Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

Image for post
Image for post

To thrive in the 21st (and 22nd) Century, students will need to solve many “grand challenges” ranging from global climate change to local food security. Turning these complex topics into effective learning experiences is daunting at best. How can educators design units and courses that make content accessible and relevant–while also meeting standards?

Creative Change has developed a method that uses the concept of story as a powerful metaphor for designing instruction. In this approach (which we call “Inquiry as Narrative”), learning unfolds as a story about real world issues. In the narrative, learners (and other stakeholders) are characters, communities are the setting, and interdisciplinary topics form multiple plot lines. Learners move through the story through a process of engagement, inquiry, decision-making, and action. Through this process, students discover what’s at stake and gain the skills to become “authors” of positive solutions.

Here’s how an upper elementary unit on food and health might unfold:

Stage 1: The story begins

Opening lessons situate learners in the plot and setting. Sample lessons:

The writing, discussion, and speaking and listening skills developed in these activities meet multiple Common Core standards. (Assessment strategies are not detailed here).

Stage 2: The plot thickens

Students are now ready to dive deeper into the scientific, economic, and geographic “subplots” of the food system. Examples:

Stages 3 and 4) The Climax and the Positive Ending (decision-making and action)

With a deeper understanding of the food system and its implications, students are at the crossroad and must now consider possible “endings.” Students evaluate strategies to improve access to healthy food, and/or assess policies and their impacts. For example, students might make plans for a school garden or investigate if local zoning codes prohibit community gardens. In communities where food options are limited to gas stations or “party stores,” students could work with shop owners to identify ways to offer healthier foods.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Originally published at on January 29, 2016.

Written by

The future is a story yet to be written. Where is education leading us? Susan is shifting the narrative towards social justice & sustainability.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store