Category Archives: Storytelling

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.”

  • Stories are about people.
  • Let your characters speak for themselves.
  • Audiences bore easily.
  • Stories stir up emotions.
  • Stories don’t tell: they show.
  • Stories have at least one “moment of truth.”
  • 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.

Reflections on Learning Part I: Memories from the Early Years

I can play the moments back in my head like a movie. But it’s more than that. I can see images, but there are also sounds, smells and textures. Even the sense of touch plays a role when conjuring the memories of how I have experienced learning throughout my life.

I have always loved learning. From the early days of kindergarten, moving amongst the Montessori-influenced “stations” to my decision in grad school to write a dissertation rather than sit for an exam, I can see myself in those situations. Like those crazy Facebook compilations that tell you about the year you had, these images tell the story of learning that has helped to form the thinker I am today.

The Rituals of School

It was not only the specific lessons, but the entire experience of preparing for and attending school that I recall so well. Some of you may remember covering your textbooks with paper from grocery bags. It was a ritual we engaged in. And there were those rubber straps we used to hold our books together. Remembering getting snapped by those when you tried to cram too many books together with a single strap? Like trying to contain my enthusiasm for what was yet to come.

I attended a public school only several blocks away from the apartment where I was raised. Each year the walk seemed shorter, but for the first few years, it appeared a substantial distance from home. We walked in groups led by one parent or another from our building. How brave I felt to walk that distance on my own for the first time!

Learning Journeys

My recollections of early learning also include those hours spent at the public library, starting with story hour, and as I began to read on my own, selecting and reading parts of the books I would bring home that day. With my growing independence came the privilege of walking to the library on my own and the freedom to make my own choices as well. The books were the impetus for these journeys, and those walks across town became learning experiences of their own.

Learning How to Fail

While I always looked forward to the start of the school year, not all my memories are fond. Like most, I faced challenges in some areas and suffered several public embarrassments along the way. There was the time I had to use a piece of chalk and string to draw a perfect circle on the blackboard and was brought to tears when I failed. Several times. I’ve since learned to use failure to my advantage, but I’m not sure that I saw the benefits back then.

Becoming Conscious about Learning

I don’t recall discussing learning much back then, except when the teachers in our city went on strike and groups of families banded together to form ad hoc study groups to keep us occupied during the time away from school. But even then, it was a matter of logistics and somewhat an adventure. It was quite a social experience, sitting with a group of 5-6 friends at someone’s dining room trying to focus on the lesson at hand.

Some memories are puzzling, like the one where on a field trip to a nature preserve, my sixth grade teacher lit a cigarette to ward off the swarms of mosquitos that plagued us in the wilds of Long Island. We stuck close to him, inhaling the seemingly protective vapors as we trudged through the unfamiliar wetlands. I can still smell the smoke and see the reflection of my fellow city dwellers in Mr. Klein’s Ray Bans. He seemed hip and heroic. We learned that mosquitoes don’t like cigarette smoke. We learned that Mr. Klein smoked.

Other memories provide their share of humor, such as the time while on a fire drill, my third grade teacher warned us “Not a peep out of you all!” and I unfortunately, literally, “peeped.” I never got into trouble before, but there was something in that challenge that got to me. Upon returning to the classroom, I was placed in the corner and remained there for the rest of the hour. I never “peeped” after that, but I am still somewhat outspoken. And I do love new challenges.

For many of us, the memories of learning remain fixed in the interactions between ourselves and teachers, classmates and others at the school. But where does all that early learning go and what remains of it once we enter the workforce and strive to contribute in meaningful ways?

We’ll pick up on this in our next segment. But for now, please share your own reflections of learning in the comments section below. Do you have a seminal memory from your early years in school? How did those days shape the thinker you are today?

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on partnering for impactful learning design. Click here to participate in our State of the State in Education Survey introduced in last week’s blog. The survey will remain open until January 9th.

Is Storytelling a Part of Your Learning Design?

Once Upon a TimeAboard a recent flight from New York to San Francisco, I watched the new United Airlines safety video. Yes, I watched it because it was not only a smooth piece of marketing for the airline, but it was also an improved means of teaching or reminding passengers about airline safety. The video was a well-crafted piece of storytelling and held my interest as I heard each of the characters tell their part of the story. Storytelling has proved its value as a teaching tool time and time again, but just how much of a place does storytelling have in today’s learning culture? How do we define storytelling nowadays? How do we adapt best practices to meet the needs of the millennial learner-employee?

Use of Expert Stories

Expert stories are used in a number of ways in the development of training and performance support content.

  • An expert story might provide the basis for the learning design, as a foundation from which objectives are extrapolated and around which the training content is presented. This is frequently the way most training design begins. Sometimes this is referred to as the “brain dump” in situations where the expert shares what s/he knows and the learning designer “takes it from there,” building a learning design around those objectives in a series of presentational screens or PowerPoint slides. Interactivity may be introduced at varying levels to make the experience more engaging.
  • In other situations, an expert story may become a part of the training itself, either in the form of video clips integrated within the learning design itself, or as the main component of a course or learning module, around which activities such as assessments and discussions may be designed.
  • “The expert clip” (those video clips of varying lengths) can also be included as part of a more extensive knowledge base, tagged and categorized as appropriate for maximum findability to be accessed by learners and employees on an as-needed basis in order to complete training or on-the-job tasks.

Immersive Stories (aka “Scenarios”)

All of the above examples use stories to illustrate effective decisions made and lessons learned. There is a more learner-centric use of stories, and that is the participation of your learners in the story in order to actually practice effective decision-making, perhaps fail, and receive remediation and feedback as part of the skills-building process.

While “illustrative storytelling” can support learners and employees engaged in specific tasks, it’s the “immersive storytelling” that is going to place them within a task for the sole purpose of actually simulating the doing of that task in a safe environment. And while immersed in that practice task, your virtual characters are still going to need the support of an expert to guide them safely to goal.

So it’s not an either-or situation but rather a matter of how safe and appropriate it is to let your learners loose on the specific tasks at hand.

Storytelling in an Organizational Context

Storytelling has immense value across today’s educational continuum, and it can play a role anywhere within the mix of learning appropriate to your specific audience. Stories have their place in PK-12, higher education and the workplace, whether discussing “moral tales” or case studies. In the corporate arena, stories can play a role not only in training and performance support, but also as a leadership tool for multiple purposes. Stephen Denning wrote on this in a great piece called “Telling Tales” in the Harvard Business Review, May 2004. It still has value today. Denning talks about how a carefully chosen story can help the leader of an organization translate an abstract concept into a meaningful mandate for employees and lays out the different types of storytelling for different audiences and purposes. According to Denning, stories can:

  • Spark action
  • Communicate who you are
  • Transmit Values
  • Foster collaboration
  • Tame the grapevine
  • Share Knowledge (intellectual capital)
  • Lead people into the future

Storytelling in a 70:20:10 World

Today everyone can be an expert and contribute their stories to the knowledge base whether as part of small group interactions in the classroom, online discussions as part of a synchronous learning experience, or within the workplace in the form of content shared within a company portal.

The trick here is in the monitoring of the conversations, the curating of the content and the appropriate form of storytelling at the right point in time. The mix is changing on a regular basis. With today’s growing acceptance of blended learning within PK-12, for example, students are getting more opportunities to engage in online learning experiences, including some scenario-based gaming applications rejiggered for the school environment. (Minecraft)

When we consider today’s learners and our audience within the workplace, we know we need to provide learning content in appealing doses and formats.  While a talking head may not be enough to sustain a 10-week college course, it might be just the right thing for a salesperson looking for quick advice on how to meet a specific type of customer objection, for example. And if that salesperson is a new hire, it might just be appropriate to immerse him in a 30-minute scenario where he can practice meeting different objections and fail safely within the confines of the learning experience.

Stories come in many different formats and serve different purposes. What they all have in common is that they can play an integral role in increasing understanding and driving performance across the educational continuum.

Stay tuned for more stories from Designs2Learn. And if you’d like to see more about that new airline safety video, Forbes has a nice piece on it, including the video itself here.