1The Power of Storytellingin the ClassroomANANCIENTTOOL WITHENDURINGPOWERStorytelling is the oldest form of education. People around the world havealways told tales as a way of passing down their cultural beliefs, traditions,and history to future generations. Why? Stories are at the core of all thatmakes us human. As Barbara Hardy wrote, “We dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt,plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative”(1978, 13).We all have a story to tell and a drive to tell it. Robert Coles describes storyas “everyone’s rock-bottom capacity” (1989, 30). And Vivian Gussin Paley’swork with young children confirms that the need and the ability to tell sto-ries are innate:Amazingly, children are born knowing how to put every thought andfeeling into story form. If they worry about being lost, they becomethe parents who search . . . Even happiness has its plot and characters:“Pretend I’m the baby and you only love me and you don’t talk on thetelephone” (1990, 4).1
Stories are the way we store information in the brain. If teachers fill theirstudents’ brains with miscellaneous facts and data without any connection,the brain becomes like a catchall closet into which items are tossed andhopelessly lost. But stories help us to organize and remember information,and tie content together (Caine and Caine 1994, 121−122; Egan 1992, 11).Stories go straight to the heart. As the Irish poet and philosopher JamesStephens wrote, “The head does not hear anything until the heart has lis-tened. The heart knows today what the head will understand tomorrow”(1929, 128). Because class members and teachers are emotionally involvedwith and usually enjoy storytelling, it can help students develop a positiveattitude toward the learning process. It also produces a sense of joy in lan-guage and words that is so often missing in the classroom setting.Research backs up the idea that “even students with low motivation andweak academic skills are more likely to listen, read, write, and work hard inthe context of storytelling” (U.S. Department of Education, 1986, 23). Anypoint that is made in a telling or any teaching that is done afterward is like-ly to be much more effective. Sixth grade teacher Sharon Gibson says:Many teachers think that storytelling will take away from class time,but it doesn’t. Storytelling is part of your lesson, and makes the actu-al lesson much more powerful. By about the third time that I start mysixth grade class by saying “I’m going to tell you a story,” they’ll settledown and listen—and I’ve got their attention for the whole period,long after the story ends. Even not particularly dedicated students willremember the stories and at the end of the year they are still referringto them (1990).