The Power of Stories

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Remember this one thing, said Badger. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. 

Barry López, Crow and Weasel

THE POWER OF STORIES

Our narrative, our story, is what connects us. Being able to tell and share our stories is what makes us uniquely human. From the moment we are born we are creating stories to make sense of our world. Jerome Bruner has said that we learn the syntax of our language to tell our stories. I remember seeing this play out before my eyes, when my son was just two years old, and would tell me stories about the things he’d done and seen. You could see his brain working just by the look on his face. He’d pause, look up as if he might actually be able to see back into his brain, and say “Ummm…” as he searched for the words he needed to help me understand.

Tom Newkirk explains, “Our predisposition to experience reality as story, as cause-effect, is now viewed as innate as language itself. We are always asking, ‘What’s the story?’” When I talk about story throughout this course, I’m not only talking about story as a literary form, but I’m referring to story as Tom Newkirk does in his book Minds Made for Stories – as “an embodied and instinctive mode of understanding.”

Our stories are a piece of who we are and they are the explanations that we create for understanding our world. 

Our understanding of the world is shaped by a hunger for narrative that rises out of our discomfort with ambiguity and arbitrary events. When surprising things happen, we search for an explanation. 

Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

 If stories are the vehicle we use for making meaning, why, then, shouldn’t school be a place where we invite children to learn to tell their narratives well?  Why wouldn’t we invite them to experience the art of crafting their own story?  Why not nurture within them a deep desire to make meaning of all they encounter? That’s what we’re trying to do here. That’s why Story Workshop was born.

When we invite children to share their stories, we are saying you matter, you are seen, we want to hear you, you and your experiences are not only welcome but valued. And when we not only invite children to share their stories but expect them to, we are showing those children that they belong here, that their words have power, that their ideas matter.

VIDEO

I want to share a quick video with you of 3-year-old Stella telling her story to her teacher one day at Story Workshop. Pay attention to the expressions on Stella’s face as she realizes her teacher is reading her own words back to her.  

Video: Stella shares her story

 Reflection questions for your journal:

  • As you watch Stella and her teacher, what emotions does this evoke for you?  What do you think that Stella and her teacher are learning?  How does this video relate to your thinking about the fundamentals of literacy?
  • Think of a time when someone asked you to share a story.  What conditions supported you?  What did you want from the experience?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The Storytelling Animal (book) and (TED Talk) by Jonathan Gotschall 

Minds Made for Stories by Thomas Newkirk

The Danger of a Single Story (TED Talk) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Opal School blog posts: Launching Story Workshop, Story Workshop-Beginning in Beginning School, and The Power of Story

Course Discussion