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Drawn to the light…

Last night I dragged my family to see The Moth–the theme of the night was “Fish Out of Water.” The host for the evening was Ophira Eisenberg, and she was sparkling funny.

So hearing stories: that’s what we want. All of us,  no matter our age, want this connection.

That is what is so tough when I am being observed and don’t point to a learning target in the middle of a conceptual anecdote that connects to a bigger idea. Students love stories. Observers often misconstrue the art of the story as “teacher talking too much.”

Ever notice how often students want us to continue with the story? They think that they are flattering us, and that they don’t have to do any real “work” if we’re talking, but in actuality that is often when the real learning is planted.

Cybele Abbett, Pam Flowers, Cole Kazdin, Adam Mansbach, and Vin Shambry were the storytellers. A violinist Luke Fitzpatrick played in between presenters. The stories we heard will stay with us. Pam Flowers spoke – a little 5′ woman who is as big as a mountain of spirit.  The audience gasped when she said she had to pull out her rifle to (possibly) shoot a polar bear. She clearly stated it was the polar bear or her dogs. The crowd in Seattle had a hard time understanding such a choice. To many of them, choosing between the organic brownies or the free-range fudge is the toughest thing they do. Okay that was snarky. Apologies. I fell in love with this woman. My husband said he would have been just as satisfied if he didn’t have to drive downtown and listened to the podcast. I disagree. Seeing her tiny frame and tell her story in her pragmatic, sweet voice, I felt the expanse of the tundra, felt the crunch of the shattering ice, and felt her love of her dogs.

There were five storytellers that night. They told stories of love, motorcycles, camp, homelessness, babies, and transgender children.

And the sound a polar bear makes when it’s about to attack.

Stories stay in our minds because they come through our soul: I learned more about dog sledding in ten minutes than I ever could have by simply reading the ‘instructions.’

The current recommendation of texts is 30% fiction and 70% non-fiction. What someone didn’t mention is that’s for 12th grade:

Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade in the 2009 NAEP Reading Framework

Grade Literary Information
4 50% 50%
8 45% 55%
12 30% 70%

(2008). Reading framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Well that night at the even we had a full serving of personal, “informational” narrative. Does memoir-esque storytelling have a genre? Does personal truth and factual supports count as informative text? Was it 100% informational since everyone’s story was true to them? I suppose so. Personally, I love personal narratives/informational text in all forms. But I also love a great ‘once upon a time’ moment too.

Well, regardless of the recommended daily dose of what a 12th grade student should or should not be reading, I am going to keep striving for purpose and integrity, and not worry whether or not it’s ‘good’ for me. Stories are inherently good.

 Update: This article relates to the topic of narrative and information synthesizing to make greater meaning: ‘Could Storytelling Be the Secret Sauce to STEM Education?’

“I’m a narrative learner,” said Fruchter. “I nail down concepts by aligning them to stories or making up stories about them,” he said.

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