Developing Communication Skills through Narration
Narration is a foundational act of knowing. Narration is about telling in your own words what you have heard or read. Narration can be oral or written. Narration can be done in a variety of ways. Our approach to narration has evolved over decades. It is based on movement, storytelling, and theater.
While we hear about visual tools and AAC, there is little discussion about the use of movement, storytelling, and theater for teaching communication. Our theater-based approach to narration views narration as beyond just words. Recalling and sharing what one has learned includes the use of many elements including movement, body language, words, and objects. Our goal is to encourage readers to think about narration and communication in terms of these elements and to seek ways to integrate nonverbal and verbal communication in their efforts to strengthen their child’s communication skills.
Narration with Neurodivergent Learners
Given the challenges in auditory processing, communication, working memory, executive functioning etc., practicing narration with neurodivergent learners can be challenging. For many years, we have used visual models and tools to facilitate narration. Recently, we made an unexpected breakthrough in narration due to Ananth’s Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) based dance classes with Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh. Through a process of imitation, Ananth has been narrating stories with his teacher during dance class.
A significant moment in this journey was when Ananth decided to narrate a story for his birthday during a SpecialSaathi webinar. This decision expanded the story narration in class to a systematic process of Imitate, Repeat, Memorize, and Improvise. In contrast to the Charlotte Mason method, where the emphasis is on narrating based on a single listening or reading, imitation and repetition are at the heart of our process.
The Charlotte Mason method emphasizes the child’s retelling in their own words. Processing oral information or written texts and retelling can be stressful for neurodivergent learners. Processing auditory information and imitating during dance class led to our low stress, imitation-based approach to narration.
100-Days of Narration
As our approach to narration was taking shape, we decided to do a 100-Day project to develop consistent narration practices and build habits. As of today (June 23, 2023), we are on day 91 of our 100-Day quest. This project was one of our most successful 100-Day projects,
About our Approach: Smile Brightly and Dance
We discovered the connection between movement and communication many years ago. Our Enki homeschooling program (Enki is based on Waldorf and other approaches) had a comprehensive movement curriculum. Practicing verses with movement was a part of our daily routine. While we practice narration on our walk daily, integrating movement and language learning in a more formal way has now resumed after almost 15 years with promising results.
Our approach to narration is based on our Smile Brightly and Dance project. Ananth experiences narration throughout dance class. Stories are integrated with aduvus (structured movement patterns used to teach the foundations of Bharatanatyam) and hastas (hand gesture sequences in Bharatanatyam. Students start their dance journey with aduvus and hastas and continue to practice them as they advance. Integration of storytelling with the teaching of building blocks of dance has been an important factor in the success of our narration efforts. The building blocks are practiced regularly. Thus, the stories associated with these foundational sequences of movements are also repeated regularly. This systematic repetition has played an important role in developing narration skills. As Ananth practices dance, story narration is also repeated.
Smile Brightly and Dance is the foundation of our 100-Days of Narration project. This is the first 100-Day quest that we are doing under the guidance of a professional. Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, senior faculty, artist and program director at the Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning (RMCL). He is a Bharatanatyam dancer and Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) professional. TAHD was developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Founder and Director of RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya). Ananth is a student of RASA and one part of his RASA experience is learning dance the TAHD way.
Since our TAHD facilitator is from RMCL, the dance and storytelling in our Smile Brightly and Dance project focuses on Ramana Maharshi. Thus, Ananth is continuing his Bharatanatyam training with a focus on Ramananjali nritya (Ramana dance). Ramana Maharshi is one among the great spiritual masters of India who has guided the world to get back to their own nature which is divine and blissful. Ramana Maharishi showered his love on all living beings. He has been guiding seekers of truth to discover and to rejoice in the power within themselves.
Outcomes of 100-Days of Narration
Ten key outcomes from our 100-Days of Narration project are:
1. Increased smiling: Consistent reinforcement of smiling daily through our Smile Brightly and Dance project has resulted in more smiling throughout the day and in narration activities. Narration is not just speaking words. Facial expressions and body language are also part of narration!
2. Silence, smile, and speech: Silence is one of our explorations based on the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Speech blossoming from a silent mind with a smile is our long-term narration goal towards which we are making some progress. Ramana Maharshi’s perspective on silence is not about absence of speech but about the reduction of thoughts. We are beginners in this journey but the idea of inner silence and its relationship to the quality of communication is something that has caught Ananth’s attention.
3. Auditory processing: We are noticing significant improvements in auditory processing. I am trying to reduce visual supports and nudge auditory processing in all our lessons.
4. Expanded descriptions: Ananth used to speak in a few short sentences. We are noticing that he is beginning to describe events and things in more detail.
5. More improvisation: As we practice daily, we can generate more ideas and improvise in different ways.
6. Harnessing the power of storytelling: Daily stories in dance class have sparked more narration.
7. Increased Motivation: Motivation is high because the story of the month combines opportunities for targeted practice and improvisation.
8. Thinking about values: Each story in dance class encourages exploration of values in a simple, clear, and nonprescriptive way. Ananth is thinking about Ramana Maharshi’s love and acceptance for all living beings, his silent presence, and many other qualities daily. He talks about what he has learned, asks questions, makes connections across stories, and explores values in different ways.
9. Evolving a Process: Imitate, repeat, memorize, improvise is becoming a stable process for practicing narration. Independent recall in own words is supported by imitation.
10. Progress Tracking and Playing it Forward: We are continuing to build his youtube channel and website. The Youtube channel and website are a record of our evolving narration practices and skills. It is also intended as a resource for parents, teachers, and others on implementing narration.
Beyond the 100-Day Project
1. Narration is our keystone habit
According to Charles Duhigg, keystone habits are small changes that people make in their daily routines that set off a chain reaction and produce many other changes. One little positive change has the potential to produce other positive changes in someone’s routine.
Narrating stories daily is our keystone habit. While we have known about the power of storytelling for a long time, it is only now that we have a method, a curriculum, and professional guidance in implementing narration daily.
2. Narration Projects
Narration is an integral part of many important projects.
• Smile Brightly and Dance
Ananth experiences narration throughout dance class. Stories are integrated with aduvus (structured movement patterns used to teach foundations of Bharatanatyam) and hastas (hand gesture sequences in Bharatanatyam. As we practice dance, story narration is also repeated.
• Story of the month
Hand gestures or aduvus from dance class with stories from dance class or books
Reading about Ramana Maharshi. We are exploring narration techniques during this project. Our first technique is to practice narration after reading one or two paragraphs.
• BBA Study
We have started studying Statistics and Production and Operations Management. We are exploring narration techniques. We are trying to practice narration after reading one or two paragraphs.
We have already developed narration techniques for academic learning
o Writing in a notebook
o Using technology tools (Diigo, OneNote, Googledoc)
– Build and talk with visual maps
• Daily Walk
We have practiced narration on our daily walks for many years. Pairing movement with language is a technique we have used since Ananth’s elementary school days.
3. TAHD Tools and Narration
We use each of the five TAHD tools can be used to facilitate narration:
1. Movement and dance
2. Music and rhythm
5. Arts and crafts
4. Imitate, Repeat, Memorize, Improvise
We follow an imitation-based approach to narration. This approach is in contrast to the Charlotte Mason approach that emphasizes the child retelling lessons in their own words. Further, the Charlotte Mason ahbpproach emphasizes narration based on only one listening or reading in order to develop attention. In contrast, we emphasize repetition for memorization and fluency.
5. Ananth’s Adventures Youtube channel
Ananth is highly motivated to narrate and to create videos! This is an unexpected outcome and one that we will develop more in the future. Ananth seems to seek the structure of a monthly video project. He plans, practices, and tells me when he is ready to record!
About the Ananth’s Adventures Channel
The purpose of this channel is to share Ananth’s journey and to share resources for neurodivergent learners, parents, educators, and others. Ananth is a neurodivergent adult with varied learning experiences in USA and India. He is a student ambassador for Ramana Sunritya Aalaya (RASA) and Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Founder and Director of RASA. Thus, another goal of this channel is to share Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) experiences and resources and to encourage, inform, and motivate neurodivergent learners and their families to explore RASA/TAHD.
Ananth’s Youtube channel has a SpecialSaathi connection since his first video narration project was at a SpecialSaathi webinar! Thanks Shilpi Mayank-Awasthi for encouraging Ananth to blog (an important form of narration!) and for presenting at the webinar.
6. TAHD/RASA Student Ambassador
Ananth is now a student ambassador for TAHD and RASA. Our narration project is the foundation for Ananth’s efforts as ambassador.
Narration is about expression. We have discovered the power of theater arts to develop the capacity to communicate. We encourage parents and educators to integrate narration in a systematic way in all learning experiences.
Author Dasaratha Rama
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Dhairya Kumar Pal