Learning through Storytelling in Higher Education: Using Reflection and Experience to Improve Learning

Author(s) Janice McDrury and Maxine Alterio
Publisher Kogan Page Ltd
Published 2003
Pages 175
ISBN 0749440384
Reviewed by Jenny Willan
University of Plymouth
Review published 10 March 2005

Learning through Storytelling in Higher Education is aimed at those students and professionals involved in higher education. It begins by introducing us to the authors’ own stories, tracing the history of their interest in story telling. It provides a useful resource for those seeking to build on experiences that students bring from the workplace by showing how to encourage reflection on stories and how to help students to learn from them.

Broadly the book begins by taking us through a process of story finding, story telling, story expanding, story processing and story reconstructing. The second section shows how a story telling approach can move students on to reflective learning and critical thinking about the issues raised in their own stories. Next the authors discuss how we might assess and evaluate the stories students tell. Finally the authors reflect on the stories generated in the process of writing this book.

The authors base their work on theories of reflective practice, particularly those of Kemmis and SchÅ‘n. They site their approach within the social constructivist paradigm of Vygotsky and Bruner, arguing that story telling is a social process which can play an important part in identifying and exploring people’s underpinning values, attitudes and beliefs. By telling and re-telling their stories of work-based practice to different audiences, they show how students can be encouraged through dialogue to link their own stories to wider historical, scientific and philosophical thinking.

The book argues that through story telling, students can learn how to make visible what has been tacit in their work based practice. They show how an inward journey through memory can lead to new discoveries and re-discoveries which lead to a re-framing of experience and ultimately a redesigning of practice.

The authors provide a wealth of practical examples and exercises designed to elicit stories from students and give helpful ideas on how to move the story telling on to reflection through questioning and analysis. They describe how students can process their practical experiences by expanding their stories in conjunction with others to gain new perspectives by asking questions about detail, key players, feelings and significant events. The authors include some caveats about ethics, particularly where strong feelings and confidentiality may be an issue.

Examples of story telling are drawn from medicine, social work, teaching and childcare. The scenarios and vignettes could easily be adapted for any course with a work based element and the pro-forma story boards would be useful for anyone getting students started in reflective practice. There are also have suggestions for encouraging those students who may not be naturally reflective!