Gearing Up for MST with a Master Storyteller

If you want to teach storytelling, it’s helpful to connect with a storyteller. When I was thinking of an exemplar to provide for my Grade 8 students in order to give them a deep sense of what makes a good storyteller, I created a series of tasks so the students could co-construct the success criteria. After a week of sharing and unpacking ideas, the first leg of this journey culminated with a visit from Lucky Budd. As an oral historian, archivist, CBC Radio Host, and author of 13 books, the art of storytelling comes from all facets of Lucky's work and life. Lucky told us the story of Cloudwalker, which is a one of the four books in their Northwest Coast Legends Series by Lucky and Roy Henry Vickers, and showed images from the beautiful text. They don’t know this yet, but they are going to begin a Building Outside the Blocks (BOB) project called Master Storyteller. Using the curriculum expectations from Writing, Oral Communication, and Media Literacy, students will be working on their storytelling skills using a text and medium of their choice to bring it off the page and into our virtual classroom, shedding their own light on the story through their project.

Lucky’s author visit was so much more than that. He actually covered a spectrum of storytelling skills that integrate learning from a variety of disciplines: Literacy, Geography, Science, History and Social Studies. Using the incredible artwork from his collaborator, Roy Henry Vickers, he demonstrated the power of story to look back and move forward. When asked by a student if he knew that his books would be a hit, he told them of the reality that his first book was rejected by several publishers, but it was his determination and belief in his work that drove him to keep trying. That question allowed for Learning Skills to also permeate the conversation, and it was a great reminder of the grit that it takes to make things happen and believe in your work despite others' lack of vision. That first book, Voices of British Columbia, did get published in 2010. In 2013, his first collaboration with Roy Henry Vickers was published. Here is a link to Raven Brings the Light. from their visit to CBC Radio's NXNW with guest host Margaret Gallagher from 8 years ago. This year alone, their children’s board book, Raven Squawk, Orca Squawk is among CBC’s Best Canadian Picture books of 2020. Here is Lucky’s answer to my student’s question:

In his short visit, Lucky shared a lot and tapped into a variety of aspects of storytelling. He was asked about using primary and secondary resources to gather the story of a personal narrative or memoir or even taking a legend like Cloudwalker and make it into something to share beyond the coastal peoples from whom the oral tradition comes. When speaking about whether stories he works with are “true”, he responded saying, “To me, as an historian and someone who loves storytelling, instead of asking if a story (oral tradition) is true, you can ask what the story reveals about the people or who’s telling it." He added, as you can see in the clip below, that, “There’s a lot of importance that can be put into what it tells us about who’s telling the story.”

Some of the key takeaways about Lucky and his storytelling according to my student’s thank you notes, included:

  • I thought it was cool how the story connected with the 3 rivers in BC: the Skeena, the Nass, and the Stikine

  • I found it very interesting and I really liked how you paused during the story to add suspense. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and telling us about how you got into storytelling.

  • I think it’s very inspiring that although the first time you tried to publish a book it didn’t happen but that didn’t stop you from trying.

  • I also really liked the suspense and sound effects you added when you were telling the story. It was really fun listening and you have such a cool vibe!

  • The way you told the story was different from others. It was interesting how you told the story without reading off from a page.

  • When you talked about your work, I could see your passion for it and found that extremely inspiring. I really enjoyed the Cloudwalker story because it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It created this big picture where all the parts came together magnificently in the end. I am very excited to read the other books in the series.

  • The Storytelling was breathtaking, the way you paused and made the suspense build, the way you made noises when we were listening to the heart beat. It was truly an experience.

  • The dramatic pauses really drew my attention. I learned that listening to a story makes you feel like you’re there.

  • I felt so engaged, I really liked the story you told us, it was so interesting and the way you read it made it so much more fun.

  • I really liked Cloudwalker and found it interesting how you made it connect to the backstory of the river. I also found it interesting how you added the heartbeat sound while telling us the story.

Many of the things that Lucky shared will us are morsels of wisdom that I will refer back to throughout this year. His visit could not have given me a better foray into the imagination that will be required for my students to create the visuals for a story of their choice. He said, “When you listen to a story, pictures fly into your mind, and those are the things you should be paying attention to.” I will remind them of that sage advice that was first shared with him by Roy. Lucky was on my podcast the first year it began. He told the stories of his 3 song choices on The Personal Playlist Podcast which you can read about and listen to through this post (or any other listening platform). His many skills and interests add value to any conversation.

The art of storytelling is something that I try to teach my students because it’s transferable as both a curricular and learning skill. When I first developed Master Storyteller, I could not believe how impactful it was for my Grade 3 students, so when I evolved it for my Grade 4 and 6 class in subsequent years, I could see how dynamic and adaptable it was for multiple grade levels and expectations/standards. MST became a tri-BOB, a three-part spiralling Building Outside the Blocks project that adds a new dimension at each revisit. I have blogged about it many times because it helps students build from the safety of reading a story (MST1), to creating visuals to accompany the story (MST2) and evolves into students successful writing and telling an original story (MST 3) because they have had multiple opportunities to grow from feedback and truly improve their skills,

This year, teaching Grade 8 online and teaching music for the first time, MST will be facilitated as a bi-BOB with the second iteration now titled MST: A 3 Song Story. Since I have used the lens of music appreciation to teach this subject, I thought that a good way to weave storytelling, music, and story writing could be to take three separate songs and connect them together as a narrative. It’s like Mama Mia but with multiple artists. The second MST will be the 8th BOB project that my students will do this year. I will blog about each one, as I do about all of my projects.

I am so grateful to Lucky for his time and his insights. As I launch MST, my students will take what we’ve learned from his storytelling visit and add dimension. From his visit, we added to the list of what makes a good storyteller, and the students have a clearer sense of the horizon that will soon be theirs. Storytelling is about the 4 P’s: people, place(s), plot and purpose. Lucky’s short visit demonstrated all of those aspects while being himself. Storytelling is not an art that he learned. It’s a natural part of him that he has honed through his deep commitment to the story, itself, and the people, places, and purpose of each story. He has evolved this skill by listening as much as by doing. Whether the story comes from an oral tradition or a person’s lived experience, he takes the kernel and puts it into a wider context to find and share the story in deep and meaningful ways. My students are fortunate to have had Lucky come to class and learn about storytelling from a master storyteller. I know their work on the MST will be enhanced as a result of this memorable and impactful experience.