Storytelling is not the way

Storytelling is a method of transmission of information, usually in a chronological order, used by people through generations, both in text and images. Humanity uses storytelling to give orders, give explanations, entertain and perhaps most importantly – raise children. For hundreds of years, before the creation of the Guttenberg’s printing press, people have been sharing stories: the first ever book and story to be printed on the printing press is the Latin translation of the Bible.

In the Narrative Science, by Daniel Willingham, he describes how usage of narrative structure to explain the discoveries of Galileo or Marie Curie. According to the extract, students’ comprehension and memory for the information was increased when the same information was presented in a form of a narrative story. He explains it by arguing that science is narrative by nature:

Science lends itself naturally to narrative structure–authors can tell the stories of individual scientists, their struggles, their discoveries, and so on.

While the experiment may have shown the positive effect of storytelling in the education sector, the information transmitted was two pieces of writing, which effectively makes usage of language. Other documents examined try to express information narratively in image format, for example the “electricity explained” image makes an attempt to explain a physical concept (Ohm’s law) by visualizing the 3 properties of the Ohm’s law: Resistance, Current and Voltage in a story, making use of visionary sensors: eyes. One document combined usage of language with an image. All of them combine existing “Ways of Knowing”, such as language or sense perception, or emotion which some stories might create, but not represent any new way of knowing at its foundation.

Reading Mr. Eric MacKnight’s paper on storytelling, he makes a point about people thinking in metaphors:

We cannot think without using metaphors, and the moment we use a metaphor we have begun to tell a story.

While some studies show that metaphorical thinking might be the way humans think, the left/right brain theory suggests that different people think differently, using two halves of their brains. At least 40% people think in images, using their imagination to analyze and predict data, and 60% think in word and language, or mixed with images. The nature of human brain is a mystery to be discovered, but it is a fact that some people have more trouble or success when dealing with a mathematical science, such as Physics, or with human sciences, such as history. These two sciences are different in their core, and so is the type of data they return. For example, explaining historical events in a narrative style would be helpful and effective, because human history is a story, but not describing mathematical models in Physics: going back to the “Ohm’s law” image, while the image represents the base of the concept in the simplest and most understandable way possible, it neglects the scientific depth behind the topic which might reflect negatively on the resultant information understood by the students.

In conclusion, while storytelling might be a better way for some students to learn and analyze knowledge, it mixes the existing ways of knowing such as language, sense perception and emotions, but essentially does not introduce a new way and thus cannot be considered a Way of Knowing by itself. It also might not be as effective for some students who prefer different types of information, or even deform the concepts that the students must learn.

Sources: Page on Metaphores, by Steve Rathje; Article on Laterization of brain function

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