Monday, January 03, 2005

Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning

Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning. Do you tell stories in class? Perhaps you should. There are many techniques for teaching adult learners that use story telling. It would be easy to adapt many of this ideas for library instruction and information literacy lessons.

From the site:

Narrative and stories in education have been the focus of increasing attention in recent years. The idea of narrative is fertile ground for adult educators who know intuitively the value of stories in teaching and learning. Narrative is deeply appealing and richly satisfying to the human soul, with an allure that transcends cultures, centuries, ideologies, and academic disciplines. In connection with adult education, narrative can be understood as an orientation that carries with it implications for both method and content. This Digest presents a brief overview of a narrative orientation to teaching and learning and then explores how stories and autobiographical writing promote learning.


A beginning point for a discussion of narrative and story in adult education is an understanding of narrative as a broad orientation grounded in the premise that narrative is a fundamental structure of human meaning making (Bruner 1986, 2002; Polkinghorne 1988, 1996). The events and actions of one's life are understood and experienced as fitting into narrative episodes or stories. Accordingly, identity formation and development can be understood in terms of narrative structure and process. In this view, "the self is given content, is delineated and embodied, primarily in narrative constructions or stories" (Kerby 1991,p. 1). The narrative metaphor as applied to adult development (e.g., Cohler 1982; Hermans 1997; Rossiter 1999) sees developmental change as experienced through the ongoing construction and reconstruction of the life narrative. As Kenyon and Randall (1997) comment, "To be a person is to have a story. More than that, it is to be a story" (p. 1).

Given the centrality of narrative in the human experience, we can begin to appreciate the power of stories in teaching and learning. We can also see that the application of a narrative perspective to education involves much more than storytelling in the classroom. Such an application necessarily leads to an experience-based, constructivist pedagogy. The basic "narrative proposal" for education holds that the "frames of meaning within which learning occurs are constructions that grow out of our impulse to emplot or thematize our lives" (Hopkins 1994, p.10). Therefore, the most effective way to reach learners with educational messages is in and through these narrative constructions. Learners connect new knowledge with lived experience and weave it into existing narratives of meaning.

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