A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.The ironic part about this romance between business and story is that while it has been blossoming, the opposite has been going on across in the education world, which has in many ways been getting a divorce from story. In far too many classrooms, particularly in high schools, story writing has been pared down or outright removed and replaced with more argumentative and expositional writing because that is what students will find on big state/college entrance exams. The thought process seems to be that while storytelling is a nice, it is not “real world” enough to justify it taking up much, if any, of the classroom time. I firmly believe the exact opposite to be true. In the real world, few skills are more important than storytelling. This is exactly why business has become enamored with story. They aren’t focusing on it because it’s cute or fun; they are doing it because stories are powerful. Studies have found stories to be twice as effective as direct persuasion in changing people’s opinions and that we remember 22x more from stories than we do from the standard textbook. Further, stories are often asked of us during the defining moments of our lives, including, but definitely not limited to, college essays, job interviews, networking events, wedding toasts, first dates, and big presentations. Alongside their value, stories are also the ultimate Trojan horse for teaching grammar/rhetorical devices/topics on standardized tests. It has become pretty clear that teaching grammar/rhetoric in context is far more effective than teaching grammar/rhetoric through stand alone worksheets, but it can be very difficult for many students to learn about these topics in the context of an analytical essay, as essays are often already a genre in which many students struggle. When these lessons are taught in context of their stories, not only can students focus on them more because the task of storytelling is generally more comfortable than essay writing, but they are also far more likely to grow interested and/or excited to learn the lessons because they want to tell their stories as well as possible. Lastly, narratives are also the single most effective way to get to know the students quickly, which aides tremendously in building fast and strong relationships with them (I talk about the importance of this in my last post). Students often talk about the topics that are on their minds and tell you about the people/things in their lives that matter, which makes student narratives a set of SparkNotes of sorts for the students and what they are thinking about. When one considers the value of being able to tell a story, story’s effectiveness as a pedagogical tool, and the relationship-building gold that is a narrative, to me it becomes clear that personal narratives should be the first order of business (pardon the pun) when we are facing a class full of new faces. So what are you waiting for? As the second semester gets underway, get those students telling stories, and for those teachers looking for resources on how to do that, here is a short digital compilation of Three Key Narrative Lessons (on the story arc, using techniques like imagery or indirect characterization to get the reader connected, and how to effectively use and format dialogue) along with two of my favorite videos about storytelling (watch for the joke at the start of Andrew Stanton’s brilliant TED Talk if showing to a class) to get you started. I’ll follow up with more details about these and other resources along with additional thoughts on narrative soon as well.
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