Storytelling the Curriculum

I’ve just finished running some training with a cluster of schools exploring inquiry based learning and the key to the whole work involves a narrative arc. It’s the same stuff that schools do except it is held together by a story, a narrative which offers tension, conflict, problem seeking and problem solving as well as plenty of room for co construction to happen. It is also held together, importantly, by a different language which, though very challenging in practice can be summed up by the statement ‘Don’t ask questions you know the answer to’!

When schools plan a ‘creative curriculum’ they often choose a theme and then plan the project work. Fine but often this is presented as separate tasks. On the Monday we make a pirate ship. On the Tuesday we write a letter as a Captain of a ship. On Wednesday we add the amount of some gold and silver coins etc etc. This is all very well and good but wheres the relevance? what’s the point? why will these children engage? what will hook them in and keep them motivated to learn? why should they care? why should I care?

Think about the difference between this type of work and one that is tied together with a story. A story say where a Captain of a ship is transporting his treasure of ‘cloth’ across the sea for example. They design the ship they will be going on, measure it, make it and name it. This is our ship that we will sail on, this is our ship we work on, this is the ship where our adventure will take place! They prepare to pack the ship listing and detailing the supplies we will need (historically accurate of course), they will create the accounts for the ship relating to the supplies we need, adding and subtracting. Then we set sail but before we do we write a letter to our loved ones for we will be gone a long time. What will we say, what will we tell them because our work is dangerous, the sea is a dangerous place and we cannot guarantee our safe return. Perhaps there are pirates waiting for us….

Its the same stuff, the same tasks, the same learning objectives but its wrapped tightly in a story. The use of the narrative arc gives it meaning, gives it purpose and demands an investment from the children that, in my experience, they are always willing to give. The difference in this approach is the investment you get from the children and the rich learning experience that can be offered. We may stop for a moment to understand how a letter is structured but then return with these skills back in to the fictional world we have created to apply them purposefully and passionately.

We shouldn’t ‘deliver’ the curriculum. We should ‘story seek and story tell’ it!


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