As teachers, let’s borrow from the branding successes of major companies who use storytelling to successfully brand themselves and their products. We, as teachers, can also tell stories to brand our classrooms as well as the learning experiences that will take place there.
Instead of a series of unrelated units which characterize the typical course map, we encourage teachers to craft a “plot” based on a relevant and compelling premise and begin the year with a “call to adventure,” as noted author Joseph Campbell put it.
When planning a course, instead of thinking about the standards/units in some sort of sequential order, think first about the story your students could tell when they complete your class. What will they feel? How will they have changed? What will they have learned about themselves, the world around them and their place in it?
This is where we can learn from great storytellers. We begin by crafting a premise that is compelling and engaging for students. A premise is like the exposition of a plot map we’ve all seen in language arts classes, or an entry event in Project-Based Learning. It sets the tone, establishes the challenge and introduces conflicts that will drive the story. As the British critic and playwright William Archer put it, “drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty”. This creates a need to know along with a healthy dose of ambiguity for students to grapple with. It’s also much more interesting than the usual unit launch of, “Today we will begin our study of…..”
Once our premise is established, we can align our units and standards as we would in a traditional curriculum map. In marrying the units with the progression of the story, we essentially craft a story arc in which students become the main characters that includes the following essential elements: (1) a call to adventure, (2) an early success, (3) a period of skill development, (4) a moment of truth and rise up, and finally (5) resolution. (See Story Arc Concept Graphic)
In addition to developing a curriculum map that follows the arc of a story, some classroom brands incorporate a slogan or tag line, logo, or even a one pager that highlights the year, similar to a movie trailer in printed form. By thinking like entrepreneurs and storytellers, we can make our students’ school experience more engaging, more memorable, more impactful and even truly life changing.
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