Why storytelling may be a more effective teaching tool for children

Why storytelling may be a more effective teaching tool for children

A new study has revealed that children learn more effectively about evolution when they are engaged through stories that are read through a teacher, rather than them going through doing tasks to demonstrate the same concept.

In a randomised controlled trial conducted at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, the researchers concluded that storytelling, which is the oldest form of teaching, is also the most effective one for teaching primary school children about evolution. During the study, the scientists investigated using various types of methods for teaching evolution in primary schools. They did so in order to test whether a teacher-centred approach (where the teacher read the story to pupils) or a pupil-centred approach (where pupils took part in the activity), led to better improvement in understanding the topic.

They compared results to determine which method produced better outcomes in terms of the children's understanding of evolution.

Story-based approach

The researchers looked at whether using examples of evolution that were human-based, like comparing arm bones in humans with those in animals or using abstract examples that were harder to engage emotionally with, like comparing the patterns of trilobites, was better.

Even though all the methods were helpful in improving the pupils' subject knowledge, the study which was published in the journal ‘Science of Learning’ revealed that the abstract examples of evolution along with the story-based approach were the most effective ones.

The aforesaid study goes completely against the educational orthodoxy which states that in order to produce the best results; a pupil-centred approach should be the best for learning, with examples that are human-based which children correlate to.

Surprise results

The study, which was led by Professor Laurence Hurst, Director of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, recruited 2,500 primary school students for understanding the evolutionary concepts.

Professor Laurence expressed his surprise and said "We were really surprised by the results, we expected that pupils would be more engaged with an activity rather than listening to a story and that children would identify more strongly with the human-based examples of evolution than the somewhat abstract example of trilobites, but in fact, the opposite was true."

He further explained: "This is the first large randomised controlled trial that is evaluating the effectiveness of different methods of teaching, using similar scientific methods to those used in drug interaction trials to test whether a new treatment works.

"Our results show that we should be careful about our preconceptions of what works best. We only tested the teaching of evolution in this way – it would be interesting to see if these findings also applied to other subjects of the curriculum."

Professor Momna Hejmadi, who is the Associate Dean of the University's Faculty of Science, and also helped to design the study and co-authored the paper, said: "Evolution was introduced to the national curriculum for primary schools in 2014."


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