When I published this post last February, I hoped some people would read it. I hoped some people would comment. I expected many people to disagree with my idea that story isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But you know what? No one did.
Here’s what happened. To date, the post has had more than 14,000 hits—the most ever for Celebrate Science. Lots of people did comment. 39 commented directly on my blog. Many other folks sent me email, talked to me at conferences, or responded on Twitter or Facebook.
Clearly the post hit a nerve. Maybe some people had been questioning the power of story for a long time.
Recently school librarian and AASL organizer Mary Ann Schuer (@ MaryAnnSchuer) brought my attention to a new study that makes this bold claim: “Stories are about 22 times more memorable than facts alone.”
Of course, that quote ended up in a bazillion articles. After all it seems to reinforce what so many people already believe to be true.
But here’s what I found when I scrutinized the study. The subjects were 209 seventh and eighth grade students, and according to the researchers, Arya & Maul, the two texts used in the study were “developed to be as similar as possible in terms of syntactic complexity, vocabulary, accuracy, and other measures, and vary only in whether the information was presented in a typical expository fashion or in terms of a personal story.
Seems solid, right? Well, I read the passages and let me tell you that the expository sample was some of the driest, most boring writing I’ve read in a long time.
Of course student comprehension and memory of the information was low. Bad writing leads to bad learning outcomes. No surprise there. I would challenge Arya & Maul to repeat their study with a truly engaging expository text, such as one pulled from a highly-acclaimed trade nonfiction title. I suspect that their results would be quite different, but let the science speak for itself.
Study cited: Arya, D. J. & Maul, A. (2012). The role of the scientific discovery narrative in middle school science education: An experimental study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1022-1032.