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Saturday, January 02, 2016

I wrote Why We Need More Stories, about the power of telling and listening to stories. One reason stories are so powerful is because they help us to make meaning in our lives. But how do they do this? How can you use stories to help your life become more meaningful?

Spiral Process of Narrative Learning


Goodson and Gill, researchers who write about narrative learning discuss the Spiral Process of Narrative Learning, which typically begins with narration. In this stage, you would consider your own life stories by asking questions such as Who am I? What are the major events in my life?


Next comes collaboration, in which you share your stories and listen to others’ stories. At this stage, you should practice active listening, including hearing what is unsaid in your story and others’. Use these observations to ask additional reflective questions and invite conversation. Through these questions, you can begin to make meaning from the stories you hear and tell.

As storytellers, you’ll often focus on experiences that elicited our emotional reactions, which motivate you to make sense of those reactions through your stories. Listeners/readers connect with your emotions, enabling them to suggest further interpretations and/or ask additional questions.

As story-listeners, you can respond with empathy to another’s story, which helps you to expand your understanding of yourself, deepen your acceptance of others, and widen your worldviews.


Following collaboration comes location, when you might begin to locate your stories in historical, cultural, and social contexts. This stage is important because you can begin to understand why you tell the stories the way you do at this particular moment in time.

“At any given time, we are somewhere in the middle of the story, and we don’t know for sure what comes next,” wrote Rossiter and Clark. Because of this, the same story can be interpreted differently at a different point in time. This is why interpreting stories – your own and others’ – is powerful.

Theorization (Interpretation)

Some stories will move onto the next stage, theorization, in which you reveal more abstract understandings of your stories, for example, finding the connection between the stories you have shared and your interpretation of them.

This could also be the stage in which you begin to truly take responsibility for your stories and understand how your personal narratives can help you to break free from dominant – or traditional – narratives. While we do not have control over many of the events or circumstances of our lives, we do have some choice as to how we interpret them. You can choose to see things differently, to reinterpret the past.


The last stage, which is not the end point, but a transition point, is where potential transformation can occur. This five-step process can be in motion with different stories at different times in your life.

It is through this or similar processes that you are able to create meaning of the world around you, which allows you to make meaning of your life – and make a meaningful life – through narrative.

What Does This All Mean?

Does this process look familiar to you? Think about writing groups and book clubs. You are likely following this or a similar process to make meaning in your life from the stories you read and write and share. This process could also be elicited through journal writing, particularly in the theorization stage.

Written by Anne Greenawalt: narrative learning enthusiast.

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