We all have story to tell. But sometimes we forget that others have stories too…
In her Ted Talk (featured below) “The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Adichie describes how her narrative was influenced as she grew up reading exclusively Western literature (by the way this would be a great Ted Talk to watch in History or English class to discuss perspective or point of view). It struck me that this danger could also exist in our classroom spaces.
Whose learning stories get told, is it always from the adult’s perspective? (Learning is easy, learning is fun, don’t you get it yet?)
Is there space, trust, and a regular invitation for student’s to craft and tell their learning in their own way?
Crafting narrative builds context and richness for students that is often missing with new content. The creation of even a small story invites the learner to make sense in their own words and in their own way. Creation invites students to pull the content and their background knowledge out from the chaos and embed it in a meaningful way.
Below are some activities that invite students to create and own the learning narrative. Any of these could stand alone or could be done in a sequence to build larger collective narrative. I have used a Biology example but could easily be altered to fit any topic!
Offered in order of time commitment:
1. #sixwordstory At the start of a unit or topic show students a related image. For example in Biology class I shared the image below to our Facebook group page. Students were asked to create a #sixwordstory about the image and then are given the choice to either Tweet, post to our Facebook group, or write story on a sticky note. If they write on a sticky note, I post their story for them. In the example below, 16 students selected to post here and the rest Tweeted. My favorite #sixwordstory related to this picture was “Man’s feats can demonstrate nature’s marvels.”
This activity can be used anywhere you want students to synthesize or reflect. It is fast, fun and students can choose how they would like to participate.
2. Found Poem If you want to take #sixwordstory’s up a notch, students can turn their stories into “Found Poems”. The simplest and easiest way to create a found poem is to ask students to read their #sixwordstory aloud one after another as quickly as possible to add some tempo to the poem.
Found poems can also be created from readings. Student select their favorite sentence or phrase from the passage or chapter and then read these aloud. It is always amazing to hear how many will select the same phrase or sentence and this supplies a refrain like quality to their collective poem.
Found poems could easily be extended into a larger project or simply end with the reading.
3. Phonto Phonto is a free app that allows you to easily add text to a photo. This is a great way for students to use their phones and leverage their love of taking photos. There is a phonto app for both Apple and Android. The example below is one I created. You could combine #sixwordstory and Phonto for more story telling fun!
5. Animoto – Want to turn the found poem, or the phonto photos into something more? Take them and throw into an Animoto video (open an educator account to start) for a collective, professional looking Found Poem.
I share below an Animoto I show to my classes at the start of the school year to make my “we all have stories to tell” point.
6. Using Whiteboards to tell stories – Low tech and multi-purpose, whiteboards are a fun way to invite student to tell stories. It might look messy to you, but it is amazing to hear the narratives that students share when presenting their stores to the class. Everyone loves a good story! Students can archive these by taking photos of the whiteboards and adding to their digital portfolios or to our Facebook page.
The question remains, who tells the learning story in the classroom?
How will your students tell theirs?
Do you have any ideas to add to the ones here? I would love to here about them!
This week in AP Bio class students told stories about DNA replication using whiteboards. I use this activity to invite students to make sense out of content that might have little or no personal relevance. The stories produced in the AP class, were, well very unstory- like. Students told stories that were precise, exact and essentially verbatim of their texts. Their whiteboards were full of words and included few pictures. They were being what obedient students are, well-trained parrots (sorry students I love you parrot like and all).
When later in the week my Bio 12 classes did the same group task, students wrote stories that were zany and fun. One story described a helicopter ride over shark infested water and how Student J is ripped in half (like DNA in replication has it’s 2 strands broken apart by an enzyme). There were fewer details in the stories, but the overall flow of information was there and accurate.
At the end of the week when I look back I cannot remember even one of the AP classes’ stories but I do remember several of the Bio 12’s and in particular the shark one in vivid detail.
I have always loved metaphors and when I think I tend to think in images first and then find words later. I get flooded easily if all I am given in word based input. I prefer to look at diagrams in text then fill in details as needed. I can recall patterns on a page easily but fail to remember how to spell simple words. When I struggle to understand a topic I get clarity when I find a central metaphor to attach details to.
I find many students make sense out of unfamiliar territory this way. Many like to make stories to help give meaning to a topic devoid of meaning to their brain, but many do this activity in private, as if it were a less-than learning strategy.
Students like stories in general. If I find fiction pieces that relate to a topic I will read them aloud in class; I can feeling them listening in a way that is completely different from when I read a non-fiction piece. I also find that reading fictional stories aloud brings a calm and peace in class to a stressful day.
Despite these observations about the power of telling stories on both myself and students, I frequently encounter disdain and scepticism from some students who feel they are getting a sub par education when I invite them to be creative. They see the creative part as wasteful as the time could be better spent amassing more knowledge. Can storytelling have a meaningful role in a senior science class or is the time better spent on inquiry and experimental design? I wonder why it seems that as we move into senior secondary courses do we strive to squeeze out every ounce of the creative spirit of storytelling and squeeze into the learning space raw unfiltered content?
Can they not dance together, the content with the story? Or does one always have to take over and be the sole performer on the stage of learning?
For them to dance together, there must be the right tension between them and perhaps it is the complexity and nuance of this tension that scares us off of having them dance together? How do we decide where one begins and one ends, when we are trying to keep the subject matter in its pure form? Or is that the problem itself, that really our brains don’t think in subject areas and the silo approach pulls meaning from a topic like vultures pull flesh from carrion?
What do you think? Can storytelling and content courses play nice?
Passionate about children and young people, their rights and their agency. Learning Lead and Founder Design-a-thon Works. Former co-founder Butterfly Works and NairoBits. Ashoka Fellow. Born in Dublin, Scheming in Amsterdam.