hildren’s story comprehension as a result of storytelling and story dramatization: A study of the child as spectator and as participant

Page, A. (1983). Children’s story comprehension as a result of storytelling and story dramatization: A study of the child as spectator and as participant (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.

Abstract:

This study examined the effects of storytelling (listening to a story being read) and story dramatization (enactment of the story) on story comprehension of first, second, and third grade students. Two classes (16 students from a grade one class and 22 students from a second-third grade combination class) participated in the study. The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase of the study, a randomly selected group of students participated in the drama enactment of the story, while the other half of the class listened to the same story being read aloud. In the second phase of the study, the groups switched treatment conditions: the drama group listened to a second story and the storytelling group enacted the story. Results indicated that children were more engaged and involved in the story when they participated in the drama enactment than when they simply listened to it. Also, the drama treatment enhanced comprehension for first grade students, particularly for low-level readers. Character motivation and the main idea of the story were better understood in the drama condition, and inference was improved through storytelling.

Key Findings:

  • Children were more engaged and involved in a story when they participated in the drama enactment than when they listened to it.
  • Grade one students demonstrated more comprehension through drama than the second-third grade students, particularly students below a first grade reading level.
  • Children’s recall of sequence, details, and vocabulary were similar in drama and storytelling conditions, with some specific effects (e.g., vocabulary of action words was enhanced through drama whereas descriptive vocabulary was enhanced through storytelling).
  • Children’s understanding of character motivation and main idea was better in the drama condition than the storytelling condition.
  • Inference is better understood through storytelling.

Significance of the Findings:

Story dramatization (enactment) and storytelling enhance children’s story comprehension, improving different areas (e.g., character motivation and identification via drama, inference via storytelling). These findings have implications for teachers and schools in terms of integrating these complementary modes of instruction (storytelling and story dramatization) into the reading program, particularly for low-level readers.

Methodology:

Two classes participated in the study: 16 students from a grade one class and 22 students from a second-third grade combination class. All students received both the drama and storytelling treatments with a counterbalanced order of two stories and conditions. The project had two-phases. In the first phase, a randomly selected half of each class participated in the drama enactment of the story, while the other half of the class listened to the same story being read aloud. In the second phase, the groups switched treatment conditions: the drama group now listened to the story read aloud while the storytelling group enacted the new story. The two stories were carefully selected to be similar in plot structure, complexity, length, and vocabulary. Three outcome measures were developed by the researcher to assess story comprehension: a ten-item story comprehension questionnaire, a picture-sequence assessment (children must put in chronological order three or four pictures corresponding to the events of the story), and an open-ended interview (children were asked to retell the story using their own words). In addition, the researcher examined students’ reading ability based on the June report card.

Limitations of the Research:

The researcher was the principal of the school in which the study took place and she conducted weekly story dramatization sessions in the same classes that participated in the study for three months prior to the start of the current study. The researcher was also the instructor for the treatment conditions, the developer of the assessment measures used, as well as the primary interviewer that assessed children’s story comprehension. As such, bias may have been introduced in a number of areas, including children’s expectations when interacting with the principal, children’s familiarity with the researcher’s “expertise” in conducting story dramatizations, and with the drama instruction provided, which may have influenced results by providing instruction tailored to the assessment. Other limitations include the small sample size, which limits generalizability of the findings, and the researcher’s more extensive training in theater and creative drama than the average classroom teacher.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Would findings be similar with older elementary children or are the results limited to the younger grades, and lower-level readers? Would the average elementary school teacher, with limited training in the dramatic arts, be able to achieve similar benefits in children’s story comprehension?