Reporting (and story telling)

How do you tell a story? Over my lifetime I have witnessed accidents, assaults, brawls, meetings and so forth that I needed to report. In the case of accidents, of which I have witnessed and been involved in several, my story was different from that of other witnesses. How much detail do you include? How much interpretation do you make (though you think of it as integral to the report)?

I am in the process of reading a book that has led me to reconsider some situations I have been involved in and tried to report on honestly at the time. I remember, as a professor, classes in which I needed to illustrate a point with a real life situation. Sometimes I came away feeling my story got it just right. Other times I came away feeling that I had blundered along much longer than I needed to, further confusing rather than providing an accurate illustration. And, I still have the same problem in reporting interactions with others.

The book that brought all of this up is Snow and Steel, about the Battle of the Bulge, by Peter Caddick-Adams. He started work on it by gathering artifacts left on the battlefield in Belgium and Luxembourg in 1978 and continuing to dig up files about the battle and letters from participants that no one else had found. The number of people and topics that he deals with is simply astronomical in 716 pages with reference material adding another 166 pages. Beginning with Hitler, he deals with the major (and not so major) players in the battle. He describes the battle beginning in what I take to be the south and moving north. His writing is clear and understandable.

The question for this little essay is how much of this information can I absorb and how much do I need to illustrate my point here. In fact, these are questions that face us in all of life. In this case, the amount of information is overwhelming and thank goodness I had already read a book on this topic some years ago so that I have a shaky framework in which to fit this encyclopedia.

In my own teaching prospective teachers, I began by trying to use reason to get students to work on the right (my) way of teaching. Over time what I found was that each student had her own ideas about the right way. In time I came to teach a course that got at students reasons for thinking and doing the way they did. I worked hard at challenging the way students thought about books we read. They had to confront those who thought otherwise and mustered reasons for doing so. Other students got into the act and I was sometimes forced to rethink my assessment. Like my students, I left classes having had to rethink what an author’s purpose and reasoning were. I came to understand that, after all, this was what our part of education was all about. We can never know all or the right way. We have to be open to a constantly changing world. Knowing that and doing it is still not easy.

So it is in life generally. Telling a story about history is somewhat different from telling a story about how to teach. In history, you are helping/encouraging students to add information and gain some understanding about what it means. In helping students learn how to teach, your information has to be integrated with what students have already imprinted in their brains from being students. In both cases your information has to be integrated with that already imprinted on the brain. Both situations involve using stories of somewhat different natures. And, of course, this is both similar and different from reporting on the street robbery you witnessed.

As both tellers and receivers, how do we figure out how to use story telling in the different situations that we experience in our lives every day?


  1. #1 by weightlossrumor on October 27, 2015 - 9:54 am

    I’ve noticed articles on this subject before, but never really paid attention to any of them. What caught my eye on this one was the use of many ideas to form one very strong conclusion!

(will not be published)