Engaging curriculum through Story Telling

Birddroppings March 26, 2020

Engaging curriculum through Story Telling


Sitting at my computer getting my thoughts together to reach out to my students and think about being a student with a dissertation defense ahead. So today a piece of my thoughts as I sit reviewing notes and setting up various programs to engage students through media and telecommunications. Engaging students is a key and I will grant spending the past eight months physically struggling with leg issues from my accident last July I enjoy not being interrupted as I spin a yarn on live feeds. Granted those not engaged can turn off but those listening and watching can hear the entire story.


Engaging students in their curriculum can be a challenge. Great educators have searched for the holy grail of learning and engagement for many years. Teachers’ and students’ needs, often run counter to each other in a learning environment (Glasser, 1998). Engagement of students can be as simple as getting students’ attention a unique thought and or finding something of interest to students. Educator and teacher, Andrea Turner uses the technology of Podcasts to spread her ideas on education. I happened upon one while sitting in at the doctor’s office looking up storytelling on the Internet. She started her Podcast, The Power of Storytelling in Teaching, with these words, “Tell me a fact I will learn. Tell me a truth I will believe. Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. This idea of a story taking residence in permanent memory is attributed to a Native American Proverb in multiple sources of research (M.T. Garret, 1996).


Walking into a classroom, the teacher is partly a distributor of information and partly a catalyst for the learning to come and a special part, an entertainer. Over my years of teaching, I have found there is significant power in the story as a teaching tool. Storytelling provides a window into strengthening learning and subsequent retention of that learning (Egan, 1986). Over the years as I taught students in college, high school, and even one of my favorite groups to work with, four-year-old children in early childhood development classes, storytelling has always met with success. As I develop this paper, my goal is to share the idea of storytelling as a method to engage students in the curriculum and to help teachers tell stories that can assist in giving context to the content. This idea is not a cure-all as many packaged educational tools claim, but a tool in a teacher’s toolbox that is very powerful when used appropriately and with other lines of learning (Egan, 2008). During the process of telling a story often we can begin with a classic line that evokes familiarity and helps children learn better using imagination over the more traditional, linear lessons (Egan, 1986; Egan, 2008).


Once upon a time in a land far away, approximately 739 ½ miles north of Georgia Southern University, on a cold All Saints day 70 years ago a baby was born. The baby’s father was on the Albright College football team playing as the baby was born. Of course, as in all good stories, they won their game and the dad received the game ball; after all, he was a new father. That must have been a fantastic first Father’s Day. Back in those days, fathers were not allowed in the hospital room with the mother and baby, so he watched from the door. Somewhere in my files, I have that photo of my dad standing at the door of that hospital room, I still have that game ball.


Thirteen years ago, I started in a cohort at Georgia Southern to begin my doctorial journey. My thoughts for a dissertation have been in an evolutionary state ever since, growing, developing, and for me becoming a daily learning experience. My wife tells me I am procrastinating, and I add I am simply along for the journey and the story keeps getting better. Obstacles have been placed in my way one after another. Some of my own making and others simply came into being. I would not change any of it however as each is a piece of this story. My original focus in my dissertation work, was around a teaching program started in Rabun County Georgia in 1966, Foxfire (Smith, 2018). There will be references and implications as I progress with this tale as the Foxfire Core Practices have had and are a direct influence on my story and my teaching (Smith, 2018).


In a more recent graduate class, it was suggested that I use the idea of teaching as improvisational art (He, Review of paper, 2017). During that class to get back up to speed, after a seven-year hiatus and a couple of grandbabies, I had the privilege to work with Dr. He and Dr. Schubert who encouraged me to consider this idea. As I looked at the rationale for my dissertation, I realized my own teaching is often improvisational, (He, Schultz, & Schubert, 2015) taking a student’s interest and or question and building into our lesson, that teachable moment. I found myself literally building a story with the student and the class. I have often said, I would generally write lesson plans after the fact. However, next time I teach that topic in my plans I have included that event and reflections. My teaching often becomes a tapestry of stories woven into the lesson and with the students in the class. Each class brings new and unique pieces to the weaving of the tapestry. It pulls ideas and flows through the class using the student’s interactions and interests to build on.


I have had the goal of eventually teaching new teachers to be, in a college setting to inspire and energize young teachers of the future. Education students should be encouraged to look towards the ideas of imagination and storytelling to provide their students with the engagement of the curriculum. As I thought one morning about the idea of an education class, the teaching of storytelling would be excellent. So often new teachers come in excited and then become overwhelmed by paperwork and the administrators putting a teacher into a specific box and categorizing which seems to always occur. To teach in an improvisational manner, building and telling a story it is not simply walking in and teaching whatever content is provided. It is preparing and knowing the subject and or content and being able to follow the flow of the individuals within that class and add to the story (cite?). I have nearly fifty years of teaching stories to borrow from along with events and learning experiences that have made me the teacher I am (Schubert, 1999).


We live in a reality that is nonfiction while we live it. We choose what it is to be and then the story becomes fiction after the fact. I have found that I tend to embellish my nonfiction as the months and years go by. So many things come into play to effectively implement Story Telling such as imagination and creativity as spelled out by so many great educators (cite). We are pulling pieces of our experiences together and forming our reality (Schubert, 1999). During the processing, we are essentially living a fictional story. In a discussion with my son, also a teacher, he left me with this thought:


“From a historical standpoint, you do something significant that’s worth being told and retold from one generation to the next. From a biological standpoint, genes are immortal and are passed from one generation to the next. Your DNA tells a story.” (F. Bird, 2018)


As I thought more about the discussion with my son, his words highlighted an important piece of the puzzle in learning because if students find significance in what is being expressed to them, they will learn and engage. Good teachers can also learn how to develop relationships with students to know if the material is significant as a tool. For example, in a recent zoology project, foam swim floats cut into six-inch pieces became models of sponges in his class (Bird, 2018). which provided a great learning experience where content became context (Dewey, 2004).  So as I sit here in semi-isolation, my wife when home from her medical practice and my oldest son comes by to attend to various creatures and his dog I wish peace to all and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and today keep those friends who may need extra support close at hand and always give thanks namaste.


My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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