"Storytelling and Interactive Education"


by Dr Eric Miller,

August 2017



Telling stories to children has long been recognised as a way to give them moral education.  In recent years, many people have also realised that stories and storytelling can be used to teach any subject -- by giving vivid examples of abstract ideas and processes; by adding human interest and drama to dry and distant events, dates, and places; etc.


It has also become clear that coaching young people to tell stories is beneficial to the young people.  Telling a story involves organising one's thoughts, being able to gracefully adjust to ever-changing conditions, and communicating inter-personally effectively.  Storytelling is a form of public speaking which may also at times involve acting (when one speaks and moves as characters).


I have realised that to me, storytelling, and activities around storytelling, are means to more general goals, namely, to help young people to develop and improve their thinking, feeling, and communication processes.


Thus, my vision and mission for storytelling have become:


1) Storytelling, and activities around storytelling, can facilitate the development and expression of one's self and "voice."

2) Through storytelling, and activities around storytelling, each person can speak and be heard -- this makes for a healthy society.


In the field of education, it is often said that the goal is to teach young people how to think, not what to think.  However, in practice, this ideal is often not achieved or even seriously attempted.


Education systems today are largely about teaching young people to "copy-and-paste" -- copy what the Instructor says, copy from the textbook, copy from a wiki page, etc.  Absorbing material from expert sources is an important step, but it is only a beginning of a thorough education process. 


Young people should also be taught

*** To think for themselves (from within themselves),

*** To nurture and follow their own sense of curiosity, 

*** To generate their own questions, state their own preliminary answers (their hypotheses), and gather and present evidence to support these answers.

*** To come up with their own ideas and projects.

*** To communicate articulately and clearly.   


Young people should be filled with the excitement of exploring and sharing their perceptions of the natural world, history, ideas, and so on.  For this to occur, the young people must be given more responsibility and autonomy (always under the supervision of an Instructor).


When young people find schoolwork boring, it is often because the schoolwork does not allow them to explore the world based on their own approaches, and does not ask them to find or express themselves.


Education should also produce young people

*** Who have high levels of emotional intelligence, as well as other types of intelligence. 

*** Who know themselves to a good degree, and are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. 

*** Who are aware of their emotions, can monitor their emotions, and can take the necessary internal steps of thinking and feeling in order to avoid letting their emotions get the best of them, even in challenging situations. 

These matters involve maturity.


Storytelling involves a combination of the Humanities, and as such can help in all of the above-mentioned areas.


In the storytelling workshops I lead, part of the training involves encouraging the storytellers (who are at least 6 years old) to, after stories are told, lead discussions about the stories and the way they have been told.  Trainees are prepared to in turn train their future trainees to also lead discussions about stories and the way the stories were told.


Some of the questions I encourage storytellers to ask -- of their listeners, and of themselves -- as they lead discussions about the stories they have just told, are:


1) Tell one specific thing -- an image, an action by a character, etc -- you liked about the story, or about the way the story was told.


2) Tell one thing you found unsatisfying about the story, or about the way the story was told.  Might you like to modify the story in any other way?  Might you like to add another episode?  Might you have any possible suggestions for improvement regarding the way the story was told?  


3) Might the story remind you of some other story (including possibly of a personal experience)?


4) Does the story seem to teach any lessons?  If yes, please explain.


This kind of discussion does not just involve creativity and imagination.  It also involves logical, investigative, and critical thinking ("critical" not in the sense of being negative about anything, but rather in the sense of thinking about things from every conceivable angle).


An Instructor telling a long story to a room full of students is not the answer.  What is called for are Interactive, activity-based, and small-group methods of teaching-and-learning.  These methods are used with young children (especially in Montessori and Waldorf schools), and are also often used in Business Training.  But for teaching people who are approximately 8 to 21 years old (4th standard through College), the primary teaching method remains lecture.


A method of teaching interactively is: 


1) The Instructor introduces a subject.  (5-10 minutes.) 


2) The students go into groups of 2 to discuss or debate some element of what was presented, or to tell stories to each other relating to what was presented.  Or, the students work individually (writing, drawing, etc).  (10-20 minutes).


3) The Instructor leads a discussion with the entire group, with some students sharing what occurred in their groups of 2. (10-20 minutes).


By this method, most of the new material that needs to be absorbed is absorbed by the students before class (via reading, and watching and listening to recordings).  Some students might prepare better than others -- the ones who do not prepare well could receive lower grades.


Here the Instructor's mission is to place the various pieces of knowledge in social and historical context, to help students

*** get an overview of the field,

*** find meaning in the whole,

*** and maintain perspective -- not lose sight of the forest due to one's field of vision being dominated by large trees.


This kind of interactive method could be used to teach about stories and storytelling, or any other subject.  Stories and storytelling could be used in this method.  The combination of stories and storytelling, and interactive education methods can make teaching-and-learning both rigorous and joyful.  







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