Stories create experiences… they open the door to the possibility of understanding a new way
When I was very small I used to listen to my grandmother’s stories with wonder. When she spoke, I saw what she meant – so now when I remember her stories, I have to check my memory to see if there was really a picture book, or just her words. I used to imagine in black and white because all the old movies were mostly black and white.
In India, we’ve always listened to stories, it’s how we pass down what we know, how we share how we see the world, and now with the organization I work with, how we learn.
From the mythological narration of facts of life in Bhagwad Gita by Lord Krishna to Arjun, or my grandmother telling me stories, to the stories our children listen to and watch on TV, on iPads and in cinemas.
But it’s still the story that is ‘told’ that is ‘just words’ floating, with a voice, that allows us to imagine. Sometimes I think we learn much more when we are not given the images, but rather from words, we create our own.
So let’s say you are trying to teach children a new idea or concept, what works best the storytelling format or the story-reading approach?
I did some research. Global research says that storytelling is an abstract form of presenting information which induces creativity of thought while a story with painted, drawn pictures and characters painted provides a concrete understanding of how the characters and their cultures interact.
Story telling is like a magician holding the pulse of the audience with his magic tricks. The storyteller holds the stage and audience by the manipulated twists, turns, expressions and pauses in his stories. All of this combined with hand and body movements capture the attention of the listeners. The audience’s gaze is glued to storyteller yet they are transported to the other world that of story.
Therefore, we realize that telling a story in a specific way is crucial to the understanding of the story. While delivering beautifully designed story books to children to learn entrepreneurial skills, we now want to focus on strengthening of storytelling by teachers. In the workshop for orienting teachers to the program we shall innovate activities through which we facilitate our teachers to become storytellers and our children to learn skills through stories.
So what’s the power of a story?
It’s when everyone comes to school, even those who technically are not enrolled. Surendra Prasad is the headmaster of Nand High School in Sagouli (A semi urban town on the borders of East and West Champaran districts in Bihar). Every Saturday he reads one of our stories. And everyone comes. Every child who is supposed to be in school is there. Even kids who have dropped out come to listen. Women pause to listen while grazing their cattle in the fields and men who are doing new construction in the school come to sit in the classroom.
“I’m sure it has an impact on all of them. They never get any books to read. Many of them cannot actually read. This is a way of getting to know about things which they never knew even existed. The stories are powerful and teach crucial skills for life,” he explained, pausing for a moment.
“On one Saturday, a man who has the contract for construction in our school, sat down to listen to the story I was telling. He listened to the entire story and later came to me. He said to me that the story was amazing and inspiring. We were reading the Bijli brings Carnival to her village that day. As we talked, I suggested to him that if he expands his social network and set up his offices in three different places, then he will be more accessible to people, also he can appoint local people to expand the size of their team. That day a 35 year old became my student”, says Surendra Prasad, and the builder did just that, and came back to thank Surendra for the insight into a skill through story.