Lifelong Learning, teaching writing & storytelling

Why is telling a story important?

Originally written in June of 2012

A response to Have, Pahl, and Roswell and the importance of digital storytelling for our students …

I found every word of Haven’s chapter to be important and applicable to my work as an English teacher. Many of the references to research and the ideas expressed simply reaffirmed my own experiences and learning over the last eleven and a half years of teaching. I felt validated in reading much of this article; however, my teaching context is going to be changing dramatically next school year. From January 2001 through this school year, I taught high school English in a very large, traditional public high school. Next year, I will be teaching seventh and eighth grade language arts electives, creative writing (7th) and dramatic writing (8th), in a private, college preparatory school.  Not only is the general atmosphere completely different, but the study body will be markedly different as well. Of all the ideas, Haven’s comments about the broad educational value of writing stories stand out the most. “[L]earning to effectively write stories is a valuable precursor to learning to write other expository forms since stories developed tens-of-thousands of years before expository forms” (p. 117).

First, this statement reinforces the value and importance of my role as a creative writing teacher. This course, although an elective, clearly has the potential to play an essential role in assisting students’ progress as learners across the content areas. By starting with explicit instruction in story structure, Haven suggests that I help students improve their ability to comprehend all forms of text. Furthermore, this explicit instruction may have “a large impact on their [students’] enthusiasm for and willingness to spend school and home time writing” (p. 116). Clearly, as a writing teacher, any activity that can improve student enthusiasm and motivation is a valuable activity to include in my teaching.

Second, in my opinion, the scope of the eighth grade course, dramatic writing, is vague and not clearly tied to any specific educational objective. Prior to reading this chapter, my plan was to propose changing this course to “creating digital presentations” (or something to that effect). Now that I have read this chapter, I plan on proposing the course change to “digital storytelling” with the following educational objective (still a work in progress): Students will learn to apply story telling techniques using new digital media to express a variety of cross-curricular content. I believe I can use much of the research provided in Haven’s text to support this change as a relevant change in focus that will assist students in all of their classes towards meaning making and effective communication of ideas.

Pahl & Rowsell

In my experience as an educator, I have found that “reading” is not an activity performed in isolation. For years, experts in reading have suggested that one of the best ways to increase student comprehension is helping students to access prior knowledge, a concept confirmed in Haven’s chapter. Pahl and Rowsell comment that “Street therefore challenged us not to see literacy as a neutral skill, but as a socially situated practice” (p. 14). Street’s challenge to see literacy as a socially situated practice seems to me an extension of the idea of accessing prior knowledge in reading. As individuals, we call upon different literacy skills depending on the context. If I am reading a text for graduate school, I use the literacy skills I have developed as a student and an educator to engage with the text. From accessing my prior knowledge of educational theories to personal experiences as a student and educator, my situation is unique and, therefore, informs my comprehension of the text and the literacy skills that I use to comprehend it. If I am engaging in a group text message conversation with my friends, I utilize an entirely different set of literacy skills based upon this context. My friends and I have our own set of shared understandings and I can draw upon the prior knowledge that I have of those understandings to make references to our favorite media or memories. Likewise, our students have many different skill sets that can be enhanced depending on the situation; therefore, it seems essential to recognize the various social situations in which students engage in literacy practices and help students identify strategies they use in different domains and guide students toward “tweaking” existing literacy skills towards usability in new domains. In other words, if a student already understands how to explain the importance of a character in a movie based on the socially situated practice of discussing and analyzing a favorite movie, it becomes the teacher’s responsibility to point out how that literacy skill can be applied in the new domain of discussing and analyzing the importance of a literary character in a print text.

 

 

Haven, K. F. (2007). Story proof: The science behind the startling power of story. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.

Pahl, K. & Rowsell, J. (2005). Literacy and education: Understanding the new literacy studies in the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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