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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‘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!

The Art Of Storytelling: Why Should We Learn It?

 

“Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do.”

-Dan Harmon, Author

Storytelling is humanity in words said Jim Blasingame, one of the world’s leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. And storytelling has been around since the first human beings roamed the earth. In fact, the earliest cave drawings and carvings are proof of their (and our) storytelling capabilities. These first stories helped archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists learn about the earth’s beginnings and early civilizations.

Why should we learn how to tell a story?

Well, storytelling is a powerful method of communication where the storyteller has an engaging conversation with his/her listeners or audience.

The fact is that we all have stories to tell; we were simply born with this ability. However, there is more to storytelling than just plain, passive reading or narration in reported speech.

Storytelling is an art that uses several creative techniques including voice, expression and actions to successfully get across the story’s emotions in the most impactful way to the story’s audience. As individuals, we can personally use these storytelling techniques to make a point, to persuade, to inspire, to teach, to reflect upon and to facilitate action.

Photo courtesy: lifehacker.com/ Melanie Pinola/ Magenta Rose/

Photo courtesy: lifehacker.com/ Melanie Pinola/ Magenta Rose.

Learning how to tell a story: Many benefits

Storytelling is a great tool for effective, purposeful communication. When used correctly and in the right situations, storytelling has plenty of benefits to offer for everyone – team leaders, teachers, brand managers, corporate trainers, parents, artists, creative designers, writers et al.

For brands and business managers:

Thanks to the explosion of social media, brands today are closer to their target audience like never before. To help their brands stand out from the rest, brand managers need to master business storytelling – promoting brands in a way that engages their audience well, holds their attention and compels them to come back to you for more.

Learning how to tell your brand’s story allows you to master the 3 C’s of business storytelling which is: “Connect with your prospects, Convey your expertise and Create customer memories.”

For teachers:

National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), USA says this about the benefits of storytelling in education – “Story is the best vehicle for passing on factual information. Historical figures and events linger in children’s minds when communicated by way of a narrative. Any topic for that matter can be incorporated into a story form and made memorable if the listener takes the story to heart.”

Using stories to teach text book lessons promotes learning faster and facilitates better understanding of the concepts. Here is a great example of a science teacher using storytelling to innovate teaching-learning in school.

For team leaders, sales managers and corporate trainers:                                           

These are people who constantly need to tell their audience (team members or subordinates) how to perform, how to achieve a target and how to succeed. For someone who is always in need of effective ways to demonstrate, explain inspire and persuade, becoming storytellers is the best method by which leaders; managers, coaches and trainers can nurture trust and inspire the desired actions.

For parents:

Parents are not akin to storytelling. However, parents can make this pleasurable activity a learning resource by using stories to teach their kids about different cultures, explain essential life skills like sharing and empathy, help them discover world of science and nature, introduce them to the lives of important personalities and great men and women; the possibilities are limitless.

For individuals:

You could be someone who wants to enhance your communication skills or an aspiring author or creative designer or anybody interested in stories and storytelling. You all need a common starting point – a story. Therefore, learning the nuances of storytelling you learn how to effectively voice your thoughts, how to communicate clearly and how to reflect your experiences in your work.

Story Matters: Your chance to learn the art of storytelling

Now that you know how storytelling benefits us and understood why you should use storytelling in your work and life, here is a chance to learn the art of storytelling. Story Matters, a two day storytelling workshop for adults is being held on 10-11 May, 2014 at Rangoli Metro Art Centre, MG Road, Bangalore.

This one-of-a-kind workshop will tell you everything about storytelling and teach you how to become a master storyteller.

Story Matters will be curated by experienced, professional storytellers, Deeptha Vivekanand of Ever After Learning, Aparna Athreya and Soumya Srinivasan of Kid and Parent Foundation who share among them over 17+ years of storytelling experience and are known for their highly interactive, experiential and delightful storytelling sessions for kids and adults alike.

For registrations and more details about the workshop, please go to our Facebook page.