As a second grader, comedian and actor Jamie Foxx was so talented at telling jokes that his teacher used him as a reward.
If the class behaved, he would entertain them.
I don’t know who Jaime Foxx’s teacher was, but I suspect that I would have liked him a lot.
One of the rewards I give students throughout the school year is stories from my life. Most often these stories are about my childhood, but not always. There are also occasional stories about my children, my wife and events from my adult life as well. I will be reading a book aloud to the class or listening to a student tell me a story when I am reminded of a moment from my past, and I’ll say something like, “Oh, that reminds me of the strangest pet that I ever owned.”
“What was it?” a student will ask.
“Oh, you won’t believe the pet I had as a kid. It was amazing. But I don’t have time to tell that story now. But maybe later. When you’re especially productive.”
My personal secretary (a student) will then add the story to the growing list of topics lest I forget, and when my students have been especially productive and achieved their goals ahead of of schedule, I will offer to tell them a story from this list. The personal secretary will review the list and choose one for me to tell.
It’s a five minute reward that my students adore, and it also serves to reinforce the elements of effective storytelling with my kids. Oftentimes I’m also able to embed some meaningful life lessons into these stories, and best of all, I am able to make my kids laugh.
Kids who laugh at school like school, and kids who like school learn more.
It’s that simple.
The strangest pet ever, by the way, was a raccoon. His name was Racket. Perhaps I’ll tell you that story someday.
Of course, you must be a good storyteller in order to make this reward work.
Earlier this year I was telling a story that included one of my fellow teachers, and halfway through the story, he happened to enter the classroom. He heard the story being told, realized that he was an integral part of it and sat down to listen. A minute later he jumped in to clarify a point and then proceeded to tell his part of the story for himself.
“Stop!” one of the kids said after few moments. “You’re not telling it right. Let Mr. Dicks tell the story. He knows what he’s doing. Just listen.”
Several others nodded their heads in agreement.
And they were right. He wasn’t telling the story right. He was butchering it.
Winning two Moth StorySLAMs and placing second in four others over the past year has been a dream come true for me (actually, the second place finishes have been damn frustrating), but that moment of affirmation from a bunch of ten-year-olds meant just as much to me.