by Abby Wills, MA
Every person has a story.
In our stories live countless lessons and possibilities for learning. Stories are living bridges between our past and future; our ancestors and our descendants.
The act of telling our stories opens the way for us to shape them. As we see our own experiences reflected through the listening eyes and ears of others, we gain new perspectives. Likewise, when we listen to another person share their story, we become mirrors reflecting back to them an understanding, a validation, or perhaps another angle, or question. During the exchange of stories, both teller and listener are affected.
The exchange of personal stories has been utilized as a tool for learning throughout history, and has a current presence in diverse learning environments.
I came to value story sharing during my studies at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena where I was required to write stories from my early years and other stages of my own life cycle. Rather than sending me to research the works of theorists right away, my professors first asked me to reflect on my life experience. This allowed me to locate myself in the theoretical information I would subsequently engage with.
The Human Development curriculum at Pacific Oaks introduced me to educators masterful in utilizing students’ stories as the “stuff of learning.”
“Education is not a preparation for life itself. Education is life itself.” John Dewey
The oft-quoted words of Dewey point to the essence of storytelling in education. Our stories are our lives. Our lives themselves contain the context through which we will learn best. In Dewey’s style of democratic education, the story is written in real time and is a shared experience of discovery. In this sense, each students experience enters the learning environment as vital content.
Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, utilized peoples lived experiences to help them learn to read, thereby empowering them with the tools to vote. Inviting someone to share their story provokes agency in that person. Bringing students personal stories alive in the classroom means that we make a space for learners to enter into the learning as subjects.
As our stories are told and heard, they come alive. In telling our stories, we gain a new view of our lives. Listening to other peoples stories reveals just how interconnected our paths really are. The context of my hardships may be very different from yours, yet we have all overcome many obstacles to be able to share our stories today.