Narrative in the Classroom

classroom with students

MLC class.jpg

Instructive article in the CHE that echoes the recent Reacting to the Past conference at UGA on pedagogy that connects students to history. Telling stories can help students learn, certainly:

But research by cognitive psychologist Roger Schank suggests that the long-term effects of narrative-based learning are more limited than it sometimes seems. We learn by hearing stories from others — like from a professor, say — mostly when the conditions are right: when the subject is something we know and care about, when our already-held convictions are not held too strongly, when the story surprises or frightens us.

Even better, Schank suggests, is for students to tell their own stories. Our brains may need certain conditions to be met before they allow an outsider’s stories to effect much change. But we love to hear ourselves talk, and telling ourselves stories is an important way we make sense of the world.

From more elaborate curricula to constructing their own stories, getting students to explore different methods of expressing what they know and how they understand the world unlocks even more powerful components of good teaching. This kind of creativity allows the students to play a role in their learning, and our faculty can take perhaps higher-order routes to instruction that are rich and rewarding for everyone in the classroom. Great to see this spotlight on teaching and the recent emphasis on our own campus leaning forward into the state of the art on the subject.

Image: UGA students in a Miller Learning Center classroom.