Teachers as Storytellers

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Effective teachers are accomplished storytellers.  I will never forget as an undergraduate, it being a requirement to take an acting class.  At the time, I just didn’t understand what a teacher in training could possibly gain from writing a screenplay as well as acting in one.  It wasn’t until I got my first job that it made sense and 16 years into my education career, I am still refining these skills and have a deeper appreciation for them.

Teachers are professional storytellers and crafting great lessons isn’t too far removed from writing a screenplay.   The 21st century mixed media environment in which we all live allows for lesson planning without limitations – the world is our platform!  Storytelling woven into pedagogy combined with multiple media platforms allows for a deeper proliferation of knowledge and allows us to reach all of our learners like never before.  Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at University of Virginia, shares on his blog a new study, which suggests "putting to-be-learned material in a story format improves learning outcomes”.    

As more and more schools become multiplatform districts, we need to focus less on new, ‘cool’ tools and more on the techniques in which we apply these applications.  Our technology choices should be dictated by the story we are trying to tell, creating an immersive learning landscape that will grip all of our learners.   I have written at length about the profound implications of the transmedia story, Inanimate Alice, however, I would like to highlight another transmedia educational property that was just brought to my attention called Zombie-Based Learning.  What jumped out at me immediately about this project was that it is standards-based while also leveraging the power of storytelling, which is something I wrote about in a piece for the Huffington Post. The creator of this project, David Hunter believes that students can learn important educational concepts through the 'lens of their interests'. He has taken this approach in developing this Geography curriculum for middle school, taught through the scenario of a Zombie Apocalypse.  As David has demonstrated, incorporating story across the curriculum is a way to interest students deeply in their learning and is one of the most powerful tools we as educators have in our toolset.   Perhaps in delivering content in this way, we too will be teaching our learners to be storytellers and empower them to voice their own narratives.