This is Chapter 2 of the Creative Master’s Thesis I completed as part of the requirements for my master’s degree in Elementary Education with a specialization in storytelling. The purpose of this study was to create a role-playing program of the life and times of Christopher Columbus for use with fifth-grade social studies students. It was intended that this creative unit may either be used as a substitute for or in conjunction with a textbook approach. These seven role-plays are also appropriate for grades three and four. The links to all role-plays, tests, and teacher scripts will be included.
Review of Literature
Knowledge about our history was once communicated only by oral transmission (Common, 1986). People heard about various events from family members, friends, bards, minstrels, and other old-time storytellers. Stories gained or lost details as they were repeated; but most retained some element of truth.
Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, as described by Shepherd and Ragan (1982), gave readers a good indication of what the world’s early history was like. The first stage in Maslow’s hierarchy is physiological. In the days of the cavemen, mankind functioned only to survive. They were concerned with finding food, breathing air, sleeping, elimination, and propagation of the species. At that time in history, stories were probably based around topics such as hunting, farming, finding herbs that were good to eat, finding a new home, and propagation. They may have communicated stories through a combinations of speech, sign language, and visuals (i.e., drawing pictures on cave walls or in the dirt).
The next stage in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is safety. People were concerned with avoiding damaging and threatening situations. People observed certain routines and also followed consistent rules in order to remain safe (Shepherd & Ragan, 1982). The stories were probably based around topics such as encountering threatening situations, danger, poisonous food, hunting and working in order to eat, and death.
The third stage in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is belongingness. Once people had satisfied their physiological needs and were sure of their safety, then they had time to concentrate on their needs for love, acceptance by a family or a group, and affection (Shepherd & Ragan, 1982). The stories told probably included topics such as courtship, kidnapping a spouse, friendship, cooperation, and tribal initiations.
The fourth stage in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is esteem. After people had satisfied their physiological needs, their safety needs, and their need to belong, they then had time to be concerned with their needs for status, recognition, competence, importance, independence, dominance, mastery, and appreciation (Shepherd & Ragan, 1982). People probably told stories based on topics such as ousting old leaders, choosing new leaders, jealousy, bad people, good people, evil, good, and performing great feats.
The last stage in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is self-actualization. After people had satisfied all their other basic needs, they then had time to satisfy their desires for aesthetic pleasures and intellectual growth. Shepherd and Ragan (1982) indicated that it was very rare to find an individual who was completely self-actualized (i.e., who lived his life to satisfy only himself). Perhaps back in those ancient times when value systems of morality were less well defined, some of those people could have come closer to approaching self-actualization than the people of today. Stories had probably evolved to include topics such as descriptions about fixing up the cave to be more beautiful, stories about making a more effective and deadly weapon, and stories about learning to make new and attractive clothes and objects.
As civilization progressed and priests and other highly educated people learned how to read and write, historical events were written on paper. At this point, there was a greater chance to preserve the stories that previously could only be transmitted orally (Common, 1986). People would actively use their imaginations as they listened to or read these stories.
At one time listening to stories was the only form of education a person might receive. “Storytelling is, in fact, the oldest form of education other than learning by experience” (Shannon, 1979).
Currently, there is a wide variety of media under which a person might receive an education. Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh (1985) stated that there are five sources of knowledge. First, people learn by experience. “Much of the wisdom that is passed from generation to generation is the result of experience” (Ary, Jacobs, & Razavieh, 1985). The shortcoming of this is that not all lessons can be learned by experience. People then resort to learning from authority figures, from customs, and from traditions. Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh (1985) pointed out that these conditions also have their shortcomings. Authority figures, customs, and traditions are not always right.
“Aristotle and his followers introduced the use of deductive reasoning, which can be described as a thinking process in which one proceeds from general to specific statements using prescribed rules of logic” (Ary, Jacobs & Razavieh, 1985). Deductive reasoning also had its shortcomings. It relied too heavily upon past traditions and the books, scrolls, and parchments written by past authority figures. In the middle 1500’s, Francis Bacon developed a new approach that came to be considered as the fourth source of knowledge–inductive reasoning. “In Bacon’s system, observations were made on particular events in a class, and then, on the basis of those observed events, inferences were made about the whole class. This approach came to be called inductive reasoning, which is the reverse of the processes employed in the deductive method” (Ary, Jacobs, & Razavieh, 1985).
The inductive method also had its shortcomings. Finally, in the 1800’s, Darwin introduced his readers to the scientific approach that came to be considered the fifth source of knowledge. “This use of both inductive and deductive reasoning is characteristic of modern scientific inquiry, which is regarded as the most reliable method for obtaining knowledge” (Ary, Jacob, & Razavieh, 1985).
Wesley and Wronski (1985) offered a workable definition of social studies. They stated that “the social studies are the social sciences simplified for pedagogical purposes.” Shepherd and Ragan (1982) stated:
“An analysis of the history of social studies as a content area identified three basic traditions: (1) citizenship transmission; (2) social science transmission; and (3) reflective inquiry transmission. Each tradition represents an emphasis in purpose, content, and method. Citizenship transmission is the tradition practiced by most teachers. The purpose is to transmit a set of values, beliefs, and norms consistent with a predetermined conception of an ideal society and citizen. . . . Social science transmission is a tradition which emphasizes the students’ acquisition of knowledge and information-gathering skills as social scientists. . . . The goal is a literate citizen perceiving, working, and processing as a social scientist. Reflective inquiry transmission is a tradition which focuses upon the process of inquiry and decision-making concerning personal and social topics. . . . Citizenship requires intelligent decision-making, and intelligent decision-making is a process of social and personal inquiry. Each of these three traditions has advocates who are often antagonists or advocates of other traditions; yet, there is a consensus across the traditions that the primary goal of social studies is citizenship education.”
Thornton (1987) gave essentially the same definition for social studies. He concluded with the statement that “the field’s research base is deficient in a number of respects.” Thornton recommended that much more research needs to be done if “history is to survive as an important part of the education of all children and youth.”
Storytelling has been used to teach valuable lessons from the beginning of time (Common, 1986). In 1979, storytelling was used as a tool to teach the Seminole Indians the viability of practicing better health habits. They found this to be a highly successful project. One contributing factor was that “the storytelling event takes place in a relaxed and nonthreatening environment, so that the listeners’ defenses are down and learning can take place. They are more open to attitudinal and, consequently, behavioral change” (Moody & Laurent, 1984).
De Lin Du Bois and McIntosh (1986) recommended that it is of great instructional benefit to read aloud to secondary history students. They stated that “learning in history will be more successful when the curriculum is enhanced through the addition of books that can be read aloud. A positive feeling toward reading and learning will be fostered–and it is a feeling that will continue throughout students’ lives.”
Turner (1985) claimed that the storytelling technique of historical reenactment was a very useful tool to enhance a social studies lesson. His conclusion was that “reenactments rescue the study of the past from being broad, meaningless, passive experiences and make the past relevant, valid, and real. Through reenactments, the past becomes prologue to the present.”
Shepherd and Ragan (1982) warned that there is a potential danger in blindly reenacting past events. They stated that unless children understood that past event in its relation to a time line, the children could easily misunderstand and misinterpret this information that they had internalized. For example, if a teacher told a story about Eskimos with dogsleds and igloos and the children reenacted this story, they might come to believe that all people who currently live in Alaska were Eskimos who lived in igloos and traveled by dogsleds. Unless the teacher, through an inquiry approach, clarified that this was past history, Shepherd and Ragan (1982) stated that such an activity would be “a waste of teacher and pupil time.”
Common (1986) showed herself a very strong advocate for the use of storytelling as an instructional tool. She stated:
“Stories are a powerful way to enhance students’ interest in the social studies curriculum. Through stories, information about social studies matters exists not as independent, factual, and conceptual bits, but is locked into a context of human intentions and activities. It is the context that is truly engaging. Stories provide the readers with opportunities to develop personal understandings through their absorption in a literary experience and reflection upon what they have read and felt. This may ultimately help our social studies students to form positions about the things in life they value and to choose the actions they perform. . . . Stories in social studies can enable students to acquire the knowledge and to develop the understandings that are deemed educationally worthwhile. . . . Clearly, social studies is that part of the school curriculum that provides the opportunity for students to determine how they want to live their lives and what their reasons are for living that way. . . . It is in the moral realm that social studies becomes the powerful, exciting, enduring, and indispensable subject for critical study. It is here that the story as an instructional vehicle most properly belongs. Through the literary experience our values are fostered, rather than through the study of dates, graphs, charts, and maps in the social studies content.”
Two travelling storytellers, Freeman and Regan (1986) stated, “Rudyard Kipling is said to have inveighed against the way history was taught in schools. He felt history should be told in story form and then children would never forget it.”
Medina (1986) stated that storytelling could enhance every subject of a school curriculum. She quoted Klein on her specific suggestions as pertaining to the use of storytelling techniques for social studies: “Klein suggests designing a history unit around storytelling, so students can see that history is really about people.”
Shannon (1979) stated:
“Storytelling also has much to offer in social studies, especially in the area of affective education. Information such as flags, amount of grain raised and size in square miles tells virtually nothing about the people of an area. Their folklore, however, offers endless insights. . . . Folk literature allows one to look inside a living culture. . . . Storytelling is social studies–a living sharing of cultures that far outdistances the regurgitation of statistics. Facts and figures are forgotten, but the experience of travel be it physical or by way of storytelling is not. It remains and grows. . . . Storytelling stimulates creativity and imagination–elements as vital to physics and cancer research as to painting. . . . As one can easily see, storytelling has everything to offer.”
Cullum (1967) indicated many ways to involve storytelling strategies to enhance every subject in the curriculum. Fifth graders researched the presidents of the United States and then portrayed the presidents making a State of the Union Address to Congress. Math students worked math problems in a make-shift King Tut’s tomb. Language arts students wore surgical masks and “operate[d] on all the parts of speech to see if [they] could stop the bleeding” in a Grammar Hospital. Those were just three of the 20 examples described in his book.
Ryan (1986) used reenactment to teach about the American Revolution. Willingham (1988) taught a whole unit based around the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Schultz (1981) described several storytelling techniques in his article. Those were just three of the numerous articles that advocate the use of storytelling techniques as a way to enhance the curriculum.
Storytelling has undergone many changes in format, importance, and emphasis over the history of time. At one time, it was the sole means of educating young people. Prior to the advent of radio and television, it was a major source of entertainment. Storytelling is no longer viewed as such a necessity but, instead, a luxury that many adults seem to feel they can do without. Children, however, always have and probably always will love to hear or read a story. As a school teacher, the writer found that story time was the only time of the school day when she was guaranteed total student attention, concentration, and interest. It is the writer’s opinion that storytelling is a largely untapped resource that could make any school subject in the curriculum come alive with excitement. Additionally, this writer thinks that social studies is an ideal subject area for using the tool of storytelling to illustrate the course content.
There are many articles available which indicate that storytelling is a great asset to the learning of social studies; however, there is a great lack of research and data analysis to prove that this is a valid point.