The Push and Pull – Managing distractions in Stories


I enjoyed telling, “The Cow That Said, Oink” to my Kindergarten and 1st grade classes. Thank you Carolina Gómez for sharing it with me. After reviewing my video, I was reminded of the continuous push and pull in my classes. In every class, in every grade, there is a strive for balance between teacher power and student buy-in, connection, and ownership. There are ebbs and flows, highs and lows, but it is always a constant dance that evolves during the story. As I continue to grow as a teacher and with Story Listening, I see some gains in this area, but for me it has been the hardest thing to master. Each class has its own individuals and vibe, each grade its own idiosyncrasies, and each day brings its own set of unique challenges. On my good days I take it all in stride and I enjoy the ride. On my not so good days I question my talent as a teacher and grow easily frustrated with normal kid behavior. Through this journey I’ve learned a few strategies that help me, so here goes…

A response to calling out – Love them and limit them

I used to think calling out was a distraction and if you take it for face value, it certainly can be.  After I took the time to not only listen, but listen with the intent to be present, I could tell that many of the comments were not meant to be distractions. Most of them, in fact, were the students’ way of engaging, digesting, and comprehending the story. Now with some practice, when I am calm and not thrown off my game, I can easily decipher the intent or root of any blurt out.

My go-to mantra with regard to these vocalizations, is – love them and limit them.

  • Love them by listening.
  • Love them by taking a moment to determine if the vocalization is a mere distraction, which needs no attention given by the teacher.
  • Or, if they are demonstrating understanding (or mis-understanding) of the story, which needs a quick one-two liner response from the teacher.
  • Or, if the student has made a profound connection, that can serve as a beautiful, quick “community moment.”
  • Love them by making eye contact and smiling when you respond.


  • Limit them by keeping the story rolling when you see it’s time. This is a grey area, but usually no more than a minute off script in my experience and you could lose them.
  • Limit them by providing guidelines as to what is an appropriate call out.  I do this with 4th and 5th and the acronym PIENSA. (¿Es Positivo? ¿Importante para aprender Español? ¿Es Necesario? ¿Tiene Sentido? ¿Ayuda?)  I teach them before calling out to ask, is it Positive? Is it important to learn Español? Is it necessary? Does it make Sense? Does it help? If it doesn’t fit that criteria, then I promise to field the comment/question at the end of a story.  Often times the student no longer feels the need to comment when the story is over.
  • Limit them by gently directing the attention back to the story.  A few of my go to one-liners are: Great thought/connection/question, let’s see what happens? You are such good thinkers/predictors/connectors, let’s see if you’re right. Let’s get back to the story.

Butterflies, Dads and Teeth, oh my! – Keep calm and carry on Story Listening

At my school, there are constant interruptions to my classes. As I am in an independent school, there are frequent tours for prospective families, or board trustees, or alumni, just to name a few.  Then there are unforeseen distractions. This year there’s been a few lost teeth. Some very beautiful, yet very distracting monarch butterflies visiting our milkweed plants in the garden right outside my floor to ceiling window. Oh, and my personal favorite was recently when one of my student’s Dad (who is our upper school Science teacher) popped up working in the garden in plain view when his daughter just happened to be in class with me.

These distractions always seems to happen right in the middle of a story!

I have discovered it is too unnatural and difficult to pretend the stimulus isn’t there, so my coping mechanism is a brief “community moment” to explore, see, and talk about whatever is happening at that very moment. If I can infuse the TL, awesome. Then it’s a win win. If not, no biggie. It was a moment we shared together and then we move on. I lead the “community moment” with conviction and as it was planned from the get-go, then swiftly and gracefully shift the attention back to the story. My mantra during this time of chaos: Keep calm and carry on Story Listening.

Would love to hear your thoughts/experiences with this.

2 Responses

  1. iolanda at |

    Oh my! Thanks thanks for this post! When I was reading it I nearly cry!! I am in those days where I think I am a bad teacher doing Storylistening! Sometimes the story engaded them and sometimes not (as it happened this week…) A part of it, my students are countinuously interrupting me with silly jokes on what I am drawing, adding silly comments on what will happend next..and it is so tired, because as I can’t tell the story without these interruptions every 30”, I get angrier and angrier and then I am not able to tell the story in a funny and propper way…I thought it was the only teacher who had interruptions in the middle (I mean, every second) of their stories and this made me feel bad teacher…reading your post I could see that it is something that happens to other teachers and I must keep trying! Thanks!!


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