The Transference of Consciousness through Storytelling

by Tang Taminga


‘What is truer than the truth? A story!’- Jewish saying


For the past fifteen years, storytelling has been the mainstay of my teaching practice. I enjoy it and the children love it too. When I started I made big books without words. Each book usually had eight simple drawings, with which I could tell the story. When I found that the children had sufficient language skills I would reduce the visual cues, and use simpler props made out of paper. This saved me my preparation time.


Throughout all these years I have tried to understand why children (and adults) love stories so much. Here I offer a small part of my reflections.


We think in Stories


One reason is that stories are the natural way of how our brain works to understand reality. In fact even scientists see science as a form of storytelling, of interpreting some aspects of our environment. Stories are also how we explain things to ourselves and integrate the feedback we get from the different parts of our brains: the feeling, the thinking, the impulsive part. Stories help us maintain our sense of self. Anthropologists believe that as Homo sapiens developed tools, made fire they also learned to think in stories as a means to deal with the increasing complexity of their lives. Stories keep us sane. But there is more!


Stories and Community


Stories not only integrate individuals, but communities as well. A group’s coherence develops because we share the same stories (culture/ history). In a class room setting, stories create community by entraining the storyteller’s and the listeners’ brains. Neuro-science research on the impact of storytelling found that storytellers and listeners have the same areas of their brains light up at the same times. There is a transference of consciousness going on and this continues for some time after the story. The dictum ‘I think, so I am’ becomes ‘We think – so we are.’ The shared journey of experiencing a story well told brings people together. But there is more!


Storytelling and Learning


Facts learned in the context of stories are retained better than through any other means, according to research, the reason being that there is a much deeper emotional involvement. In an experiment three classes got the same story: one class got to read it, a second class watched a video of the story and a third class was told the story in a dramatic and lively way. After a month, the children were asked about the story. The first group had totally forgotten about the contents of the story. The group that had watched the video could recall all the details very clearly, but the third group remembered all the details plus was emotionally expressive, opinionated about the contents and characters.


For this reason, storytelling is not a waste of time, or a form of entertainment, it should be considered the one way to get kids to love to learn. But there is more!


Storytelling Builds Logical Thinking Skills


Research shows that children who in their formative years got to hear many stories had better math skills than those kids who were brought up without stories. Stories develop not only logical thinking skills, but also a love for literature and writing. In addition the listening abilities of children brought up with stories are far superior than of those brought up on mainly TV. In my experience, storytelling is probably the one neglected item in educational reform that gets the least attention while it is possibly the most effective game changer of all ideas offered! But there is still more!


Storytelling is Magical


The final and for me most convincing argument of the benefits of storytelling in the classroom is that it is so magical. Stories take a piece of daily reality and transform it into a world of fantasy and dreams where we learn to discover its beauty and sweetness. Stories help us see our deepest humanity through the emotions of empathy. Storytelling for both the storyteller and the listener can be a journey to awakening. That Isak Dinesen said “You are stories.” should alert us to the value and importance of storytelling especially in the Neohumanist tradition. Without stories we can’t build our children’s character and vision. Not only that, we would lose our own! And that’s the end of this story!


The NHE community in Taiwan has organized a six month storytelling training program for English teachers in two locations: Taichung and Taipei, with over 60 teachers attending the monthly workshops. In these programs we share stories and make props so that the teachers can return to their work with new tools for touching their students’ hearts. As the course is approaching its end, they requested to continue these monthly programs. As part of the workshop they also learn kids yoga and QTE (Quiet Time).