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Friday, November 11, 2011

Tell Me A Story

We often think of fiction when someone refers to a story. The term conjures up memories of myths, legends, and fables, or bed-time stories, or your uncle's long-winded tall tales he will share once again this Thanksgiving to a captive audience around the table.

However, story telling served as the primary means of transmitting information for the majority of the years that actually span the history of our civilization. When you examine our human time-line you will discover that written communication is a relatively recent concept, and shared widely among the populace only after Gutenberg created the printing press in 1450.

Written communication, in the form of an alphabet, was virtually absent among the varied groups of indigenous people of North America. Verbal narratives were used to pass morals, traditions, values, and beliefs from one generation to another and another and... Stories represented the strand that linked and sustained cultures. Look how long Aesop's fables were repeated and repeated before becoming enshrined in print and widely distributed.

It's interesting to note that despite the proliferation of technological forms of collecting, storing, retrieving and transferring information that threatens to almost eliminate personal exchanges of communication, story telling still matters. Here's an excerpt from Encouraging the Heart, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner that illustrates the point.

"Stanford University organizational sociologists Joanne Martin and Melanie Powers studied the impact of stories on students enrolled in a Masters of Business Administration program, an often numbers-driven, highly competitive, skeptical audience. Martin and Powers compared the persuasiveness of four methods of convincing the students that a particular company truly practiced a policy of avoiding layoffs. In one situation, Martin and Powers used only a story to persuade people. In the second, they presented statistical data that showed that the company had significantly less involuntary turnover than its competitors. In the third, they used the statistics and the story. In the fourth, they used a straightforward policy statement made by the executive of the company.
The students in the groups that were given only the story believed the claim about the policy more than any of the other groups and remembered it better several months later when tested." (p. 101)

Later, in the same book, the authors report that, "Research clearly demonstrates that information is more quickly and accurately remembered when it is first presented in the form of an example or story." (p. 102)

What's the point I wish to make in this Blog entry?

Even with the continuous introduction of incredibly sophisticated technology that delivers information at lightning speeds, and the tremendous pressure teachers face from ever increasing demands that compress the time they have to present information - story-telling still matters, regardless of the time required to convey the story, or the lack of flash and splash that might accompany the story. Let's not lose sight of this very important element of our culture and the abundant research that supports the use of story-telling.

That's the end of my story today.

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