As a kid, I hated history class. I loved to read, I loved to solve problems, I hated to memorize. And, while I know I had some great history teachers, I always felt like I had to memorize too much.
Except in the 7th grade when Ms. Gautier (Go-chay) was my history teacher.
Ms. Gautier recently passed away, still teaching history to lucky kids in my home town. When I heard the news, I spent some time reflecting on why I enjoyed her so much as a teacher and why I was so sad that she was gone. I realized that it was because she made history come alive. We weren’t focused on memorizing dates and figures, but on learning and telling stories.
Almost every student who had her class remembers one assignment in particular – we were each assigned a “year” from We Didn’t Start the Fire and had to learn about and tell the stories of the headlines for that year. I was given 1951 – Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom, Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”. I still remember the H-bomb pinata I made for the class. Most of us who had her class still know all of those lyrics. But most importantly, we all know the stories behind the lyrics.
I know now, as an adult, that history is full of really great and amazing stories. But I think my experience is not uncommon. Often we, as learning professionals, focus on what facts are needed to pass tests and move to the next level. We forget that storytelling can be an extremely powerful way to help learners remember facts within context, or to infuse emotion into a classroom, or to help the audience understand another person’s point of view.
Over the next few weeks, I ‘ll be writing a series on storytelling, with a little help from some friends. I’ll write another short post this week on the types of stories we can use for learning. Then, you get to read some really great writing from two good friends of mine who are amazing storytellers, Melissa F. Miller and Jake Hinkson. I’ll write a final post with some tips on storytelling for learning.
A little about my future guest bloggers:
Melissa is in another profession where storytelling is important – she and her husband practice law at their firm in PA. She, naturally, writes a series of nail-biting legal thrillers that center around some kick @$$ women… I can’t wait for her next novel set to be released at the end of the month. Melissa’s debut novel won the 2012 National Fiction Writing Competition for Physicians and Lawyers and she is a USA Today bestselling author.
Jake is a storyteller of the southern variety. He hails from Arkansas and I could listen to Jake tell stories all day long. Jake knows more about film noir than anyone I have ever met – he’s literally a scholar on the stuff – and writes in that style of noir/pulp fiction. He has published a book and 2 novellas and is a prolific blogger/essayist/short story writer. Jake also holds private writing workshops online if you are interested in honing your storytelling skills.
I may also have some additional surprise guest bloggers so stay tuned!