Monday, February 12, 2024

The Power of Story to Teach, Enrich and Transform

I want to draw attention to the power of story in this post by discussing my work shared in two separate articles over 10 years ago. In 2013 I wrote an article for the 'International Journal of the Book'. In it I discussed the power of literature not just to offer engaging stories, but to actually "Teach, Enrich and Transform" us. The article was inspired by the work of D.W. Harding (1937, p. 257) who suggested “reading, like daydreaming and gossiping is a means to offer or be offered symbolic representations of life”. I quoted Harding NOT to relegate reading, and specifically literature, to the status of any representation of lived experience (quite the contrary). I'll come back to this.

In the second article that I wrote in 2010, I pointed to the "...folly of Deconstructive Post-modernism, whose most extreme advocates argue that all texts are equal, that the TV advertisement, graffiti, the bumper sticker, the poem, a Twitter ‘tweet’, blog posts, a play and the newspaper editorial are all texts that can have equal value."  

Of course, all 'texts' have meaning and we can learn from them, but they are not "equivalent" or "equal" (but let's not get side-tracked)! Story has a special place. I'm going to share my thoughts in two posts on this topic I will argue that:


• The storybook still has an undiminished role to play in early literacy development even in the age of digital literacy.

• Literature has a value well beyond its important utilitarian function as an excellent vehicle for the learning of literacy.

• Reading is acquired in the context of relationships with other significant people.

• Literature has the power to teach, enrich and transform.

I believe that any "civilized society which relegates literature to just one possible means to know and communicate is making a significant mistake" (T.H. Cairney, ’The International Journal of the Book Volume 8, 2010). Why is this a mistake?

Let me share my first two reasons in this post (and two more in the next).

Reason 1 - Literature offers opportunities to reflect on life and see it in new ways

Just as I am affected by human tragedy in my world, I can also be affected by the tragedy of characters in books. In a sense, as we read stories we can 'live through' the events, and experience emotions like joy, success, loneliness, pain,  disappointment and sadness. As a reader we can ‘enter into’ the lives of others through literature and deepen our understanding of life. It can help us to reflect on and understand our lives. And of course, we must never lose sight of the special place literature or story has as a vehicle for learning about written language and the shaping of human character.

I have been motivated to write this paper by a growing concern that in our excitement to consider the possibilities of digital literacy of all kinds, we might just forget about the importance of narrative as a vehicle for learning about written language and the shaping of human character. 


Stories "...allow us to reflect on these and other experiences and come to a greater understanding of our world and ourselves. As well, literature can act both as mortar to build rich personal and textual histories, and as a bridge between our lives and the lives of others" (Cairney, 2010).


Reason 2 - The undiminished role of Story


Children today experience stories in varied forms. They have opportunities to engage in stories by reading, but also through television, radio, online games and a myriad of pictures, images, signs, advertising etc. More than ever, today's readers, are confronted by stories in new forms and through multimedia of varied types. They also write in diverse forms and genres. Perhaps just a few words via emails, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and so on with images and signs to support text. But equally they share stories through music, jokes, symbolic language, movement and so on.

We still enjoy stories, but we use many varied forms, as well as different platforms and devices to receive them like Air pods, headsets etc. Some still read a paper or digital book, while others only ever listen or watch using devices. But there is still a common element; all centre on story!

As parents and teachers we need to engage children in the sharing of stories, delivered via whatever platform. As well, we must encourage them to share stories with others.

In our contemporary literacy world, there is greater interaction between multiple sign systems, particularly print, sound, image, and physical context etc. As I listen to one of my grandsons playing games online like Minecraft, or watch another preparing to lead a game of Dungeons and Dragons with her friends, I'm always struck by how much interaction there is between players as they create live stories on computers while sitting in separate locations. This still is story making and reflects a primary need as humans.

 Having shared the above, I will expand the discussion in the next post by considering two other ways Story has the power to teach, enrich and transform:

  • Reading is rarely a lone activity we read within communities.
  • Literature teaches, enriches & transforms us.