Humans have been storytelling since before the advent for formal language. It seems as if we are literally hardwired for incomparable act of immortality. The great mythologist, Joseph Campbell showed through his life’s work that regardless of the era or location many of the stories were the same. From time immemorial, stories have been the chief way of teaching. Even in this technology laden era, this is still holds absolutely true. Our students want to hear a fantastic story. Just as important, they want stories they can claim as their own.
The role of storyteller is one of the roles which has survived the test of time with little change. It is a wily and amorphous role that truly defies definition. The closest anyone can come is with its moniker. In many traditions, the storyteller is closely related to a shaman. Taking this symbolically, the storyteller becomes something like a magician or an illusionist. Their words weave a spell on the listeners, creating other worlds in their minds populated with magical beings and adventures.
Given this paradigm, it is not a far stretch to make in connecting the storytellers from humanity’s early history to the classroom teachers to today. In most cases, the students, our audience, are not necessarily being regaled with fantastically fictitious tales, but rather anecdotes and personal accounts from the individuals and groups which pioneered mathematic and scientific innovations, historical discoveries, or literary fetes.
By injecting these stories, the facts become personalized. They become humanized. Then the facts are conjoined with certain content-based skills. These are usually problem-based in nature. In fact, these skills are what most colleges, universities, professional/technical schools, as well as employers are looking for. Perhaps more importantly, these factual, content based skills are what will serve our students best in life. When humanized and applied, these skills become knowledge. Knowledge bound with experience become wisdom.
When students achieve this synthesis, this combination, then they are adding their own chapter or verse to the ongoing narrative of learning. At this point in the learning process, the classroom teacher actually has the opportunity to step aside and allow the students to take control of their learning. In this case, the students not only have the option and authority to not only guide the direction of their learning, but to also set the parameters of their education experience.
These are two huge facets of responsibility for students at any developmental and/or age level. First of all, for a student to guide their learning is a jointly liberating and maturating step. The students are allowed to somewhat select the how of their learning. Yet, there still exists some non-negotiable guidelines within the classroom. These are usually in the form of state or national standards.
However, the second step gainfully supersedes this. When students are given the authority over their education, then they have the ability to dictate not merely the who, but the why, what, and where, as well. This does not devolve education into complete anarchy. The when is still delegated by the standards, which establish grade level expectations which will continue to be measured by standardized tests.
Yet, students will be given the materials up front and challenged to create whatever they can and will with it. Their story is their product, their learning. Just as a gourmet meal is the end result of a chef’s composition of fresh products. So too is a student’s story at the end of the year.
As classroom teachers, we must shape the storyteller in each of the students. Not as we, or anyone else, wish them to be, but show each student what they can be.