We continue to reflect on the role of stories today with an examination of the stories that surround us every day. At the end of her post, follow Katie’s tips on bringing stories to the forefront of your teaching. And then tell us on Twitter: What is your story today?
Investing in Stories
Katie Egan Cunningham
These days it seems like every industry is talking about the power of stories. Want your advertisement’s message to stick? Tell a story. Want your shareholders to keep investing? Tell a story. Want to bring in more customers? Tell a story.
In fact, if we want students to be college, career, and life ready, an investment in stories looks to be one of the most important investments we can make. Here are a few examples across industries that caught my attention.
In the December 2015 issue of Inc. magazine Thomas Goetz, CEO of Iodine, a digital health startup, says, “The story, it turns out, is the most important thing. It can’t just review what we’ve done; it must also excite the imagination about what the world will look like once we do more. It won’t be enough to present a plausible, worthy case for our future—our story must convince people that it’s worth millions of their dollars to see that future happen.”
At the online health hub HospitalityNet, consultants in the hospitality industry advise business leaders to use the structure of fiction to improve their forecasting and strategic thinking: “A good fictional storyline may seem like a whirlwind of characters and events, but for exactly that reason it can captivate and motivate an audience to grasp real issues and see different possibilities, all within a framework that everyone understands could plausibly evolve from the world as it actually exists today.”
The streets of New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood have a new retail store that changes the shopping experience—including the store’s layout and merchandise—every few months. The name of the store? Story. The driving idea is that the store is a place for discovery and maybe even reinvention. What is your story? What do you want it to be? Come in, look around, and find a new story for yourself.
Audible, the audiobook giant, advertises finding “stories that surround you.” Folding laundry? Surround yourself with a romance novel. Eating cereal? Surround yourself with the French Revolution. Sitting on the beach? Surround yourself with a noirish thriller.
Finally, the world’s biggest media brands now trust the “social media evangelists” at Storyful to “discover, verify, and acquire social media for their storytelling.” Businesses want to know which stories are worth telling.
All of this points to what, I believe, we as educators have always known—that humans are addicted to stories. That when we listen to someone else’s story we encourage a sense of belonging and make change possible. That stories are a pathway to connection.
As teachers, this gives us even more justification that time spent on powerful stories is time well spent. Here are some simple and joyful ways to keep stories at the forefront of your teaching:
- Make read-aloud a daily ritual, without exception. Create space for discussion before, during, and after reading.
- Vary the kinds of stories you share to highlight different perspectives and life experiences.
- Explore the structural elements of narratives as both readers and writers.
- Zoom in on craft techniques storywriters use to hook readers.
- Listen to songs and have students rewrite the lyrics as a narrative.
- View print and media advertisements, noticing how they tell stories to persuade their market.
- Listen to audiobooks as a class to “surround” yourselves in stories.
- Make it a year-long goal to build a classroom culture of story every day.
Where do you notice other industries spotlighting stories? How do you build a world of story in your classroom?
March 8th, 2016
We are excited to kick off this week with Katie Egan Cunningham, author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. We invite you to read her post below and then think about the role of stories in your classroom. What is your story today? Share with us here on the blog or on Twitter using this template and #Story.
Each Day Should Be a Story-Worthy Day
Katie Egan Cunningham
We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.
― Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Each morning I wake up to the human alarm clock that is the sound of my children’s feet climbing out of bed, letting me know it’s time to get up. Once my eyes are open, I grab my five-minute journal and jot down three thoughts about what would make today great, three things I am grateful for, and an affirmation of who I am. Before I close my eyes at night, I grab my journal once more to process the day—to remember three amazing things that happened that day and how I could have made the day better. This journaling ritual in my life began as a Valentine’s Day gift from my husband. Better than flowers or chocolate, he somehow knew that envisioning the story of my day before it happened and remembering storied moments at its end would be a simple way to bring me happiness every day. He was right. For a year now, I have been hooked.
When my children hop on the bus or walk through the doors of their schools, I envision their day, knowing that there will be story-worthy moments. I wonder what amazing things will happen to them. What stories will they hear that inspire them to be kind or to take new risks? What will friends say that make them laugh or make them cry? Will they bravely share an idea out loud? How will it be received? I know there will be Morning Meeting stories. Talking in the hallway stories. Monkey bars stories. Roaming in the library stacks stories. P.E. team-picking stories. Bus riding stories.
In my work with teachers and students, I’ve started to adopt the five-minute journal philosophy—that is, that envisioning and remembering the stories of our days in a few simple words and phrases is a way of building a story-worthy attitude about every day.
I also believe that, as teachers, we have the power to be story changers for our students. Every Monday, I work in an afterschool program supervising soon-to-be literacy specialists working with fourth and fifth graders. I tell my graduate students that their primary role is to learn as much as they can about the students’ stories—what matters most to them—and to use that information to drive their decisions as teachers.
One day, during the afterschool program, I read aloud The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli. With each turn of the page, children nodded their heads in agreement—oh yeah, lots of action makes the best stories. Plenty of humor makes the best stories. Stories that make people cry are actually the best. Rather than go along with the chorus of agreement, a boy named Andrew talked back to every page, letting us know he was resisting this particular story and maybe even the story of our time together. We needed to show Andrew that he had choice and challenge in our time together, and that what mattered to him was valuable to us. As the weeks went on, Andrew became the first student to arrive and the last one to leave. He stayed to work on his new comic book, to write about Yo-Kai Watch characters in their fantasy world, to talk to me about his soccer match and what he wanted to read next. His identity in the afterschool program changed from resistor to most passionate contributor. Andrew unknowingly convinced me each week that what we were doing together as readers, writers, and thinkers mattered, and that as teachers we have the power to change the narratives we tell ourselves about our students.
I am convinced that human connection is the pathway to knowing each other’s stories, so I decided to use heart mapping in my work with teachers last fall. Through the process of jotting and sharing, I learned that one teacher was battling throat cancer as she tearfully explained the cancer ribbon drawing she made on her map. I learned that I grew up in the same small New Jersey town as someone sitting across from me. I learned that other teachers also had two sons. Our relationships to one another changed. We came to know more of one another’s stories.
To help your students (and yourself) take note of the story that happens each day, try starting with these simple methods:
1. Take time at the start of the school day to jot down what would make today great.
2. Take time at the end of the school day to jot down three amazing things that happened and one thing you could have done to make the day better.
3. Build in time for students to share their interests through heart mapping, community mapping, and hopes and dreams mapping.
4. Provide time for partner talk, emphasizing the importance of listening as much as speaking.
5. Tap into students’ interests to support their book shopping—what connections do they have to characters, real-life figures, and settings?
6. Step back and observe your students, both in and out of the classroom. Notice and jot down the storied moments you see, and share them with students as fuel for their writing.
7. Share your own jottings about the story of your day.
8. Remind students that every day is a story-worthy day.
What are the stories you are grateful for each day in your classroom? When have you been a story changer in a student’s life? When have students changed your story?
March 7th, 2016
This is a wonderful book: generous in its ideas, rich in its examples, and humble in the simplicity of its approach.
This book will encourage teachers to restore the study of story to its rightful place in the curriculum.
Teaching reading and writing strategies is essential, but in Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning, Katie Egan Cunningham reminds us that when we bridge strategy with the power of story, we deepen literacy learning and foster authentic engagement.
This inspiring book shows you how to honor students’ identities and interests through story selection, expertly find stories from a wide variety of sources and genres, and incorporate the power of stories into your teaching of reading, writing, and classroom conversations.
You’ll get specific ways to build a classroom library that reflects our diverse society through rich, purposeful, and varied texts. The practical toolkit at the end of each chapter and annotated bibliography of texts, videos, songs, and websites will help you implement the book’s central ideas in your classroom.
Preview the entire book online now!
October 5th, 2015