This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

As we walk through our Five Guiding Principles of Educational Storytelling we stroll past Hero Audience BondingWe have already discussed how creating characters that are Identifiable, Empathetic, Believable, and Complex will help the audience learn vicariously. Up ahead, we can see the final principles concerning learning style, craft, and interactivity. Today we tackle the second principle and discover the role emotion plays in educational stories.

Dr. Eric Jensen is a leader in the field of Brain Based Learning which seeks to use research to create environments and techniques that are conducive to teaching and learning. It makes sense, right? The brain is an incredibly complex organism that processes information consciously and subconsciously at incredible speeds. The system is so complex that any number of factors alter how well we learn. For instance, we all know that repetition is important in learning, but the reason it is so important is because, as you repeat, the brain literally, physically reinforces the pathways that store that knowledge, keeping the information more readily available longer.

One of the central ideas in brain-based learning research is that external factors alter the brains ability to process and store information. Things like temperature, stress, social positioning, and glucose levels have huge impacts on the learning process. One of the most important variables is emotion.

That shouldn’t come as any surprise. Why do you think you can remember the joke your grandfather told you twenty years ago but not what you had for breakfast yesterday? The emotion attached to the joke information created a stronger impression and a more lasting bond than the fleeting, unemotional breakfast.

To quote TalkingPage.org:

Emotions are critical to patterning.

In the brain you can’t separate out emotion from cognition. It is an interacting web of factors. Everything has some emotion to it. In fact, many brain researchers now believe there is no memory without emotion. Emotions are what motivate us to learn, to create. They are in our moods. They are our passion. They are a part of who we are as human beings. We need to understand more about them and accept them.

The other thing that is important in terms of the emotions is that we support each other. We are social creatures. We need each other, and we need social activities. When students in the class are more interested in what Johnny is doing tonight or what Mary is wearing, they are acting out of their social nature.

Not only does emotion play a role in motivation, it also has a role in cementing memories. This is partly because emotional memories (positive and negative) tend to be recalled more often and are, therefore, cemented more strongly.

Some Key Thoughts on Emotion and Memory

  • Emotionally charged events are remembered better
  • Pleasant emotions are usually remembered better than unpleasant ones
  • Positive memories contain more contextual details (which in turn, helps memory)
  • Strong emotion can impair memory for less emotional events and information experienced at the same time
  • It’s the emotional arousal, not the importance of the information, that helps memory
  • From The Role of Emotion in Memory

I won’t go any further into this at the moment, but here are some great sites and articles to provide a foundation for emotion and learning:

Emotion in Storytelling

Stories create emotions, especially when we are engaged in the story, as we are through Hero Audience Bonding (see how these are all connected?). The advantage storytellers have in their stories is the ability to choose which emotions are being aroused an any given time. As a storyteller, there are times you want the audience to be scared, happy, sad, and the like.

I must admit the specifics of this technique are still being discovered, and is the current focus of my research. I (and others) are attempting to decipher which emotions are best at aiding with type of memory. As my research produces more findings, I will share them with you.

However, for now, it is enough to know that positive emotions cement vicarious learning very well. But, for there to be positive emotions, there must be negative emotion to contrast it with. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to explore the full gamut of human feelings while telling educational stories. Of course, it should be age-appropriate.

There will be more concerning this principle in the near future.

Now that we have briefly discussed the content of a story (emotion, hero’s journey, bonding, etc), we will take a look at how that story is told through our last three principles:

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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