Transformative Learning and the Power of Storytelling

Transformative Learning and the Power of Storytelling

Linda Ellington (Southern New Hampshire University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6086-9.ch016

Abstract

Stories provoke learning, promote discovery, encourage exploration, fuel re-imagination, and help in subsequent learning. Storytelling is much more than just a strategy that engages or connects students to their learning; it helps evoke emotions and stimulate the intellect. Tools of transformative pedagogy cultivate the development for critical reflection and create a classroom experience that is particularly enriching and potentially, long term. The belief that storytelling is a necessary and beneficial art of our times has sparked a renaissance of transformative learning, which has room in the scholarship for fire-birds and microchips. This chapter explores transformative learning and the power of storytelling.
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Wired For Stories

Stories are how we are wired. Stories take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, presence and behavioral responses (Rutledge, 2011). The psychology of stories turns out that they actually alter our brains and can even change the way we think and act. It is one of the most unifying elements of mankind, central to human existence, taking place in every known culture in the world (Jones, 2017). When we hear a story, our brains change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts activated, but so are whatever areas that would be used if you were actually in the story yourself. For example, if someone tells us about how delicious certain foods are, our sensory cortex lights up. If it is about motion, our motor cortex gets active; a story can put your whole brain to work (Jones, 2017; Widrich, 2012).

Now all this is interesting. We know we can activate our brains better if we listen to stories. The still unanswered question is: Why is that? Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning? According to science research the simple answer is that we are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And, that is exactly how we think. Whenever we hear a story we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That is why metaphors work so well. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust (Gershon & Page, 2001; Schank, 1990, as cited in Mistry, 2017; Jones, 2017; Widrich. 2012). According to Weinschenk, (2014) we literally use more of our brain when listening to a story. And because we are having a richer brain event, we enjoy the experience more, we understand the information more deeply, and retain it longer.

Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont College discovered through his research of a neurochemical called oxytocin that:

  • If you develop tension in the story you will sustain attention.

  • If you sustain attention, then it is more likely that the people hearing the story will start to share the emotions of the main characters in the story.

  • If people share the emotions of the main characters, then they are likely to mimic the feelings and behaviors of the characters when the story is over.

  • Listening to a character story can cause oxytocin to be released.

  • If oxytocin is released, then it is more likely that people will trust the situation and the storyteller and more likely that they will take whatever action the storyteller asks them to take. (Weinschenk, 2014)

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