Sharing Stories is More Important Than Ever - Especially During the Pandemic

With so many schools still using remote learning or a blended learning model, kids (and their families) often feel more isolated and alone. One way to help kids feel more connected with their teachers and classmates is to help them share their personal stories about their experiences during the pandemic and the ways their lives have changed (in some cases dramatically).

Sharing stories, whether remotely over Zoom or in a physical classroom setting, can have a profound impact on kids, not only on their sense of personal well-being but also on their academic proficiency. In fact, there is a growing body of research that supports the efficacy of using the age-old tradition of storytelling and its potential impact on learning readiness.

This positive impact has been validated by research scientists like Howard Gardner who developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences at the Harvard University School of Education and neuroscientists like Dr. John Hutton who used MRI studies at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

In the resource book, Teaching With Story: Classroom Connections to Storytelling, award-winning author and popular storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald, along with co-authors Jennifer MacDonald Whitman and Nathaniel Whitman, point out that a number of studies affirm the value of sharing and telling stories in classrooms. They organized their book into the 7 C’s (Community, Character, Communication, Curriculum, Cultural Connections, Creativity and Confidence) focusing on how to apply storytelling to significantly improve a child’s learning experience. They even included a chapter that highlights specific research that supports the value of integrating storytelling in the classroom.

Another contributor to this growing body of research is Kendall Haven, a West Point graduate, respected researcher and master storyteller. In his book, Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, Kendall documents cognitive research that shows how our brains are hardwired for story structure and engagement with stories. He followed up the success of his first book with Story Smart where he offers additional research that highlights the power of sharing stories to inspire, influence and teach.

Erik Jensen’s book,Teaching with the Brain in Mind documents how memories are stored in different locations in the brain and the critical role that oral narratives play in connecting content with our emotions. The research suggests that when a child actively listens to a story, he or she forms critical context that increases the personal connections with the elements of the story. As a result, these emotional connections can increase a child’s ability to remember important facts.

In another study by Susan Trostle and Sandy Jean Hicks, published in Reading Improvement, the authors found that stories can have a powerful impact on comprehension and vocabulary – two of the essential skills that the National Reading Panel (NRP) recommends for strengthening a child’s core reading skills.

Sharing stories and personal experiences not only has a positive impact on our ability to feel connected and feel less isolated, the research also confirms that sharing stories can enhance a child’s academic performance. Whether it’s exploring life lessons through the lens of timeless stories from the oral tradition or finding common ground with other people after hearing stories about changes to their lives, sharing stories definitely helps make learning more meaningful and more effective.

During this period when so many families are struggling and feeling more isolated, it’s helpful to know that quantitative research supports incorporating time for sharing stories to help bridge these connections.

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