However, several of the tenets on which his theory is based did prove to be valuable starting points for understanding the significance of using narrative in the classroom. First of all, Fisher (1997) argues that humans are essentially storytellers, “aptly designated homo narrans” (p. 312). If the capacity to tell stories is a human attribute, then utilizing this skill in the classroom makes sense. Students do not have to be taught to tell stories; they already can. Marsha Rossiter (2002) suggests that the works of J. Bruner and D.E. Polkinghorne offer a basis for understanding the narrative perspective:
A beginning point for a discussion of narrative and story in adult education is an understanding of narrative as a broad orientation grounded in the premise that narrative is a fundamental structure of human meaning making (Bruner 1986, 2002; Polkinghorne 1988, 1996) (Rossiter, p. 1).
As well, Fisher contends that storytelling allows non-experts into the discourse. As he explains, “the second feature of the paradigm particularly relevant to the theme of narrative and community is its intrinsic egalitarian bias” (1997, p. 318). Everyone can tell a story; therefore, everyone can participate in public discussion. In the classroom, this translates into everyone having something to contribute. No single student’s contribution is of more value than any other’s, as each personal narrative is legitimate. The classroom becomes a community where full membership is granted to everyone.
Although there is a large body of literature that explores concepts such as storytelling, narrative and personal narratives, in this report I use them interchangeably. These words refer to events from the lives of my students. These events were shared orally with fellow classmates. The term storytelling was not used as it refers to the transmission of any story, real or imagined, personal or not, and therefore does not accurately describe what the students did. They told stories from their actual lives.
The field of learning theory also proved a useful place to review literature for its relevance to the use of students’ personal narrative in the classroom. The last ten years have seen an explosion of information available about how the brain learns. With the availability of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), scientists are able to observe the brain at work. What they have learned has enormous implications for what goes on in the classroom. In particular, several points seem relevant for the use of students’ personal narratives.
Rita Smilkstein (2003) explains the rudimentary steps in how the brain learns:
As many neurons connect, they form complex neural networks. The growing and connecting of dendrites into neural networks is learning. Growing and connecting dendrites and learning are synonymous (p. 6).