Image source: https://www.pamelarutledge.com/story-power-the-psychology-of-story/
Did you know that storytelling affects the brain in the ways depicted in the image above? Isn't that amazing? There are numerous articles you can read online that explain the ways our brains respond to stories, including the article that served as the source of this image. It's fascinating reading, and I've linked a few articles at the bottom of this post.
Maybe you are a math teacher and you're not sure how stories relate to your curriculum. Or you're an IB teacher trying to fit in all of your content before the May exams. Where, you ask, would you find time time to tell stories?
The brain science around storytelling suggests that if we want students to really learn what we're teaching (in any content area), stories are a key strategy for evoking engagement, embedding information into our memories and creating compassion and trust in our classroom. This isn't an add-on but an essential way we can reframe our curriculum so it is meaningful and purposeful for our students.
What could this look like?
As an example, just last week, a group of educators participated in an ECSL (Educators Consortium for Service Learning) workshop where storytelling was used as a way to connect and reflect on key events from 2021. The key tool for the workshop was a simple plot mountain (remember the five components to a story's plot? exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution). The educators mapped their past year using the plot mountain and then shared their stories in groups of four in breakout rooms. When they returned to the main Zoom discussion room, many similarities were noted amongst the shared stories. Many educators had experienced upheaval as a result of Covid-19 and experienced climax moments where their jobs changed significantly. Many learned they had strength to persist and keep going in the face of numerous obstacles. And in sharing these stories, the teachers connected and felt a shared sense of catharsis and belonging.
Were our brains producing dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin? Absolutely. And this created an impactful experience that allowed us to feel supported and heard, one that we will remember for a long time.
In your math, history or art classroom, you could use this simple plot mountain exercise to help students reflect at the end of a unit, or to review existing knowledge before launching into a new lesson. Your students could create a plot mountain that captures the story of an electron or a set of fractions or a significant moment in history.
This is one simple way of incorporating stories into your curriculum in any subject area. You could also take curricular content and transform it into narrative. Are there historical figures in your subject area that relate to what students are learning? Tell those stories, have students watch videos about those people, or maybe even have students create digital stories.
Stories will help your students learn and remember. Stories will help your students understand the world in ways that are more rich and purposeful. Stories will open up intercultural understanding and empathy.
Below are links to some excellent sites that provide additional resources for storytelling in your classroom. And here is a video featuring a fabulous teacher (Dagne Furth) who has created an entire high school course around storytelling. Called "Storytelling Agency", this course merges traditional and digital storytelling with active global citizenship, service learning and design thinking.
If you'd like to create an innovative course like Dagne's, listen to what she has to share in the video. Her story also highlights the power of storytelling to create positive change in our world. Brain science would tell us we need more classes like Storytelling Agency in our schools.
I hope you enjoy the resources from this week's post. Please email me if you have any questions about storytelling, service learning and global citizenship. :)
Links about Storytelling:
1. How Stories Connect and Persuade Us (NPR Article)
2. Storytelling as a Teaching Strategy (TeachHub Article)
3. Twelve Ways to Integrate Storytelling in the Classroom (Vista Higher Learning Article)
4. Storytelling Games for Elementary Classrooms (YouTube Video)
Below: The Plot Mountain Exercise we used at our ECSL Meeting. You could adapt this to any classroom activity for reflection or as an anticipatory set. The Word version of this document is accessible at the bottom of this post.