation back to the priorities of families and students. And now as a member of it, my duty is to stand up and fight on behalf of the voices of my community. My community wants their kids to be given the same resources and opportunities as those from wealthier zip codes.

Learning from My Students’ Lives

As I stood on the picket line joined by parents and students, I realized more and more that our fight for a fair contract really is about fighting for better schools for our students.

A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to co-teach an enrichment class exploring hip-hop and social-emotional health as part of our school’s service learning initiative. Though I had many of the same students in my math class, I saw the students and they saw me in new ways.

My students shared many struggles, including harassment from police, anxieties about body image, fear of crossing into other neighborhoods for fear of encounters with gangs, and trying to develop their own identity as teenagers. I’ll never forget the day we studied research about the power of forgiving those who’ve hurt us. As everyone wrote letters of forgiveness to someone who had hurt them, some that couldn’t even be delivered, I sat with one student and we cried together as she struggled to forgive her absent father for just one layer of the harm he had done to her and her family. That letter became a poem that she now performs throughout Chicago with power and confidence. Seeing her bravery and pain, never again could I measure my success as a teacher simply by a student’s performance on a test. Schools must be so much more than that! For me, I see this struggle as part of Christ’s reconciliation of this system back to himself.

As teachers we want fair compensation for our work, but we also want working conditions that create good learning conditions for our students. I want class sizes that allow me to be effective and give each student the attention they deserve. I want wraparound services, like counselors and social workers, to serve the holistic needs of my students. I want equitable resources for all Chicago students so that all have the same opportunities to learn and become successful citizens. I want schools where parents and families have a say in what happens in their school — not just some politician Downtown, or in Springfield, or Washington.

Our students were created in the image of God and they deserve a lot better than what they’ve gotten from this broken system.

The Struggle Continues

Though the Union voted to end the strike today, our fight for better schools continues. As I write this, I look ahead to struggles at my own school. Even after we officially settle the details of the contract and head back to the classroom, we face the threat of a school takeover that began before the strike. Less than a week before our students came for their first day of class, the system removed our principal without warning and without offering a reason. Our new interim principal was introduced to us that same day, even while they changed the locks on all the office doors.

MORE THAN A MONEY MATTER: From the beginning, the Chicago Teachers Union has maintained that their work stoppage goes beyond matters of wages to include issues of job security, teacher evaluation, and school conditions. (Photo by Jen Morales-Crye)

On the first day of classes, students and teachers showed up to school to find three Advanced Placement (AP) classes had been canceled and that their schedules would be different from what they were originally told. Since then, office staff and our English department have been fired; teachers and students have been reassigned into remedial classes without curriculum; several classes have been taught by substitutes because of the holes created in the schedule; and we continue to fight the effects of this destabilization every day.

On the third day of classes, almost the entire student body participated in a sit-in demanding reinstatement of their AP classes. At a full community forum and several Local School Council meetings, parents have demanded answers for these actions, but have heard almost nothing. Now, a group of parents have written a petition and are collecting signatures demanding the reinstatement of our principal and a return to August 6th, the day before all the destabilization occurred.

But despite these obstacles, I know there is hope. As a result of pressure from students, parents, and the Union, our English teachers have been reinstated and the return of the AP classes has been promised.  These victories embolden us to still push for the complete restoration of our school.

The battle for better schools, shaped by the voices of our community, continues. And I am honored to take part in this struggle alongside parents, students, and my fellow teachers.

African American Students: Your College Scholarship Is Waiting!

African American Students: Your College Scholarship Is Waiting!


Every year college tuition rates continue to increase, making it more difficult for African American students and their families to find the resources necessary to meet the rising costs. Across the country, there are numerous companies and organizations willing to offer support and give scholarship money to qualified students, all that they ask is that you apply.

Companies and groups like Microsoft, Boeing, SallieMae, INROADS, and the National Association for Black Journalists (NABJ) are just a few of the organizations willing to give you money. However, a great deal of that money is being returned due to a lack of interest.

We know that college is expensive, and figuring out a way to pay for it all can be frightening, so we’ve decided to do some of the work for you, by providing this list of  25 underutilized scholarship opportunities and the link to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Take a few moments to familiarize yourself and then apply!

1. The CocaCola Scholars Program

2. SallieMae College Answer Scholarship

3. Ayn Rand Essay Scholarships

4. Brand Essay Competition

5. Presidential Freedom Scholarships

6. Microsoft Scholarship Program

7. Holocaust Remembrance Scholarships

8. Back 2 College 

9. Guaranteed Scholarships

10. Easley National Scholarship Program

11. Maryland Artists Scholarships

12. The Roothbert Scholarship Fund

13. INROADS Scholarship

14. International Students Scholarships & Aid Help

15. College Board Scholarship Search

16. College Net Scholarship Database

17. ScienceNet Scholarship Listing

18. Scholarship & Financial Aid Help

19. Student Inventors Scholarships

20. Historically Black College & University Scholarships

21. Scholarships For Paralegal Studies 

22. William Randolph Hearst Endowed Scholarship for Minority Students

23. Federal Scholarships & Aid Gateways 25 Scholarship Gateways from Black Excel

24. Jackie Tuckfield Memorial Graduate Business Scholarship (for AA students in South Florida)

25. Boeing College Scholarship