Words are how we think, Stories are how we link. -Christina Baldwin
It would be no exaggeration to say that we couldn’t live without stories. Stories have the power to teach, inspire, and transform. The lessons gained from stories remain with us always; they become a part of who we are. Paul Ponce aka Story Paul is an expert on the effect of stories on our capacity to learn. He uses them to introduce his students to real English-speaking environments and lead them out of their comfort zone. His S.T.O.R.Y (Story, Time, Objective, Recognition, and You) approach has led to a marked improvement in his students’ use of language. And with advances in technology, it has become all the more easier for him to harness the transformative power of stories.
Story Paul shares more about his background and his unique, successful approach in an interview with WizIQ. Be sure to join him for his free webinar on WizIQ on Sep 16 at 12:00pm EST.
1. Tell us something about your background and professional life.
If I could summarize my background with a term, I’d say it’s “multi-perspective”. I grew up in the United States in an Argentine family that was in the airline industry. So not only did I grow up in two languages and cultures, but travelled widely and met people from diverse areas. Similarly, I’m now a language professional who was once in the film and TV business. While producing a somewhat educational TV show, I transitioned into producing educational media. From there it was a short hop to language education. The healthy relationship with both students and colleagues was so much more rewarding that I never looked back to full time production work.
3. We would like to know more about your teaching journey so far.
I started teaching English in companies in the late 90s, training executives and business people across all industries. I also tutored hundreds of high school and university students. Fortunately, my background in communication and film gave me solid language skills, but what I also did was attend teacher training courses to develop my pedagogical skills. Then the place where I was learning gave me the chance to create my own teacher training courses in an area that was starting to matter and where I could help others: educational media. And this all started to happen as the internet became a global reality.
4. You are famous as Story Paul. What’s the story behind this name?
I’ve been incorporating storytelling into my lessons from my early teaching days in companies. One of my students back in the day used to joke around and call me “Story Paul”. It wasn’t long before word got around and even the security guy would greet me as “Mr. Story”. I thought it was catchy and used it to promote my workshops, but then put it aside. Now that I’ve launched my own business, I put the name back in service. This time for good.
5. What has been your inspiration for the idea of incorporating stories in language teaching?
It’s hard to think of just one inspiration. I’ve always found stories and their literary and film authors to be my great teachers. I’m very much inspired by Sir Ken Robinson and his idea that when we are in the presence of something aesthetic (like fine art, music or a story), we have a heightened sense of awareness that allows us to absorb effortlessly. And I’m also just as inspired by philosopher Joseph Campbell who researched mythologies of dozens of civilizations and realized that all of us, in one way or another, experience life and all its twists and turns through the hero’s journey. So then, if the story template is sitting idle in our DNA, why not dust it off and take it to class.
6. Your teaching approach is unique. What kind of improvements have you seen in your students by using this method?
I see students worrying less about the mechanics of language and speaking more fluently. At the same time, stories allow me to provide smooth and continuous error correction, until they get it. And they do get it. With younger students, the story approach is generally an easy sell, as they naturally tend to look for alternate and more engaging ways of learning. With adults, you sometimes have to go through an evaluation of the method. But when they realize that context is where language matters most, they slowly overcome the fear and take the journey. They understand that memorizing rules and regulations will not help them for that conference call overseas this afternoon.
7. How has technology helped you in implementing your dynamic teaching approach?
Technology has been an indispensable tool to bring stories (video, image, audio and text) to live as well as online classes. I also greatly depend on technology to create fun study materials in my studio. And now that so many learners have devices with cameras, it’s an ideal tool to empower students to create their own video assignments. For the teacher, this becomes a very useful way to track progress as well as deliver feedback from a source you can watch over and over again, as opposed to the notes you took. For students, it’s fun stuff.
8. Any suggestions for teachers intending to use your S.T.O.R.Y approach for language teaching?
First of all, whatever story you work with in classes or workshops, the idea is to remain flexible with the lesson plan. The true goal is for the students to generate as much language as possible. The story is the text this conversation is based on. The teacher’s job is to help the students when necessary by providing correct or missing structures that are fit for their level. If possible, encourage students to tell the story beyond the class: in an assignment, to someone they know, or for the next class. This will make the story stick. I recommend working with short subjects. So if it’s a one hour class, a single movie or TV scene, or a single television commercial normally provides plenty of material. And finally, students do not need to master every aspect of the source material’s language. Pick and choose a few target items and let the student know which ones. Don’t be too business about it. Make it fun.