Monday, July 30, 2012

Why do we teach what we teach?

The New York Times piece "Is Algebra Necessary" is sure to elicit strong responses on all sides. For me it raises a larger question: why do we teach what we teach? Is it because it has value for our students or is it because it's always been done that way and is propagating an outmoded educational system that was developed in the 19th century to train factory workers or is it something else? Worth thinking about.



http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/is-algebra-necessary.html?pagewanted=all&src=ISMR_AP_LO_MST_FB

Monday, July 16, 2012

Storytelling as a Pedagogical Tool


Summary of Daniel Pink's "Story" as one of the "Six Senses" as presented in A Whole New Mind

Pink describes story as “context enriched by emotion.” Traditionally, it is through story that important, meaningful information has been passed down through the generations.  Factual information, so readily available to us through electronic media, lacks the "emotional impact" of stories. Emotion is the critical element that makes information relevant and memorable.

For Pink, storytelling is an art modality that demands interpretation and relies on both creative and critical thought processes. As human beings, we author our lives by assembling artifacts of our past, and creating narratives that reveal our world and our true selves. That is, we live our stories.  Our stories reflect our years – the difficult storms and the peaceful joys. Therefore, sharing our stories adds more depth to life, gives more meaning to our relationships, and provides more context in our work. Listening to each other's stories helps us to show empathy, better connect to one another, and better understand complex thought. Storytelling is universal and multi-cultural, involving a process of give and take. Stories can reveal personal power as well as personal identity.
Remembering a story, then, is more powerful than recalling facts.
           
Storytelling as a Pedagogical Tool

Storytelling is a powerful pedagogical tool.  Simply put, storytelling is delivering information in an organic form.  The teacher, the storyteller, and the performer share a similar purpose: to inform, engage, and entertain their audience.  They all seek to communicate their message in the most compelling and provocative way possible.  After all, as author Gail Goodwin says, "Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater!" Telling a story engages the audience in a unique way. Storytelling, then, is yet another device in the repertoire of a good teacher.  It is not only a potent tool for the teacher as a way of organizing information, but as a dynamic means for students to express what they have learned. The magic of storytelling changes the atmosphere in the classroom and in so doing enhances the learning environment.  Stories serve to open the mind so that the hearer is ready to take things in. In short, stories appeal to the heart, and, once the heart is won, the mind is open to learn! 

Educational Objectives

Stories promote lively imagination on the part of students.  When students listen to a story, they create mind pictures, make inferences and predictions, and fill in the gaps.  They in a sense become involved in creating the story, thus forming a relationship with the narrative.  When packaged as a story, the oral delivery of information promotes greater involvement than does written language.
In order to appeal to different learning styles, it is necessary to transcend the traditional presentation of fact and theory.  Stories are concrete; they exemplify concepts better than abstract, non-creative methods. Teaching storytelling also teaches presentation, communication, and writing skills.  Using storytelling as a method of instruction and assessment supports educational objectives.  These include:

§                                             improving verbal skills
§                                             gaining self-confidence
§                                             discovering the meaning of events
§                                             developing a love for language and stories
§                                             encouraging higher levels of cognitive thinking
§                                             gaining a more in-depth understanding of narration
§                                             improving imaginative skills
§                                             internalizing the traditional structure and conventions of stories
§                                             improving writing skills
§                                             encourage active participation in the creation of stories

Storytelling is such an effective tool for the teacher because it is a powerful form of communication. Both the student and the teacher benefit from it.  Students learn from hearing stories because they pay closer attention, understand the message more readily, and retain key points longer.  Teachers become better educators because being able to tell a story effectively enhances the perception of the teacher as a leader.  A teacher who can adeptly tell a tale reveals an approachable, likeable, and human side to his or her personality.  This helps to close the distance between the teacher and the students by making the teacher's status less threatening. 

Classroom Applications

When preparing one's notes for a class lesson, a teacher decides how best to present the material.  Consider packaging the information in the form of a story rather than a lecture.  When deciding how to help the students to process information, or to assess what students have learned, consider having the students recreate the information in the form of a story and then tell it.  Here are some ways that storytelling can be applied to the classroom setting.

§                                             Create a story to illustrate new concepts or ideas.
§                                             Express a topic or theme by narrating a story about it.
§                                             Explain historical events by narrating them as stories.
§                                             Invent and tell the story of historical figures meeting one another  
                                    or about characters from different stories meeting.
§                                             Put knowledge that needs to be assessed in a narrative form and
                                    tell the story to the teacher and class.
§                                             Take a familiar story and retell it with characters and situations
                                    based on curricular material.
§                                             Place yourself in a familiar story and narrate the events from your
                                    first-person point of view.

As a pedagogical tool, teachers should use storytelling to explore cultural diversity, to survey storytelling methods, to discover a variety of ways to create stories, to integrate the curriculum, to foster imagination, and to investigate the power of narrative.  Stories go beyond the mere presentation of facts; instead, they involve the students by engaging the imagination and promoting conceptual connections to the information being presented.


Keith Caldwell, M. Ed.                                                                                     23 May 2012