Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Behind the Books: More Questions About the Power of Story

Last week, I questioned the methodology of a recent study that makes this bold claim: “Stories are about 22 times more memorable than facts alone.

I’ve been giving the study more thought and I’ve decided that the researchers, Arya & Maul, should do more than just choose their texts more carefully. They should also test subjects at a variety of grade levels.

The 2012 study included 209 students in grades 7 and 8. I think they should also look at students in grades 3 and 4.

What I’ve seen firsthand and heard echoed by educators is that, generally speaking, nonfiction seems to be a more popular choice among elementary readers than middle grade readers. And we all know that the most popular nonfiction at, let’s say, grades 2-4 are fact-filled, browse-able titles like The Guinness Book of World Records.

I strongly believe that elementary-aged children gravitate toward facts because it’s their “job” to understand the world. On the other hand, tweens and teens are in a different place developmentally. It is there “job” to find their own placer in the world. Given this, it would make a lot of sense for them to gravitate toward narrative nonfiction and fiction.

But here’s what I think it really comes down to. Every kid is different, so I think it’s critical to expose all children to a wide range of texts and see what works best for each individual.

As I clearly state in this post last February, I’m not claiming that story never works. I’m saying that it doesn’t always work. There’s no single, easy answer.

Sure, narratives can be a powerful way to present ideas and information. But expository text can be just as powerful. We need both.

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.

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