Stories and Narratives in Education

First I would like to thank all my new ‘likers’ from Facebook and those who have found me via google (seems the evernote posts are quite popular). For those who would like to know of new posts from this blog, you can follow me on twitter (fiona_trapani) or ‘like’ my facebook page (!/pages/My-Paperless-PhD/204188786308872 ) for up dates.

Now to this weeks Blog, following on from last week on methodology…

I have always loved stories. Stories from books, TV and people around me have always fascinated me. Perhaps that’s part of what drew me to teaching; the fact that working with and getting to know people would mean sharing my stories with them, and having their stories shared with me. I was definitely excited when I began my Master’s studies and found that my supervisor was also interested in stories. Our research group explored stories from interview data, and then probed deeper into the meanings of the interactions and resulting actions. In our methodology we go beyond simply ‘re-telling’ stories told to us. We use positioning theory, umwelt and a few other analysis tools to present the lived world of our research subjects.

The area of inquiry is termed ‘narrative inquiry’ (   Narrative Inquiry has grown over the last 20 years to be used broadly across disciplines and cultures. One of the foundation papers is that by Clandinin and Connelly titled: ‘Teachers professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories; stories of teachers, school stories, stories of schools.’ Despite it being written 15 years ago, it still has much to bring to defining the spaces used by people to disclose their stories, especially in professional situations. Their work is as much a foundation for my past studies as it is for the study I am about to embark upon. What follows is a very brief overview of some main ideas in ‘Narrative Research’.

Clandinin and Connelly describe three main types of Narratives that people tell, with specific reference to schools, though I am sure these are transferable to other work places and professions. First there are the stories presented to parents and the wider community, these are called ‘cover stories’, and may be presented through things like newsletters and advertisements. Second are the stories shared with students and other teachers, these are called ‘secret stories’. Third are the stories of teachers that are driven by policies and rules within the school, known as ‘sacred stories’ these may only be shared with select colleagues. More detail is given in a recent article by Jean Clandinin

An example of the above story types is that the things you tell different people in your life will change, depending on the person you are talking to and the place you are in. The conversations you have with your boss, or a colleague, will be different to those you have with your best friend. Sometimes you will be giving a ‘cover story’: “yes, I love my job and don’t mind working late”, sometimes it will be the ‘secret story’: “He’s asked me to work late again, why can’t he be more orgainsed?”,  or the ‘sacred story’: “He’s always asking me to work late, I can’t wait till I get that other job and get my life back”.  Can you pick who the Narrator is talking to by the type of story? Again, this example is brief and obvious. When working with conversational interview data the analysis is much more involved and detailed.

I was pleased, in a recent blog from educator Jane Nicholls, to see her pondering the use of these stories to continue to explore the professional knowledge landscapes of teachers with reference to ICT: *** ICT U Can!: Professional knowledge landscapes. I read her blog and felt that Narrative Research is an amazing field to be a part of. I have since (in the last few weeks) found may other articles using these story types to shed light on the professional interactions of teachers in many different settings, subjects, countries and cultures. There is even an emerging branch focusing upon written narratives and conversations from journals, email and social media, which I think is also quite exciting.

So, this week, try and reflect on who you are talking to and the version of the story you are telling. Is it a cover story, secret story or a sacred story? How much of your life narrative are you really sharing with others?

Next week’s Blog will feature a couple of recipes…not sure if they will be quick things to cook, or bulk things to cook, but one things for sure, they will be tasty 🙂

Until next week,

References: (in addition to in text links)

Clandinin, DJ & Connelly FM (1996) Teachers professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories; stories of teachers, school stories, stories of schools. Education Researcher, 25 (3) pp 24-30


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