Make the Classroom Epic: Lectures into Stories3 min read

Storytelling is powerful.

A group of instructors in the United States Air Force realized this fact through their experience in the military. Military life is often steeped in storytelling, and is the means in which tradition, culture, and strategy are passed down. Stories are shared on journeys to-and-from missions, during leave time, and throughout the many hours of sitting and waiting for action on military bases. These instructors realized how much story played a role in the life of a soldier, and devised how to utilize it in training and preparation.

Methods were developed to deliver intense and complex content in the shape of stories. Rather than having soldiers learn just the theory of subjects like warfare or engineering, and how these subjects would apply in a real-life situation, the instructors created simulations with a story structure that the soldiers could interact with and be a part of. At the US Air Force Research Laboratory, researchers studied the patterns of stories, patterns their soldiers would be familiar with, and devised methods to convert the specific information that the soldiers needed to learn into patterns and scenarios that resonated with them.

Traditional lectures became stories.

When the concept of innovating school is discussed and written about, there is often this idea presented that traditional methods of teaching are completely outdated, and therefore ineffective. The solution presented by many is that the concept for traditional education needs to be blown up and replaced with a system that is radically different. No more rows. No more textbooks. And no more direct instruction.

Much of the current education system is outdated, and many of the methods of traditional teaching should be replaced or adapted to a 21st century model. However, there are aspects of modern education that are still highly effective and should be utilized in classrooms. Sometimes in the frustration of rising numbers of high school dropouts or reading Forbes articles about Finland continuing to beat America at the sport of making great schools, we forget those great teachers we once had who told lectures with flawless precision. Skilled orators who found a way to make boring content a little less mundane, and sometimes even interesting.

You might be that teacher.

The lecture does need to hop onto the conveyor belt that is delivering the industrial model of education into a garbage incinerator. Lectures, or direct instruction, is an art form utilized for thousands of years, from Socrates, to Jesus, to Albert Einstein. When done well and with precision, direct instruction is still the most effective way for students to learn specific content. The trick is, how do you do it well?

We have all had the teacher who could drone for hours at the front of the room, forcing thirty adolescents to drool puddles on their desks as they slip into a boredom-induced coma. Charlie Brown’s WA WA WA teacher was our teacher. We all laugh when Ben Stein calls out “Beuller, Beuller” because our names were called in the same tone of voice.

Chlorophyll. More like Borophyll.

Lectures need to be delivered in a way that the information sticks and knowledge is retained. And like the rest of epic learning, this comes down to engagement. For this engagement to be achieved with your students and for direct instruction to have a maximum impact, you have to consider the format of your lecture, how students might interact with it, and how your lesson is delivered.

This is where storytelling comes in. My next post will outline how to turn any lecture into a story.

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Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.