Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Science of Storytelling

Good storytelling is powerful.  I came across an article by Jonathan Gottschall, the author of The Storytelling Animal. Apparently, in business, storytelling is trending. In his article, "Why Storytelling is the Ultimate Weapon," he says, "Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence." 

It was time to rethink storytelling. Most teachers are natural storytellers and weave their magic throughout the day. We don't consider storytelling a weapon but an engaging way to deliver content. In my classroom, I used storytelling constantly, to bring history to life, to give directions, to connect with students. I hadn't thought about how or why I told stories; it just made sense. Gottschall says, "there is an important lesson about the molding power of story. When we read dry, factual arguments, we read with our dukes up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this seems to leave us defenseless."

I teach my students how to write stories, but am I teaching my students to be good consumers of stories? Stories are delivery systems for the teller's agenda. I should be teaching my students to be critical thinkers of all stories, not just happy listeners.  This includes redefining story as not just something that takes place in a book. Good storytellers will play our emotions until we lose track of rational thought and follow along like the Pied Piper. We see it in advertising, in television shows, and in marketing campaigns aimed at young people. Gottschall concludes that "in a world full of black belt storytellers, we had all better start training our defenses." While teaching students to become great storytellers, I also need to be teaching them how to recognize them.

by: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

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