Telling Stories

There are people a lot smarter than me talking about digital storytelling. There are people doing crazy, imaginative things using hundreds of different tools. There are also people more passionate than I am about digital storytelling.  I could tell you about how I have my students brainstorm, storyboard and create stories on some digital tool (I worry that would be a boring story though). There is a lot I don’t know about how to create a story. And like I said, other people do it better than me. But what I have been thinking about recently is why we need to teach storytelling. And so that’s the story I will tell here.

There are anthropological reasons we tell stories:

Anthropologists find evidence of folktales everywhere in ancient cultures, written in Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Sumerian. People in societies of all types weave narratives, from oral storytellers in hunter-gatherer tribes to the millions of writers churning out books, television shows and movies…Anthropologists note that storytelling could have also persisted in human culture because it promotes social cohesion among groups and serves as a valuable method to pass on knowledge to future generation.  Scientific American, The Secrets of Storytelling

There are economic reasons we tell stories:

 …a test audience responded more positively to advertisements in narrative form as compared with straightforward ads that encouraged viewers to think about the arguments for a product…. Studies such as these suggest people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set. A 2007 study by marketing researcher Jennifer Edson Escalas of Vanderbilt University

Perhaps why we tell stories could be summarized in a tidy diagram (though I doubt it):

For more on this see Pinker’s article “Toward a Consilient Study of Literature”).

We tell stories because we are complicated living organisms:

…What really hits people is the story because it’s not an intellectual thing and it’s not just a scream.  It’s not pure emotion; it’s a melding of those two things, which is where we exist as human beings.  We’re not thought machines, we’re not screaming machines, we are thought/feeling machines, if we’re machines at all, let’s pretend we’re not.  We are thought/feeling entities. Margaret Atwood

There are hundreds of reasons why we tell stories. To increase verbal skills. To develop imagination. To propagate the species. To instruct.  To attempt to make sense of the universe. To share. To help children go to sleep. To distract. To build community. To enforce morals. To connect. To teach.

I’ve been thinking a lot of stories as we passed the anniversary of 3/11.* As someone who studied history because she loves stories, I strongly believe that we tell stories to remember. There have been so many stories shared of the event a year ago because we cannot forgot what happened. My story of the event would start with a tweet and a blogpost. Others have created beautiful art, that may not be a narrative but still helps us remember. Others have created films, trying to capture the emotions of people and the power of nature. Articles have been written. Books have been created. I think for many of us, we couldn’t stop telling these stories if we wanted to. All of these stories will make sure that 3/11 is not forgotten. And the story is still be written in so many ways.

Storytelling is something essential to our existence and helping students tell their stories is our privilege. We teach them the tools so when they want to tell their own story, they are ready. We need to make sure that their stories and their voices are not lost. How they tell their stories matters less than the fact that their stories are told.

And so I leave you with one of my favorite stories right now, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. This narrative arc, from the power of the tsunami to the gentle sway of a sakura, helped me understand this place where I live in this strange time. And once you watch this, there is no longer a need to explain why we tell stories.

*It feels a bit funny to be incorporating the triple disaster of March 11th into this post. But it’s been on the forefront of my mind this week and if I’m really telling my story on this blog, then I’ve got to include it. 

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
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1 Response to Telling Stories

  1. I love thinking about the evolution of storytelling. I’ve had so many conversations with people who say things like “we’ll never get rid of the book”. I disagree, I think we’ll never get rid of storytelling. The format has changed many times, over long periods of time, and will continue to do so in ways that we can’t imagine, but the concept has and will remain. You describe that evolution beautifully here.

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