If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen.
– John Steinbeck
My colleague Andy Morley and I spent some of yesterday afternoon trying to persuade our colleagues that one way to enhance students’ understanding of lectures is to set the context by telling stories. (Andy, by the way, is much better at remembering and telling anecdotes than I am. This would be a good skill to learn.)
We recently conducted a survey of colleagues, asking – among other things – about how they write and construct lecture slides. Our results suggest that while many staff think that the structure of a lecture (that is, the order in which information is given) is very important, a significant proportion (around a quarter) think it very unimportant.
Stucture is important! Without structure, there is no story. If I tell you that Little Red Riding Hood arrived at her Grandmother’s house and narrowly escaped being eaten by a wolf, but only much later do I add that this wolf had previously eaten the grandmother (who in turn had previously eaten a chicken, which had … yeah, okay), you’re not really getting the full picture, and as a result, you’re unlikely to remember much of what I said. Here are some great experiments that explain why understanding context is so critical if we are to remember anything about the experience. Now apply those to learning: we’d be crazy not to tell stories about the context of the material we teach – right?
I bet every one of our first-year psychology students could tell you what happened to Phineas Gage, even if they can’t always articulate what this tells us about the brain. What people remember afterwards is the stories. So make them good ones!