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Five Storytelling Tips to Help Save Education

Last night I participated in a Twitter chat about alternatives to formal schooling. The chat was hosted by the Catalyst Learning Network, a group that is working to help parents and kids who are unhappy in school to explore alternatives. We used the #StuVoice hashtag, for the student-led organization, Student Voice, that has spearheaded a global movement for strengthening the input that kids have in the ongoing conversation about educational reform.

Over the past two and a half years, Student Voice has worked to not only help students find their voice, but it has also engaged with educators, politicians, corporations and others in the conversation about how to improve education. The Catalyst Learning Network is in its infancy, but its founders have a history of outreach to students who seek alternatives to traditional schooling but struggle in their efforts to effect that change in their own lives. Hats off to both these organizations for their work to improve the quality of education both within and outside of traditional schooling. Both of these groups started out with kids telling their stories 140 characters at a time.

Reflecting on last night’s chat, I see a short list of tips we can apply to schooling to help families bridge the gap between our perceptions of what schooling is and what our kids actually experience each day.

What Makes a Great Story?

Let’s first take a look at what makes a great story so that we can step back and appreciate the value of storytelling and what we can borrow from it. This list is borrowed from “The Dragonfly Effect.”

  1. Stories are about people.

  2. Let your characters speak for themselves.

  3. Audiences bore easily.

  4. Stories stir up emotions.

  5. Stories don’t tell: they show.

  6. Stories have at least one “moment of truth.”

  7. Stories have a clear meaning.

We can see how everyone can benefit from a well-told story. But what does that have to do with saving education?

Why Empower Our Children to Become Storytellers?

In the spirit of flipping things all things educational, let’s flip some ideas around the value of storytelling in education and propose that we put the storytelling skills in the hands of your children. We do know that storytelling is a long-valued tool of learning, and will continue to be so, but we are now focusing on using some of the basic premises of storytelling at home to learn more from our kids.

  1. Let your kids be the storytellers. First and foremost, encourage your kids to tell their stories. Whether this comes in the form of straightforward reportage or embellished tales of heroism or defeat, let them star in their own story of the day. You can learn a lot from listening.

  2. Provide a platform for reflection. Whether it’s on the way home from school, at the dinner table, before bedtime, provide time in the day for your kids to talk about what they are experiencing in school. Create a culture of sharing these stories early on to make it easier to elicit this as school and everyday life gets more complex for your children.

  3. Be open to different media for storytelling. For kids who don’t like to talk or to write down their thoughts on their day, let them tell their stories through a drawing, a poem, a painting, a video, a song, or some other means.

  4. Encourage character development. Who are the people your kids interact with each day? Who influences their sense of self, and in what way? Whether its teachers, classmates, or others at school, get to know more about the players.

  5. Be an active and appreciative listener. Be prepared to ask questions to help flush out the details in your children’s’ stories, but let them drive the experience. Thank them for sharing when they are done.

Will These Stories Save Education?

The more dialogue we can promote between ourselves and this generation of learners, the better our approach to learning will be moving forward. It’s definitely part of the solution. Providing a forum for your child’s voice at home is a great way for you to learn more about the impact of the setting, the characters, and the plot that make up the everyday lives of our learners. It can also help build their own confidence in sharing these stories and in working through some of the challenges.

Thanks again to the Catalyst Learning Network and to Student Voices for the chat last night. I learned a lot from people sharing their stories.


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

Designs2Learn blogs were originally published on a separate site devoted solely to educational issues. 

With the release of the Rewriting Paradigms site, we' ported them over to their new home.

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