On with the Story: Adolescents Learning Through Narrative
Teachers everywhere can bring their disciplines alive by telling stories to illustrate, clarify, and exemplify. A Physics teacher uses the story of the Billy Goats Gruff to illustrate the behavior of electrons; another teacher tells a personal story to model a particular behavior or to establish rapport with a class; a student shares a poem about his aunt's death from cancer, building community in the classroom as students connect his narrative with stories of their own memories.
Although almost all teachers understand the educational power of stories, the instinct that prompts teachers to tell stories and listen to stories from students is blocked in the high school classroom. Why? Much of the blame goes to educational theory that demands analytical and argumentative thinking from everyone past the age of thirteen. A chemistry student is supposed to be able to formulate the results of his experiment into a proper lab report; a student of English literature is required to respond to a great book with a literary analysis paper. But adolescents who are trying to assimilate new information need to deal with it convergently, to integrate it into a wider spectrum of experience, including the senses and the emotions. These personal responses characteristically find voice first in informal, expressive writing or in narrative.
In On with the Story, Susan Wanner demonstrates how and why narrative is an extremely rich learning medium for adolescents. Allowing adolescents to look back and make sense of their experience, narrative also provides young adults with a forum in which to speculate about the future. She argues that to ignore students' narrative responses by requiring them to move straight to exposition, analysis, or argument is to deny the impact of the lesson on the learner. Taking us into her classroom, she shows us how students use narrative to convert passive learning into active communication in every discipline. Each chapter concludes with a successful classroom application the author has used, inviting readers to explore and experiment for themselves.
Adolescents, like all human beings, need stories to make sense of experience. Filled with the voices of teachers and students,On With the Story makes a compelling case for bringing stories out of the corridor and into the classroom.
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