Teaching as Storytelling (2) Gap Theory

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On the eve of publication of The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald removed more than thirty pages from the novel. This was at the ‘galley’ stage, when the author is sent proofs to check for errors before printing proceeds.

The pages Fitzgerald struck out consisted mainly of Gatsby talking to Nick about himself. By taking them out, the novelist created a gap in his narrative, posed the question implied in the title, and preserved the mystery surrounding his central character, the millionaire socialite who does not attend the parties he throws. It is this man-shaped gap which has driven the fame of his masterpiece in the 88 years since its publication.

As in narrative, so in inquiry – it is the gaps which drive engagement. The gaps are where the imagination plays. Reading is a creative activity; narrating a collaboration between storyteller and listener.

But you can’t have a gap by itself, of course. It has to be a gap in something. Through the outsider Nick Carraway, we observe Gatsby staring at the green light across the bay. We hear his party guests swapping wild rumours about him, we learn of their fascination with this gentleman thug, we wonder why he doesn’t attend his own parties…. a little later we hear his fantastical life-story from his own lips and don’t believe a word of it.

At the last moment, Fitzgerald decided to leave it like that. And so Jay Gatsby remained a living, breathing contradiction, and became immortal.

To create the space for inquiry, you need to plot your curriculum. The word ‘plot’, by the way, is not synonymous with ‘story’. It means the way the story is told – its narrative structure – what we learn in what order, and how – and when (if ever). A storyteller never tells the whole story. As a storyteller it’s good to leave out the boring bits – but leaving out the most interesting bits is sometimes a stroke of genius. 

 

Teaching as storytelling (3): Gap Theory originally appeared in Time Space Education http://timespaceeducation.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/teaching-as-storytelling-3-gap-theory-2

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Teaching as storytelling (1): Time and Space

7425065830_070b33c8b8_cTime and space are the dimensions we live in.

As a literature teacher, my field is narrative, and I point out to my students that all stories must take place in time and space, just as our lives do. A story is not a photograph, but a movie. Narrative is a linear form: it takes time to tell a story, and time within the story must also elapse, though not at the same rate that it passes outside of the story. Likewise, a story must occur in space – it is very difficult to imagine a story that does not have a setting of some kind, that does not take place somewhere. That place is the stage for the story, the performance space the characters will occupy.

All of that is rather obvious, of course, but it points us to the most fundamental questions the storyteller has to engage with. How will I handle time in telling this story? And how will I create space?

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In formulating these two questions, I’m not sure I have the verbs right. The idea of ‘handling’ time for instance – is it possible to touch time with your hands? Isn’t that a bit like putting your hands in water and saying that you’re ‘handling’ the water? To handle implies being able to encompass and direct something with your hands – money, for instance, or food. Is it a bit arrogant to speak of ‘handling’ time? And ‘creating’ space?

But the storyteller – the novelist, the film-maker, the poet, the graphic novelist – must do exactly that: create worlds, populate them, fold and unfold sequences of events within them. If your narrative fails to create an imagined space – a storyworld – which the reader can enter, it will be just words on a page, not a world they can enter.

And if that space is not filled with the invisible, dynamic flows of time, your audience will not be engaged.

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Is teaching a kind of storytelling?

Yes! And I mean that not metaphorically but quite literally. Teaching isn’t like storytelling – it is storytelling.

If your students look forward to your class, they do so for the same reasons that they look forward to the next installment of a story. (Something might happen in the class which will carry the plot forward. Or not!)

The idea of a course as a narrative and the teacher as a narrator is not just a fancy metaphor. The parallel can have a profound, empowering and literal truth for a teacher, and I’d like to expand on the idea in future posts. If as a teacher you accept that you are a storyteller, not a social engineer, a programmer or a bureaucrat, suddenly there is a great deal you can learn from the art of narrative.

I suppose the first thing to learn is that what you are doing is as full of creative possibilities and challenges as telling a story, whether in the form of a novel, a film, a comic-book, or any of the myriad other forms of narrative. And the first of these possibilities and challenges are:

How will I handle time?

How will I create space?

This post originally appeared in Time Space Education

http://timespaceeducation.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/engagement-teaching-as-storytelling-part-1/