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Narrative vs Exposition

Prompt: Why did you name your blog what you did?

I was going to pass on this prompt, but I found out yesterday that I’m getting stulled this year, and realized that it is still an issue for me.

Lately, I’ve been hearing english teachers talk about a focus on exposition. And traditional teaching has always been about exposition: You stand up at the front of the room, and tell the kids how things are.

The thing is, exposition sucks.

It’s like reading an owners manual. My hollywood writer friends all know that exposition in a movie is a cheap hack – it’s much easier to have a character say someone is smart than it is to have that person actually demonstrate smartness. And it’s certainly not how we interact with other human beings. (Well, except for Twitter: “I just had a hamburger.” “I am at the airport.” Gah.)

We interact by telling stories. We build narratives. When we remember something, we remember it in the context of how we felt, who else was involved, and the tensions that escalated and were resolved. Sure, we can remember blunt facts too, but those take effort. They’re not spontaneous. And my poor little hormone addled 13 year olds don’t have the fortitude to do that for seven hours every day.

I don’t think this is news – it’s what’s behind the whole progressive education movement. It’s the difference between sages on stages and guides on the side. It’s what’s behind Dan’s dislike of textbooks. It’s even what’s behind the whole misguided Psuedocontext thing.

And that’s the trap – It is easy to think you’re creating engagement. It’s easy to think a kid should a question just because it peripherally relates something he likes.

But really, I’d rather have a good story about something I never knew I liked – something with tension, suspense, and satisfying resolution, than lame ad copy for my favorite thing in the world.

The last time I was evaluated, the AP told me the only way to teach was to make your objectives clear up front, and then explain them in a methodical manner. The lessons I submitted and demonstrated did anything but. He was happily surprised at both the engagement and the learning that happened. It’s now several years later, and I have a new administrator. This is the year I find out whether I’ve managed to build on this skill, or if I’ve gotten complacent and given in to the status quo.