Track 3: Innovative Teaching Strategies; 45-minute presentation
International College Teaching and Learning Conference, April 2005

The Jaguar and Chicken Little: Teaching Using Stories by Dr. Selia Karsten

Increasingly we instruct using computer technology.  Here's an old fashioned and very effective teaching strategy.  Storytelling grabs students' attention!  Come hear stories used effectively in three courses: How to be a Successful Student; Effective Business Presentations; Career Launching and Portfolios. In this session, expect to build story resources and spark teaching ideas for using stories in your classes.

Most of my classes are conducted in computer labs, online or at the very least, in electronic classrooms. I need to capture students' attention and help them learn. Harking back to ancient times when tales of the hunt dominated cave communications - this session underscores the power of stories. The transferable skills gained in my first, second and fifth semester marketing courses could fit into any college program -  I've found nifty story solutions for each.

Stories that help with Connecting or Disconnecting

Stories that help us connect with students and promote bonding are those where we use story to hook the learner, engaging them in such a way that they can see the teacher as an ally or collaborator in their learning journey. Stories that are disconnecting stories are those that help us close the gaps and win back attention when a chasm has opened up separating us from our learners.

The stories we use may be true life experiences (our own or stories where we know the characters in the story) or we can use stories from the universal collection - folk tales, myths, legends, urban legends, anecdotes, nursery rhymes, new stories, children's stories, fairy tales, ghost stories. Song lyric stories, historical tidbits, biographical sketches, movie treatments.

Activities around stories can be pocket stories, surprise bag stories, postcard stories, cartoons needing captions and stories, taped stories, continuing stories, pass the ball of yarn stories, nature object stories. Stories that change over time. Stories from other languages. Number stories. Geography stories. Name your subject, topic, theme stories. Music or painting stories. Skits. Tableaus.

Three Courses in the School of  Marketing and eBusiness at Seneca College 2004-05

How to Be a Successful Student
In this course, I cover topics like time management, setting goals, taking notes, conducting research, taking exams, relationships, fitness, decision-making, money-management, etc. engagingly.  The major challenge is to cover topics that will help students to be better more effective learners during their college career and hopefully develop into life long learners. They come thinking they already know how to do everything but quickly discover there is much room for improvement. It's important to make the class sessions fun and engaging in order to get students to attend regularly and participate for an hour and three quarters each week. I use two stories that work well to get across effective listening, observing, note-taking, and passing a quiz. The first story is one that has a lot of concepts unfamiliar to students related to college programs and graduate study at the university. The second story is the Jaguar adventure. The Jaguar story wows them!  They are given a chance to review any notes they have taken then they take a short quiz covering the two talks. This leads us to a discussion of the different types of lectures and stories teachers tell and how to decide what is important to remember and note to review for future tests.

Effective Business Presentations
This course has students on their feet in front of an audience six times during the semester.  Storytelling activities with these novice presenters go a long way to helping them make breakthroughs in public speaking both as a team member and individually.  I lead off with the jaguar story and it easily gets the attention of the students. We have a productive discussion about the various elements that they believe made the story a good one and what techniques I used as a storyteller that might work for a presenter.  I also build a simple power point version of the jaguar story to demonstrate how easy it is to build a visual aid for presenting. Here's one Power Point version of the Jaguar Story.

In small groups, the students tell stories to each other. One of the activities is to have each small group of storytellers choose one of the stories. Then two members of the group get up in front of the class and tell the same story with great conviction. The class has to guess whose story it really belongs to and why they think so based on the storyteller's techniques. Once you have tried one of the activities suggested in the session, you'll likely think of many more ways in which you can use storytelling activities in your classes.

Career Launching and Portfolios
By fifth semester, students should have had a lot of experience in working as part of a team and in presenting. They are about to need it as they go out into the working world to present themselves to potential employers. Going beyond the usual polishing of job search skills, students learn what has actually happened to a variety of marketing graduates. Each team identifies, selects, interviews and documents the working life of a marketing graduate. Relevant artifacts are used to build an electronically enhanced portrait or profile for presentation in class. What students learn is reflected as they build their own professional portfolios and eportfolios. Coursework is monitored in weekly forty-five minute meetings; career centre workshops and online discussion postings in BlackBoard.

At one point, several weeks into the semester, a few students with a "been there, done that" attitude began to think they didn't need the course and furthermore began to panic about all of the workload for the semester. Panic set in and students wanted to opt out of my course because they had too many other "really important things to do.  I created a little slide show called CAP506 made Easy and sent it to each student by e-mail.  When they came to class (45 minutes) I put the slide show up on the screen and reviewed it. Chicken Little saved the day. I brought up the Chicken Little sites I found and reminded them of this children's story.  Quite a few students recognized the story from their childhood. We talked about how important it is not to get overly dramatic about the stresses of their workload.  I suggested making a chart that would show them each class and all of their projects with due dates for the rest of the weeks in the semester.  This way they could get a realistic view of what they had to do and when.

More Story Resources
I continue to explore ways to use stories in teaching and learning. I have created The Goldilocks Solution site with two lesson pages based on children's stories - Goldilocks (plagiarism) and Brementown Musicians (teamwork). You'll also find a link to a table full of fairy tales that could be the basis for more ideas to use in your curriculum. Please have a look and if you can add to this way of working, I hope you will email me and give suggestions for other ways of using stories and other resources on the Web. Thanks, Selia

March 2005
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