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All the materials in barebones are working teaching documents 
subject to review, alteration or abandonment in classroom practice.
Anyone is welcome to use this stuff, but copyright remains with
Thor May. Feedback, positive or negative, is very welcome.

ESL materials & ideas developed in Korea

Narrative Credibility

@13 May 2001

The power of any live teaching or any text to influence, and be remembered depends upon what I call its narrative credibility.

That is, to the decoder, it must seem a believable and useful addition to their repertoire. Clearly this will vary with each individual, so teaching is an approximate art. Nevertheless, the principle of narrative credibility puts empathy at centre stage.

There are techniques which help to give an illusion of narrative credibility to teaching content.

a) Foremost amongst tools for narrative credibility is humour. If a person laughs, they are 90% sold on an idea. The catch is that humour is often quite idiosyncratic to individuals, that it also varies with what we roughly call "intelligence" (as well as street cunning, which is different), and it can be radically different across cultures. In other words, teacher and student are more likely to make successful use of humour as they come to understand each other better as people.

b) Another source of narrative credibility is some obvious relevance to the particular things that each individual holds dear. Since it is difficult to tailor a group lesson to each individual, teachers usually compromise by trying to select topics of likely personal interest to the group. Some teaching/learning configurations, and some types of students, are easier to customize for individuals than other situations.

c) A third source of narrative credibility is a topic that students know they must pay attention to, even if they don't particularly relish it. Employment needs often come into this category, and some teaching contracts may actually require that, for example, certain employment skills be taught. Narrative credibility which follows an independent life goal of students (such as employment) in this way could be called "instrumental narrative credibility". It can be very powerful when cleverly engaged. However, it is a grave mistake for the teacher to assume that raw instrumental narrative credibility is enough to sustain the interest and memory of most students. Rather, he must use it as a base upon which to build learning activities which are truly interesting to students in additional ways.

d) The marketing industry has much to teach teachers about narrative credibility. As any advertising executive knows, "needs" can be created, even where potential customers think that they have no need. The craft of marketing is too extensive to explore in detail here. Suffice to say that almost all the tricks of marketing can become powerful instruments for inducing students to learn. Teachers who are able to grasp and build on this idea achieve advanced professional abilities; (the average run of teacher's college instructors and graduates have scarcely registered these possibilities..). Equally, marketing failures carry important messages for teachers, and will repay thoughtful study.


"Narrative Credibility "... copyrighted to Thor May 2001; all rights reserved

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