Working in schools I frequently hear comments like, “We don’t need to focus so much on narrative writing anymore.” or “We need to do more informational and argument writing.” And while it is true that we want our students to become stronger writers of informational and persuasive pieces of writing I believe the best way to do that is by learning to craft a powerful story.
“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”- Joseph Stalin
When we read informational texts that focus on a collection facts and dates we are not enlightened to the events, we are merely aware. When we read articles or opinion pages that toss out statistics to persuade us, we don’t empathize, we anesthetize. We can become overwhelmed and retreat to our current, comfortable stance.
Think about the news stories coming out of Syria with the statistics and facts of the civil war going on there. We cannot grasp the intensity or importance of the situation when we are inundated with numbers. But then we see the image of Omran Daqneesh-or as he is better known-the boy in the ambulance in Aleppo. People all over the world want to know his story. The crisis becomes real-the pain becomes comprehensible, the civil war becomes visible.
“Stories are about 22 times more memorable than facts alone.” -Jerome Bruner
This isn’t only true about tragedy and crisis. We can see this this when children read/witness the story of one caterpillar becoming a butterfly rather than reading an informational text about the stages. We see this with the classic School House Rock video I’m Just a Bill. that tells the story of how a bill becomes a law. We can read the congressional process in a text and recite the steps, but when we see the story of “Bill” we comprehend the process in a whole new way.
Think about how you come to learn anything, and you will probably find that a story helped you to conceptualize and internalize that information into meaningful understanding.
So before we decide we should spend less time teaching narrative writing in our schools, let’s consider how we could extend narrative writing into any and all modes of writing. Let’s expand our definition of narrative writing to move beyond personal narratives and creative short stories, to include narratives that illustrate concepts and positions that inform or persuade. Look at the news clips, magazine articles, and informational texts that surround us and you will see story at the heart of the best of these.
What’s On My Book Radar
Though not new (2013) I find myself revisiting this book often. This week I was working on a PD session for teachers on editing and found this sitting with my books on punctuation. And it is a helpful mentor text for that, but for so much more. Amy had a way of bringing story and meaning to life with the simplest of examples. I never thought I would empathize and care about a piece of punctuation- but Amy and Tom did just that. This book is a classic example of how the story of an exclamation mark can help readers understand the concept and purpose of an exclamation mark-(and it discovering our own purpose).