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Becoming Michelangelo

Q: “What do you and Michelangelo have in common?”

A:  Michelangelo said, “I am still learning.”

By Regi Carpenter (Introduction by Judith Ross-Bernstein)

Regi Carpenter is a professional storyteller and teaches two sections of storytelling every semester at Ithaca College. At the Center for Faculty Excellence, faculty are both enchanted and inspired by Regi’s programs. Storytelling situates listeners and tellers alongside one another, positioning us together on a path as learners.

“Story has many uses in education. Story can capture the holistic and lived experience of the subject being taught, it can tap into imagination, emotions and form new and meaningful connections between existing areas of knowledge. Stories can work in the mind of students in the way that traditional lectures do not. It may sometimes be a vehicle to facilitate learning rather to impart knowledge and is a valuable tool for the enhancement of reflective learning. “ (Moon, 2008)

Below is a short vignette from Regi’s work with IC students…

Taking center stage in the classroom I project authority and confidence as I give the students the prospectus of our time together.

“Rather than a text heavy class with a great deal of lecturing I teach Storytelling as a Modern Communicative Art in the workshop format. The focus of our time together will include watching storytellers from other cultures and writing short reflective responses on the power and influence of these artists.” I continue. “We will also be reading a great deal of stories in order to understand and recreate story structure and meaning.” They’re still with me! No glassy eyes yet. Then I drop the bombshell. “And oh by the way, each of you will tell three stories of varying lengths and genres throughout the class, engage in peer support and feedback and we will be doing a public performance downtown at the end of the semester.”

I watch the blood drain from their faces and their pupils dilate. One of them mumbles, “I would rather throw myself under a bus.” Perhaps this quote: “College is fun as long as you don’t die,” (Ohba, 2006) is applicable here.

RegiAnd then we get down to business. I tell them a personal story about growing up on the St. Lawrence River in northern New York. They find out how I got the scar under my chin at six years old. They know I was the only one to get stitches for my scar instead of my father’s usual duct tape remedy. They learn my mother is a warm but distant maternal presence for me. They find out that my father took us on crazy Sunday drives to the town dump so my mother could get a little time to herself. I am telling them my story, my experiences, my beliefs and my imaginings. What I am actually doing however is introducing them to the power of stories to connect us to one another, to communicate our rich cultural and personal identity, and to draw us into an enriching shared experience that will mark our time together. “

After the story I ask two important questions that will guide us throughout the semester “what did you notice?” and “what do you wonder?” Socrates knew that wisdom begins in wonder, and I am asking them now to engage fully in their wonderings about life, truth, relationships, morality and something greater than themselves. I am also using these simple questions to assess what they need to know as well as what they are capable of doing and when. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines wonder as “to have interest in knowing or learning something: to think about something with curiosity.” In order to tell a story well we have to reawaken our curiosity in both our tangible and imaginary worlds. Finding a way to engage with and express the imagination as if it is tangible is what storytellers do. Oddly enough, our first task is to learn to listen.

“Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you for thirty seconds,” I give them my first set of instructions. The room quiets and in half a minute students calm and become aware of their surroundings. We listen to the sounds around us and then the sounds and memories within us. We also listen for the sensory details that accompany and enliven our memories. We listen to one another speak and finally, we listen to the texts of other people, races, cultures and times that seek to express the human experience. As we listen we seek the language that will create a picture in the listener’s mind. Stories, like music and dance exist only in the moment of their expression. Stories live in the mind of the teller who utilizes image driven language, gesture, physical and facial expressions to incite the story in the listener mind. What I have to teach is really quite simple. There are only a few ingredients to the story stew. What each individual student makes from those ingredients is up to their intrinsic motivation. The desire to excel is not something I can teach them nor is it something I should teach them. John Gardner, the American educator said, “The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his education.”

Slowly throughout the semester we turn into a class of people who learn to trust our individual and collective memories, creativity, expressions, impressions and judgment. Here is what one student had to say in her final reflection paper about her storytelling experience:

I was extremely nervous-to the point where I had pseudo-panic attacks…but by the final performance I was not nervous or shaking. I learned the true value of storytelling. It’s about expressing yourself and your emotions to engage … and trust…

Storytelling, teaching and learning are all about engaging in something larger than oneself, exploring something other than oneself and expressing something of oneself.

Resources

Fowler, J. (2006). The Use of Experiential Learning in Nurse Education, Unpublished PhD Thesis, De Montfort University.

John W. Gardner. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved March 25, 2015, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/john_w_gardner.html
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/citation/quotes/authors/j/john_w_gardner.html#Wg4KoyLBxv6CQXmH.99

Moon, J. (2004). A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning. Routledge Falmer, London.

Moon, J. (2006a). Learning Journals, Second ed. Routledge, Falmer, London.

Moon, J. (2008). There is a Story to Be Told…A framework for the Conception of Story in Higher Education and Professional Development. Nurse Education Today, (28), 232-239.

Ohba, T. (2006). Death Note, Vol. 4: Love.

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