For centuries, great teachers have known how to combine the art of story telling with the art of teaching. A great story can grab the attention of the learner, hold on to it, and make a point far more effectively than the mere recitation of some key pearls of wisdom.Today, research on how the brain learns confirms what history’s great teachers have always known. The path into the mind of a student starts with the heart. These researchers tell us emotions are what motivate us to learn.
Stories and their shorter cousins – anecdotes – have the potential to engage learners at the emotional level. Every teacher should have a “kit-bag” of stories for use in the classroom. Stories about experiences familiar to learners are particularly effective. All over the world, there are few experiences more common to humanity than athletic competition.
Regardless of the sport, the principles of excellence and competition apply. In addition, few things in life are as exhilarating as a great comeback – a team or an individual athlete rising above the odds to win when all signs pointed to defeat.
Comeback stories are especially appropriate in learning situations where learners doubt their ability to master the content. So here is our story.
In the 2011 championship of the American professional sport of basketball, the highly favored Heat, from the city of Miami in the state of Florida, faced the Mavericks, from the city of Dallas in the state of Texas.
The Heat had won the first game in a best of seven championship series and was well on their way to winning the second game. With five minutes remaining in the game, their lead over the Mavericks was fifteen points.
In the sport of basketball, a fifteen-point lead is significant, but not insurmountable. However, on that night it seemed a mountain Dallas simply could not climb. Every successful professional sports team has a star player, and the star for Dallas, a German born player named Dirk Nowitzki, was not having a successful night.
Try as he might, every time he got the ball, Miami Hear players appeared from all sides to keep Dirk from scoring. Everyone in the arena and everyone watching on television knew in their hearts the game was over. There was no reason to believe Dirk and his Maverick teammates would suddenly come alive and start playing the way they had been unable to play the entire night.
However, no one told the Maverick players they could not win. They refused to give up. Dirk Nowitzki kept trying and finally he began to score and the gap narrowed. As if by magic, Dirk began to get around the Heat players, scoring the final nine points of the game, including the points that won the game. He never gave up.
After the game, sports reporters crowded around the Dallas players and asked them how they had come back to win the game. They did not reply with their strategy or their tactics; instead, they replied from their hearts – we won because we never gave up.