Literacy/Common Core Re-envisioned

“Mary Jo is definitely a master teaching artist!” — Diane Daily, Creative Youth Development Programs Manager, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Boston

Mary Jo Maichack’s method of interactive, playful programs/residencies of storytelling, music & drama are beloved by teachers, librarians, principals, cultural and humanities councils, museums, and most importantly, KIDS. Why? They serve up Common Core in the way kids listen–You have to tune in to THEIR “channel” to get it to work. Here’s more:

PROBLEM: Let’s face it, everyone is stressed out by the rules of the Common Core. Teachers complain–universally– that they have lost the joy of creativity in their classrooms. They regularly confide in me that they believe there should be “rigorous” standards, but the current ones are not developmentally appropriate. Children, especially the young ones, learn through play, fun, laughter and creativity. Many kids just don’t “get it.”

SOLUTION:  JOY, PLAY, CREATIVITY ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE FROM SERVING THE COMMON CORE! On the contrary, I demonstrate this in classrooms over and over. Teachers and principals will vouch for this, over and over, everywhere I go. EVERY ACTIVITY SERVES THE GOAL OF THE COMMON CORE, BUT through the play and creativity craved by teachers, parents and kids alike.

SO HOW IS IT DONE? Mary Jo tells multicultural tales her varied audiences relate to (from Aesop’s fables to pourquoi tales, fairy tales–see show guide for idea of how huge her repertoire is). When she tells a folktale, she weaves in chants, rhymes, sound effects, even choruses, so the audience is always engaging, waiting for a cue and responding. They are DOING. In a typical pre-k – 5 residency or classroom workshop, they may try out a Native American frame drum, practice turning and retelling a tale with fingers to a listening buddy. They dance while rhyming, move as characters in a play (SEE THE PHOTO GALLERY). Sometimes one kid pretends to be Goldilocks and other kids interview her to ask her point of view on what happened at the Three Bears’ House that morning. Sometimes puppets tell the tale. Sometimes Mary Jo tosses that puppet to a teacher to have him/her take over the role. Sometimes kids may watch a tale drawn, or they may wear costumes to act. It is a whole body, creative experience and as it happens, they are totally into it. At the very same time, they are engaging in Common Core activities. Hey, you can act out the life of a snowflake, growth of a bean, count the characters.  THE WHOLE CURRICULUM can come into play. History? Yes? Geography? It’s natural. Social skills? Huge gains! Poise, self-confidence, increased participation in class. They engage with multiple intelligences. For many kids, traditional academic methods do not speak to them, so they do not learn. In the Act It! Tell It! method, they hop on board and learn. Teachers learn from this model and see a demonstration of creativity in the classroom.

Example: I tell a tale while drawing the silly characters on the board. They laugh. They laugh and open up, gets them paying attention. One boy volunteers to draw the next character. He also makes it silly. The teacher asks him to describe what he’s done, tell the next part of the tale, and he does. Then he smiles. It’s a big smile of pride. The teacher later tells me that he is usually reluctant to verbalize. But drawing was a “way in” to doing so for him. Hurray–another of our dear children has had a positive experience on which to build. This kind of small “big” moment happens all the time in my residencies. We fulfill the goals of the Common Core, through a child’s receptivity. You can bark rubrics all day long and it can be like getting a beach ball to sink. But gentle artistic play–kids listen to that. They understand and simply play along.

“I am so grateful for your flexibility yesterday.   Your kind professionalism makes you a most valuable ambassador for CSC’s Bridge to Literacy program, both in preschool,  and the k-5 classrooms.  You made us look good!  Many thanks.”–Peg Donovan, Director of Preschool Programs in Connecticut–CT Storytelling Center

What do storytelling, art, music and the performing arts do for kids and learning? (These are all part of Common Core.)


Storytelling is recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English & state learning standards.

“Just wanted to say again how much I enjoyed seeing you work with the
kids today.  It was just beautiful!  I loved how you activated their
prior knowledge and taught them all the old fashioned vocabulary they
would need to really understand “The Little Red Hen”.  When they acted
the story out, I loved the combination of improvising the character
roles and reading the narration.  The little tune for the chorus of
children was masterful!”–Best, Ann Shapiro, Exec. Director, CT Storytelling Center

Common Core Connections
At Last, Hard Evidence Mary Jo’s Storytelling is Critically Needed in Learning

Now, hard evidence is in from Kendall Haven’s book, Story Proof from “rigorous, research-based studies to prove the value of stories for the following key uses of story:

Is there a clear link between narrative comprehension and story? Yes.
…between writing and story? Yes.
…between story and logical and critical thinking? Definitely yes.
…between story and motivation? Most emphatically yes.
…between story and memory (learning)? Without question, yes!

Information in story form… is easier to remember and to recall. Information not presented in story form suffers degradation and loss in memory and during recall.

Is there a clear link between mastering language and story? Again, yes….

Understanding story helps language learners understand the purpose and organization of language as well as the specific vocabulary and grammar presented in stories….
ALL RESEARCHERS AGREE.