In 1981, Roger Sperry receivedl The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1981 for his work in discovering the roles of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is now typical for us to blithely speak of an individual as being “right brained” – highly creative and artistic, or “left-brained”-more cognitively skilled. Of course, nothing is ever that black and white and our brains continue to amaze us as we delve more and more into the functions of various brains sections.
Schools began to develop programs to improve the left brain functions, believing that knowledge was power to our children and that the more we could push left brain activities of learning, the better our children would be educated. It was often left to parents, church, extended families and children themselves to develop right brain skills. Dance lessons, art lessons, music lessons, etc. have been the perogative of family to provide for children. As school budgets were stressed, the growth of programs aimed at left brain development dominated the school curriculum and increasingly artistic pursuits were regarded as extra-curricular to basic education and curriculums.
However, new research is beginning to shift that paradigm and the power of story and artistic pursuits are beginning to have new appreciation in both the classroom and educational curriculums. Yet with many school systems focused on test scores to increase funding artistic pursuits are still neglected in many schools. It’s difficult to get school systems to change with the pressure they are under to have higher and higher test scores to prove their worth.
Storytelling is one way that teachers can use both cognitive learning by giving students actual information, but it can also address those higher level thinking skills that use the right side of the brain in the imagination process. Teaching English has clearly been identified by all school systems as vital to a student’s cognitive development. But rote and boring paper curriculums are not always as successful as the schools would like. Using storytelling in their curriculum can contribute to the “knowledge, understanding, and skills of those who will make up the society of the future.” (outlined and quoted from The National Council of Teachers of English in 1982, in article by Vicky Crosson and Jay C. Stailey, Spinning Stories: An Introduction to Storytelling Skills.
What are some of the ways that storytelling can help teach English, reading and writing? According to Ms. Crosson and Mr. Stailey there are several. I have briefly summarized them below.
Storytelling encourages the study and enjoyment of literature, which allows students to see the importance of books as reflective of our human society with “shared motives, conflicts and values”.* Students begin to identify with fictional and historical characters as a means of learning to relate to other people in their lives. Students become aware of cultural themes and writers of great and familiar works. Students will gain an appreciation of the “rhythm and beauty of our language“*. As students learn about the stories of our culture, they will begin to develop reading habits to last their lifetimes.
Storytelling helps students in all types of communication as they learn to express ideas and concerns. They learn to adapt words to fit different audiences and situations as they begin to tell their own stories. The participate in both listening and talking activities, increasing their ability to work within small and large groups of peers. They begin to present their own ideas in clear argument that is convincing and fact based. They learn to use and interpret various forms of communication including spoken, timing, gestures, facial expressions and body language.
Hearing stories helps build valuable listening skills that will teach them attention to detail, focus and concentration on various tasks. Students will learn to hear a message and evaluate it in their own opinion.
Storytelling aids in reading development as students begin to approach reading in a desire to add to their learning. They stories they hear engage them to add more stories to their vocabulary. Students develop comprehension as they hear and then read stories. Storytelling offers the student a bridge between the spoken and the written word. They begin to make that connection between their own spoken words and their own ability to read and then write themselves.
Storytelling helps students learn to write honestly and clearly from their own spoken narrative. Stortyelling gives them ideas for expressing themselves and helps them format and arrange those ideas into written form. As they speak their written stories, they can see what works and revise-an important writing skill. And of course, storytelling encourages their own creative thought and imaginative expression.
And lastly, storytelling teaches creative thinking, which will eventually translate to the cognitive left side as students use creative thinking to problem solve any number of situations or scenarios. As problems are solved in stories, as creative ideas flow, students learn to observe, look and listen, and experience the “excitement of fresh perception”*
So whether you are a homeschool parent or a classroom teacher, don’t feel you are wasting time telling stories or encouraging storytelling as an activity in your classroom. Storytelling can serve your students well as it nurtures both the imaginative, creative right brain and the cognitive, analytical left brain, creating a whole brain student!