Here at the end of the journey of the Theater of the Classroom, the question remains of what exactly is a storyteller? This last portion of this examination of enlivening the classroom has been focused on the role of the storyteller. Part of the ultimate objective of classroom teaching is not only to engage the students with the narratives, but to include the students with the narratives. Ultimately, the goal is to incorporate the students into the storyteller role alongside the classroom teacher. In this way, students not only internalize and personalize the learning, they commit to making it lifelong. Still, we need to understand what a storyteller is so we need to known when we have achieved it.
A storyteller is an individual who looks at the current circumstances and sees/understands them well beyond just their “real” meaning. From this perception, a storyteller forms a critical understanding of the situation as well as the circumstances that surround it as best as possible. This critical understanding elicits a creative response from the storyteller. It is almost always in the form of a story…a narrative. This is a storyteller’s nature. This is their gift.
Stories take many forms; sometimes fables, other times legends or folktales. It is up to the storyteller to consider the weight of the message with needs of the audiences in order to select the best genre. This balancing act is never an easy thing to do. It is not an act which necessarily becomes easier with experience either. Familiarity, however, does remove some of the anxiety.
Some of the cornerstones of modern-day Western Civilization utilize storytelling. Perhaps the most evident is religion. In Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth taught his followers using parables. The Buddha, in the East, utilized koans. These are short, story-like riddles. Business, science, and politics rely on stories to grab our attention, as well as to explain complex issues.
And yet, perhaps one of the most important facets of society has silently surrendered its claim on storytelling. No one doubts the importance and need for education. However, there is almost a consistent doubt in the U.S. about the efficacy in its method of delivery. What we need is stories in the classroom.
Yet, even this is not enough. Stories are only as good as those who tell them. Along with the stories, we need to revive our body of storytellers. In reviving this classroom practice, the tradition must be taught in order for it to be passed on to future generations.
This practice is neither excluded, ignored, nor is engulfed by the current craze of high-stakes, standardized testing. Storytelling in the classroom gives this government requirement its acknowledged due. The tests as well as the standards help to frame the story. For discussion sake, they can be thought of as plot outlines or timelines, nothing more and nothing less.
From this vantage point, the storyteller is literally only limited by two variables. One is their own creativity. As this is a natural factor or cycle in the life of a storyteller, it will invariably ebb and flow, like the Earth’s tides. For the sake of the storyteller as well as their audience, this natural yet uneven rhythm should be accepted. Kairos more than chronos.
The second variable is time. Time limits the storyteller in two primary ways. The first is by the length of classes. Also, there are certain necessary functions which every teacher must perform. These can range from attendance and testing to classroom management and assemblies. Items such as these are literally outside of the teacher’s control. In order to keep anxiety low, they should be thought of as such. Just accept them and move on.
The teacher’s/storyteller’s time is also limited outside of the classroom. Preparing to present your content material like this takes both time as well as patience. More is need in guiding students to learn in this manner. But, biology is on our side. It seems as if the human brain is intrinsically hard-wired to learn and think in this way. So, the primary obstacle is behavior and conditioning.
However, the rewards far exceed the costs. This form of teaching and learning is completely differentiated. It is holistic as well as natural. Storytelling combines best teaching practices with interdisciplinary/cross-curricular instruction. Best of all, students are challenged to think critically and creatively.
(Next series….Insurgent Instruction)