Spotlight On: Stories open our eyes to the world

27 October 2023


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 27 October 2023.

Stories have always been an integral part of human communication and education. While we cannot underestimate the capacity of stories to entertain, they also serve as a powerful tool in conveying challenging ideas, emotions, and relevant issues. In the classroom, stories allow teachers to help students bridge the gap between what they know and what life is like outside their world. Using stories is not only important, but also a crucial aspect of effective education which allows students to grapple with complex issues, to build critical thinking skills and to take action to make our world a better place. Whether discussing social justice, environmental concerns, historical events, or scientific concepts, stories provide a compelling framework that connects learners to the subject matter in meaningful ways.

Stories have the unique capacity to engage us in an issue. They can transform distant or abstract ideas into something we can identify with. Unlike statistics and data, which may be hard to relate to, stories create an emotional response. However, stories have the ability to bridge that emotional gap. Through characters and narratives, students can connect on a personal level with the experience of others. This connection to a topic is vital in developing empathy and enabling students to reach a deeper understanding.

A notable example of this is the book, ‘Home and Away’, by John Marsden and Matt Ottley. This book poses the question of what would happen to a typical Australian family if war broke out and they were to become refugees needing to flee the country. Or ‘How to Bee’, by Bren MacDibble, which describes what a dystopian future might be like if there were no bees in the ecosystem. These stories bring to life the issues and make them more accessible for students to understand. Stories such as these help to support the Queenwood’s strategic vision of providing students with different perspectives of the world through a liberal education.

Real-world issues are rarely simple; they are often multifaceted and interwoven.  Learning about the realities of the world through stories also opens opportunities for discussions. Such discussions allow students to share their thoughts in relation to the text and their own experiences in a safe space where they are talking about and through the character and the circumstances, they find themselves in. These discussions become even more powerful when they are linked to factual content to build a stronger picture of the issue. 

An added bonus to using stories is the remarkable longevity they have in our memories. We all remember stories that we were told to us years ago, passed down from generation to generation, often teaching us a valuable lesson or what it was like in the ‘good old days’. Cognitive science supports the idea that when stories are employed in the teaching of contemporary issues, the lessons they carry are more likely to stay with students over time. The narratives become etched into their personal experiences, influencing their perceptions of the world and guiding their actions and decisions in the future.

At a time when addressing real-world issues is more crucial than ever, stories serve as a bridge that connects individuals to the challenges and opportunities of the world in which they live.