The Power of Stories

I have recently been reading (and re-reading) some interviews I conducted with former teacher education students at the University of Virginia. The purpose of the interviews was to ask each person, who also happens to be in his or her first year of teaching, which aspects of their educational technology coursework they are using now that they are full-time teachers. The information obtained from these interviews has been fascinating, but what is even more amazing is how much they remember from the Digital Storytelling project we did. Most of these teachers were in different sections of my class and made their digital stories about various (sometimes random) topics. Some of them did creative writing, while others told personal stories. Some of the movies were based on a topic from the school curriculum, while other themes will likely NEVER find their way into a textbook or unit of study.

I always made a big deal about these movies. I would put them all into one, long movie and added my own silly introduction and somewhat sentimental/inspiring conclusion. We brought in food and generally had a lot of fun watching everyone’s story. It was always a great way to end the semester.

As I was reading through one of the interview scripts, it dawned on me that I actually remembered the movie made by every participant in my study (n=8). So, as an experiment I went back and looked at every class list from every ed. tech. class I taught at UVa. Sure enough, I could recall what every single person’s movie was about, just from reading each name! Stories about fathers who immigrated from other countries, stories of working with special needs students, stories told from a dog’s perspective, stories about stuffed animals that wandered away from their class on a field trip and discovered the UVa Grounds in the process. Stories using scanned photographs, stories that were hand-drawn, stories using images from a memorable experience, stories with roommates posing as the characters in the story. I was amazed and was briefly lost in the symphony of stories washing over my memory. I remember pitching digital storytelling as a great activity to engage students in writing, but it’s now clear to me that the real power of stories was completely lost on me at the time. People connect, identify, place themselves in, and yes, even remember stories.

Has anyone else experienced this power in their own use of stories in the classroom?