Considering … what stories tell us about ourselves

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by gogoloopie

This week’s assignment for the DS106 Headless Course is to brainstorm our ideas about storytelling, and how the “digital” element impacts our understanding of what a story is and how those stories get composed.

We are asked:

“What do you associate with the word storytelling? Before you do anything this week, use this as an opportunity to put down in words what your current concept is. There is no right or wrong answer here- this is to set up your current concept of what story means.”

For me, stories are a frame in which we see the world and reflect upon things around us. Even if a story that I read (a novel, let’s say) is something outside of my field of experience, the story should still allow me to step back from the narrative and consider the world from another angle. I want to get into the head of a story. I also want to get into the heart of the story. When one or both of these are missing, I feel like I have gotten ripped off, you know? I go into a story blind but trusting. I trust that the writer will treat me with respect and show me how to see the world in a different way. That doesn’t always mean a new way. Just different. Yes, I want to be entertained and engaged, but I want the characters and story to resonate long after I put down that book, or article, or turned the power off the e-reader.

Of course, this is all changing now. Technology is starting to chip away at the wall between writer and reader. Readers suddenly have more authority than ever to make comments, put pressure on favorite writers, create entire universes of fan fiction and more. Writers are no longer hermits with a typewriter. Their entire world is shifting with the digital. Suddenly, the possibilities of embedded media, of connected experiences, of fan sites and pressure from publishers is making what it means to write … different. (Which is not to say there are not plenty of pockets of resistance, and maybe there should be.)

I teach sixth graders and I work hard to keep a pulse on what they are reading. What stories matter to them? And how can I take what they value in modern-day storytelling and turn it around so that they are the writers — they are active participants in the writing experience of making sense of their lives and the world through stories.

What’s difficult, however, is the current push to the Common Core standards (for those non-teachers, sorry, this is going in a rant-like direction), the shift away from narrative writing has significant implications for young people making sense of their world through storytelling. Yes, good non-fiction is also good storytelling. But the natural curiosity that most children have begins with a story. Letting that curiosity go to meet new teaching standards is at the heart of many discussions I have with teachers.

Of course, we won’t let narrative go. This puts us in conflict with the top-down standards-based structure, but so be it. Stories have to live and grow, and the classroom is the perfect place to plant those seeds in a way that may only be clear years down the road.

Peace (in the story),


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