Story, a cautionary tale


old typewriter (focus on text)
A photo of an old type writer with focus on the text

Teachers have been telling stories for as long as teachers have been a thing, Students are still learning from the stories of our greatest teachers thousands of years later. Plato, Confuses, and Jesus. But that makes story sound like a classic “old school” pedagogical method, and that is not the characterization I want.

Narrative is our primary tool for understanding the world around us, it is a fundamental tool in our ability to processes information.

Yet despite our cultural belief in the importance of story as a teaching tool we really don’t use it much. We all have our students read stories, Most of us still carve out time to read aloud to our students, but few of us use stories as a tool to explain or highlight concepts outside of those to platforms.

I spend a great deal of my research time looking for ways to integrate lessons. I do this because I believe; one, that the real world in integrated and education should follow suit, and two, that it is the only way to meet the growing list of demands on teaching time.

I have come to believe that one of the strongest threads tying all our curricula together is story.

Our focus on data, the science of pedagogy and the hard Common Core push into nonfiction, have left us with sharp, versatile tool and little desire to use them. Those things do make a difference but they are not the difference.  The difference is our ability to add to our student’s story. I think we have forgotten the importance of story.

Wait, DON’T STOP READING…. NOT yet, give me at least one maybe even two more paragraphs before you drop this as a rambling rant.

An example: A couple years ago a fifth grade science class I was working with was struggling with the concept of mass.

We expected some of them to get stuck on this, mass is tricky, Weight is easy enough, but the difference between mass and weight is still shaky in most of student’s heads. To be honest most teacher gloss over it for that very reason. Then I told them the story of Archimedes and the Kings crown.

Archimedes, brings the concept of mass alive with a Eureka moment and naked street dance that no 5th grader will forget.

Another example: Using my new idea to teach with a story I prepared and then set a trap in math class.  And when the complaints and questions about the practicality of our lesson came I shared the story of Abraham Wald, who saved hundreds of American pilots in WW2 and famous explained Math is about interrogating the questions asked and the information available to get answers.

Just one more: Oxygen and elements in general are not truly abstract, but for most if not all of our students they is, asking, or expecting them to jump into STEM classes without seeding that curiosity with story has be a tough sell.

But having them listen to how and why Joseph Priestly discovered oxygen offers insight, understanding and examples of how difficult understanding the unseen can be.

Great teaching has always been centered on giving the student a reason to be curious and teaching them how to explore.  Story is a where he seeds of curiosity come from.


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