Storytelling to Teach Academic Subjects

As Deeptha Vivekanand, Founder, Ever After, prepares to deliver a workshop on ‘Storytelling to Teach Academic Subjects‘ on February 6th at the Chennai Storytelling Festival 2015, here’s a look at what makes stories and storytelling so relevant and important in a classroom. This post also seeks to challenge the notion that storytelling is only for the very young. Stories in all forms–oral histories, books, films, art–are powerful tools to enrich the teaching of a subject. Read on to find out how:

There’s something really enduring about a story. Maybe it’s the fact that the words and images that go into it are chosen with such care. Maybe it’s the fact that it has progression, from one event to another, from one idea to another. Maybe it’s the way stories and characters emotionally engage us. We go from one place to another with these characters, watching them, listening to them, investing in them, remembering them. This is the strength of a story. What you get from it stays with you, tucked away in a complex web of associations and emotional reactions and experiences.

Stories can have a great positive impact on education methods and can increase the level of student involvement in a subject. While acknowledging that syllabus-prescribed texts nowadays are probably more colourful and anecdotal than the material she remembers from her school days, Deeptha, talks about the shortfalls of a textbook based learning system: Students “don’t feel challenged to go beyond the given text, look for information and draw their own conclusions. But when we ask them to write a story based on a topic, they get the chance to both look up the facts and express their thoughts creatively, hence engaging both sides of the brain”. There is, for instance, something mechanical about the conventional curriculum approach to social studies and science, a fixation with memorising in learning. Engaging with the narratives of a concept gives students a chance to see it as more interesting than what is presented in the text. They suddenly see the opportunity to use creativity
and active thinking in the learning process.

One significant example of a story that can be effectively used in teaching social studies and history is Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. This is a well-known book that children often come across outside the educational context. Its strong narrative thrust and moving emotional content give it all the qualities of a novel. However, it is actually a real-world account of the persecution of Jews during WWII. It is grounded in the political and social backdrop of war-torn Europe. It can be used as a way to study and discuss the events of history, the impact of political turmoil on individuals and to understand the importance of basic human rights in any context. In studying such a rich and personal account of the war, students will find themselves understanding historical events at an emotional level, remembering them not just for the dates and political manoeuvres, but for the human trauma they represent. A contemporary equivalent of the Anne Frank story is Malala Yousufzai, whose tale captures the suffering of schoolgirls in militancy-affected Pakistan.

Narratives of science are also becoming increasingly relevant to understanding the scientific method and the discoveries that it has spawned. Visual media, like the new production of the Cosmos series (presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson) incorporate snippets of biographical information about the astronomers, physicists and chemists behind the discoveries that make our conception of the universe what it is. Students retain information about rules and processes by associating them with the dynamic, brilliant individuals who make up the field of science. Examples of popular (and important) written word narratives include The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and The Double Helix by James D. Watson (chronicling the research and intrigue that led to the discovery of DNA). Skloot’s story about Henrietta Lacks discusses the ethical questions that emerged when the cancer cells of a poor Black American woman were used, without the knowledge and sanction of her family, to fuel a scientific endeavour and create an immortal line of cancer cells which are used in medical research till date. Skloot also provides information about what exactly biologists learned about the disease from Lacks’ cells. These are, effectively, the stories of the units that make up human life.

Stories have incredible scope. Deeptha feels that if they had used textbooks in their sessions, the learning of students “would have been limited to only the basics—who, what, when, where. The whys and hows would have been ignored because there isn’t much to ponder over.”

Whether we use the Jataka Tales to learn about Buddhism, the Akbar-Birbal stories to discover the of culture Mughal India, or the glamourous classic stories of Greek heroes and polymaths to uncover the meaning life in the ancient civilizations, there is no limit on what we can glean from the stories around us. None of this is to undermine the values of traditional education systems, but only to suggest that the introduction of narratives can create a window for imagination, memory and understanding to manifest in broader and more exciting way. Also, Nisha Abdulla, Co-founder of Ever After believes that stories can be used to encourage linking ideas across disciplines, as this might be the “need of the hour.” She describes a lesson in which the term ‘physical features’ of a country was studied as a combination of science, geography and economic trade. She also describes instances of stories providing the opportunity for discussions about values and dialogue: “In a recent history session we were looking at the legacy a strong leader leaves behind and the influence it has on a country and its people. We compared the legacies left behind by Mandela and Hitler in South Africa and Germany respectively in the form of stories written about that time. The children were then challenged to flip the narrative.” Students then find themselves raising questions about “democracy and rights, nation building in a diverse country like India with its own history of marginalisation.”

Narratives are conducive to the retention of academic concepts, and they encourage adopting stances through slow deliberation and a deep, detailed knowledge of multiple perspectives. Perhaps, as Nisha suggests, “children need to go through this process – only then will they become adults who are comfortable with various perspectives in others.” In a world where rigidity and intolerance are prevalent in human attitudes, the construction of mentalities that value dialogue and thoughtfulness and celebrate the growing multiplicity of identities, ideas, and knowledge can only be a good thing.

Finally, perhaps it is also important to understand our own roles in the universe of stories. We, as individuals have a place in the larger scheme of things, and initiatives like the Big History Project discuss the history of the world not just by drawing emotional and other parallels between students’ lives and the stories they come across, but by locating us, as people and as lifeforms in the much bigger story of planets, societies and our place in the universe. History is then conceptualised as a narrative that includes the minute filigree of our lives, as well as the larger sweeping social and natural phenomena that shape us. The stories that we learn through become our own stories—of origins, processes and extinction.

-Dakshayini Suresh, for Ever After

 

 

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8 steps in the digital storytelling process as illustrated in edtechteacher.org

The Power of Storytelling across the Curriculum: The Role of Digital Storytelling

In our Learning through Stories program that we conduct across schools in Bangalore, we use different tools to tell a story – books, oral storytelling and most important of all, digital storytelling.

Digital Storytelling is a very powerful method of teaching and learning that uses the narrative, digital pictures, animation, audio and video to create a digital media that talks about, narrates, explains and above all tells a an engaging story that the digital storyteller wanted to convey.

Steps in digital storytelling Here’s what digital storytelling requires a storyteller (the student, the teacher or both together) to do. This illustration from edtechteacher.org explains eight important steps in digital storytelling.

8 steps in the digital storytelling process as illustrated in edtechteacher.org

Steps in the digital storytelling process

Benefits of using digital storytelling in the classroom

Creating a digital story requires the students to apply thought and reasoning in order to tell their point of view about a topic. It urges them to use their imagination and get creative. Digital storytelling compels the students to thoroughly probe, explore, question and examine a topic before they can develop it into a digital story.

The power of storytelling in the curriculum

At the center of a digital production is the story – the script of the film. When a class gets down to write a script for a digital story, they are actually constructing several different stories – all based on individual perspectives and viewpoints. This means that the students are dwelling deep into the topic, getting a good grasp of it, understanding it before putting forth their arguments or taking a stand about the topic.

Bottom-line: using storytelling in the classroom improves reading and writing skills, augments visual comprehension, guarantees better retention and recall of the concept, promotes logical thinking and boosts imagination.

University of Illinois’ Community Informatics Initiative website, prairienet.org explains the power of stories in the curriculum:

“Children who are exposed to storytelling learn the process of creating and sharing an effective story. Students learning digital storytelling learn how to express and share emotions with their audience in the 21st century…In order for their story to be effective students must be able to express their emotion using and piecing together video, pictures and sound.

This learning process can help them express their feelings, views and creativity using new modes of communication…In order to develop a story, the child must first understand who he or she is creating the story for, developing their ability to empathize with others and improving their conflict resolution skills.”

How do we do it – the Ever After edge

In our Learning through Stories program that we conduct for the Amaatra Academy, Bangalore, we teach their Social Sciences curriculum for grades 6 to 9. We liberally use stories from folktales, myths, books and films to teach about the Mughal Empire, French Revolution, Early Humans, Democracy and so on.

One such lesson was on King Akbar for 7th graders. One of the topics that we touched upon and discussed was his heroic conquests, accomplishments and his greatness. As assignment, we asked the students to reflect back on the story of Akbar and explain what greatness meant to them. This is what one student had to say:

Ever After's Learning through Stories  program in school impact

Such profound thoughts and all prompted by a story! Now you know why storytelling can be such a powerful tool in learning and teaching. The class is currently working on a digital story project on Water. We’ll upload those stories soon!

To know more about Ever After’s story-based services and program, go to www.ever-after.co.in or email us to info@ever-after.co.in. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and resources about using storytelling in education. We also invite you to join our Facebook Group – #learningthroughstories (#Learning through Stories). And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter. Just drop us a mail telling us that you’d like to subscribe and we’ll make sure you get all of our next issues.

 

‘The Creative Educator’ Contest Details

Are you an exciting educator? Do children listen to you with wonder? Do students look forward to your classes? Do you do magical things to make your teaching interesting? If yes, here’s a chance for you to win the ‘CREATIVE EDUCATOR’ contest!

All you have to do is:

Submit a lesson plan based on a story/narrative and stand a chance to win some cool prizes!female teacher writing various high school maths and science for

How to enter the contest

  • Pick a classroom topic/theme/subject/grade of your choice.
  • Pick a children’s/ young adult story (from a storybook/ the internet/ or any other source) that relates to the topic.
  • Think up a lesson plan using the story.
  • Send the completed lesson plan to info@ever-after.co.in on or before 25th Sep, 2014.

Don’t forget to

  • ‘Like’ our Facebook page and/or ‘Follow’ us on Twitter. If you already are connected to us, then jump to the next step.
  • Refer this contest to more teachers like you by sharing and tagging them in the poster. You can also tag friends, colleagues, family members who would love to take part in this contest.

Winners get

  • The title of ‘Creative Educator’ 🙂
  • Flipkart e-vouchers worth Rs.1500, Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500
  • Their plans featured on the Ever After blog/facebook page/twitter feed.
  • Discounted entry ticket to our ‘Teaching Through Story’ Workshop on Sep 27th and 28th at Atta Galatta. (First place winner only)

Contest Guidelines and Format for Submission

All teaching ideas submitted should include the following:

  • Story title, author, source
  • A gist of the story if it is not available in the public domain
  • Submit entries in MS Word or Google Doc format
  • Content Area(s) (if applicable, ex: language arts)
  • Lesson Objective (what do you want the students to be able to do, explain, discuss, etc., by the end of this lesson?)
  • Lesson Assesment (how will the students show that they “get it” or can do what you hope?)
  • Grade Level(s) or Age Group(s)
  • Duration (ex: one 45-minute period)
  • Theme/Topic (ex: Water, Ascending Order, Condensation, Mughal Empire etc.)
  • Materials Needed (ex: felt pens)
  • Supplementary Materials (any worksheets, video links, etc.)
  • Step-by-step activities
  • In these links you can VIEW, DOWNLOAD and use a suggested lesson template that includes all of the above requirements.

And remember

  • The lesson plan that you devise must be 100% original.
  • One contestant can submit only one lesson plan based on one topic and one story.
  • Winners will chosen by experts from the Ever After’s curriculum design team.
  • The contest is open to teachers, educators, parents and tutors.
  • This contest is open to residents of India only.
  • Ever After’s decisions will be final and binding with regard to the contest.

Go on. Create away!

Connected Learning and Storytelling

Making Learning Applicable in the Digital Age: Combining Connected Learning and Traditional Storytelling

Connected Learning is something that I am deeply passionate about and firmly believe in. Simply put, Connected Learning is making learning applicable and education useful in the digital age by using the power of technology and digital resources in learning and teaching.

Here is a video from the Connected Learning Alliance that explains how Connected Learning is all about making learning relevant.

Learning and teaching using the Connected Learning method:

Children today are becoming increasingly connected to the online world. They are on social networking sites, they are forming online communities which they use as a platform to discuss topics of their interest. They create multiple online identities, share and seek online content with amazing ease and keen interest.

Given this situation, how can we do make learning useful and relevant for our children in the digital age?

As parents and educators here’s what we can do –

First, based on your child or students’ interest show them where and how to harness the vast resources of correct online information. Give them access to informative and age appropriate websites, books, journals, videos etc.

Next, show them how to research a topic of their interest – either from their curriculum (Chemistry, Language Arts) or something that they are simply passionate about (Astronomy, Cooking).

Then guide them, teach them and show them how they can use multiple forms of information – text, pictures, videos, and narratives to create their own digital content. This digital content is the final product or a digital documentation of their understanding and learnings about an issue, a topic of interest and importance to them. It is a digital story visualized, produced and created by the learner

What’s more, digital content produced this way can also be shared with friends and fans across the globe. Isn’t this a wonderful way to learn and spread knowledge in this digital age?

Connected Learning and Storytelling:

I believe, for Connected Learning to be truly an effective learning and teaching method for students and teachers alike, we must first understand what lies at the crux of Connected Learning: Individual perspectives and storytelling. Connected Learning requires all the elements of Storytelling to weave together little chunks of information to form a larger narrative that is crafted entirely based on the learner’s perspective.

At Ever After, we have an after-school program based on Connected Learning called the Digital Storyteller. This program has been designed for the curious, inquiring minds of 12-15 year olds with a penchant for wanting to know explore complex topics, learn more and investigate things their way. The Digital Storyteller infuses modern technology with traditional storytelling to teach kids the nuances of creating a digital story complete with a plot, narrative, visuals and music. The Digital Storyteller program strengthens visual literacy, writing skills, improves analytical thinking and develops the all essential 21st century skills.

So, if you are a parent or an educator who like us believes that traditional storytelling combined with the latest digital technology is the best way to simply complex topics, infuse excitement into dull, dry lessons and all in all make education and learning truly fun then get in touch with us by writing to us at info@ever-after.co.in. Or, you could go to our website to know more about our work and the services that we offer.

For a quick view of our various story-based after-school programs, click here.