Stories Make Readers-pedagogy

Arts-based literature education

Arts-based approach to literature is suitable for all readers, because different forms of art provide ways to express one’s personal reading experience and expand on it alone or together. Language and art are both connected to, for example, emotional life, materiality, corporality, objects and locations. This is how arts-based methods make it possible to change people’s actions and views. (Pöyhönen & Paulasto 2020.)

The provided musical instrument or watercolor brush, along with the child’s body, are tools for the child to express the inner emotions, impressions and experiences that are related to the world created by the text. When a child lives through the adventures and environments of the book’s character, utilizing multisensory and artistic methods, the reading experience is pervasive. When a child lives through a story on multiple levels, he or she can acquire a character’s way to describe emotions or bring problems to light.

Multi-art approach to literature connects books as a vital part of art education, so that books are not regarded as objects separate from other aesthetic realms of experience. In arts-based literature education, learning is integrative and extensive. It combines learning about different artforms as well as teaches social-emotional skills. (Aerila et al. 2021; Fettig, Cook, Morizio, Gould & Brodsky 2018; Sunday, McClure & Schulte 2014.) Literature also teaches about different subjects and phenomena based on the chosen literary content.

Arts-based literature education provides a firm base for creating a reading community in a classroom or a group of children (Kauppinen & Aerila 2020a). Combining different artforms creates a holistic story, or an interpretation of a story, that makes up the core for community reading. Each child from the group is needed to build up the story, because everyone’s effort is needed to give birth to the finished product. Interpretation that is based on different artforms is born from the individual interpretations of the group’s children, which means that the story will become a shared experience. A shared interpretation thus strengthens the group’s sense of unity and has a positive effect on the group’s atmosphere and the opportunity for community learning.

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Out of all artforms, drama and corporeal expression are natural components for reading aloud. The reader engages in reading by using intonations and tones of voice as well as pauses and eye contact. Reader’s theatre method (Aerila & Kauppinen 2019) is an efficient tool for developing all aspects of literacy, and at the same time to learn to enjoy performing and acting as a member of a group. The reader’s theatre method is an example of the multidisciplinary nature of literature education, because it can combine visual art, music or exercise, and there is no limit as to the type of text used with it: a school book text, a poem, a passage from a novel or a self-written story will do. In a group of illiterate children, the reader’s theatre can be implemented so that the teacher reads aloud and the children can engage with the story by making noises and movements with their bodies, in certain parts.

In its traditional form, reader’s theatre is an efficient way to provide individual support for the development of all aspects of children’s literacy, as well as provide experiences of performance and teamwork. Reader’s theatre is actually a speech choir with additional movements and props, or an audio drama with visual elements. Ready-made scripts are available for reader’s theatre performances, but the teacher or the students can also make their own. When making a script based on informational text, it can include milieus, characters and story elements. Objects such as body parts or natural elements can receive human features. Basing the script on a fictitious text does not allow for as much freedom, because the text itself is a piece of art that changes if it gets altered too much.

Differentiation is easy with the reader’s theatre method, because children read texts alone, in pairs or in groups. The amount of reading can also vary. When children read a text in a performance by using several languages, it creates a fine impression. Reader’s theatre performances are easy to set up, which is why the adults in a group or a unit will be able to surprise children, on a short notice. In a group of illiterate children, a reader’s theatre performance can be implemented in the following way: based on the story that they listen to, the children draw a detailed comic that the teacher can complete with text. When the comic is finished, it can be used as a script for the play.

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Different artforms enrich each other. A story can be born, for example, from an alternating narration  that the adult illustrates. In the end, based on the resulting pictures, the child can tell a shared story that other group members express with their bodies. Instead of making illustrations the group can utilize a method called echo theatre, where a child narrates the story and directs other group members to illustrate the narration by acting. If the children use alternating narration or echo theatre, the same method can be used several times. This will make it easier for the children to concentrate on interpreting the story rather than on the method itself.

Multisensory experiences are efficient in bringing joy from reading, because they can offer something to all reader-experiencers. Soundscapes that are built in collaboration and include movement, provide a multisensory experience of the story. An adult may read the story aloud, while children create a soundscape that follows the story by using their bodies or musical instruments. The soundscape functions as the group’s interpretation of the text. Silk cloths, for example, can also be used to bring an additional impact on the corporeal expression by adding colour and a sensory experience.

Visual expression is a familiar, and for many children a pleasant, way to produce inner impressions about scenes, characters and their relations, in a story. A chain of illustrations can be made on a long protective paper that is spread on the floors or the walls. Children can use the illustrations as a base for a shared story. Music, different voices or silhouettes reflected on walls can be used as inspiration for making the illustrations. Music, dance and other corporeal expressions work well for expressing atmospheres and emotional memories evoked by the story.

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