STORYTELLING is the way we learn naturally; it conveys emotions as well as information.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re being crammed with facts and information only a certain amount tends to stick in your brain and the rest just disappears into some type of informational overload ether? However when you’re told a story with the facts in context, more information is actually retained. This could easily be attributed to the fact that just like with our emotions, human brains are “hard wired” for stories.
Even before the evolution of language and words, humankind found that the best way to pass on information was through stories. The early “caveman or cavewoman” would communicate their stories with sound, movements and gestures. Then deep into the night in front of the light of the fire (of course, this was after fire was brought down from the heavens by an avatar) early storytellers would emotionally convey exciting stories of the big hunt or other significant adventures of the clan. In this fashion information was passed on, taught if you would, to the next generation.
With the advent of the spoken word, (or at least grunts and growls that everyone agreed upon their meanings) stories were often developed and used to explain why things are the way they are (pour quoi stories.)
But even after the development of rock art, cave drawings, and the written language oral storytelling was still the primary conveyance of information, history and entertainments. Many of our classic pieces of literature originated from the ageless art form of oral storytelling. Classic works such as “The Iliad and the Odyssey”, “Beowulf”, “Cinderella” and most world mythologies and even certain books of the Bible (the list is endless); all had their genesis in oral storytelling. Stories were told to convey a lesson, to teach, to educate.
Storytelling can be an incredible teaching tool. In the classroom, the role of storytelling can go far beyond the acquisition of literature. I believe this is due to the additional emotional content that can be delivered through a story. Information that is then even more thoroughly retained, because the input of facts is received on an emotional as well as an intellectual level , this allows for the new information to be stored in a much deeper part of the memory within the human brain. Because of this often overlooked fact, I feel that oral storytelling should be considered one of the better ways to educate and teach information. It can be used in all aspects of learning if applied properly.
Telling stories, reading and writing all work together to better communicate the lesson. By weaving storytelling into the curriculum, Educators can tap into a deep need in the human spirit, to receive information through stories and emotion.
I hold up as an example, my own experience as a musical theater performer. Over the years when presented with a large challenging role with much dialogue and numerous solos, I have always found that no matter what the length or complexity of the song (i.e. the 12 minute long “Soliloquy” of Billy Bigelow from “Carousel”) that the songs are easier to recall, even years later, primarily because they were learned, taught, with a higher level of emotionality and thus were reposited and stored in an even deeper portion of the brain, a better form of long term memory.
Try it for yourself. Think back to your early school years, try to remember a song you may have learned or even heard a few times, you’ll most likely be surprised at how much of the song you actually do remember. Now think back, how many of your teachers names can you recall? I bet it’s not many or at least not as easy to bring to mind. The imprint of emotionality has caused the song to become seated deeper in your memory, deeper learning. I imagine more people can recall the words to “Margaretville” than can recall the date of the signing of the “Magna Carta”.
In essences historic facts or other educational materials inserted into a good story can potentially result in students retaining more information because of a deeper emotionally based memory connection. The story also opens up a golden opportunity for the encouragement of further reading and research. I always encourage students to open a book and open their minds.
Due to this neurological emotional imprinting, storytelling can be a powerful classroom addition. It supports speaking and listening skills, motivates reading and writing, stimulates the imagination and develops and enhances students response to literature, history, social studies and many other components of the curriculum.
Storytelling in the educational setting is arguably one of the most effective teaching tool we have. Stories can teach, reinforce and introduce curriculum in the most logical and creative fashion imaginable. Almost any subject matter can be presented or introduced in story form.
Storytelling can also entice students to strive for greater academic achievement. As a storyteller I have been hired on numerous occasions as an incentive to encourage students to read in state wide completion such as the "Battle of the Books" and as a reward for those who have succeeded in reaching academic excellence, reading goals or other successful educational hallmarks.
Storytelling strengthens the imagination. To imagine is to envision and to see beyond what is readily apparent. The ability to imagine and envision is the proven basis of all creativity and creativity creates the power of problem solving in many different occupations, learning modalities and life situations.
By the way the “Magna Carta” was signed in 1297.
(posted to storyteller.net 9/2008)