Using a storytelling approach to curriculum for more equitable learning in multi-ethnic classrooms

Your Name and Title: Katherine Ireland, graduate student


School or Organization Name: University of New Brunswick


Co-Presenter Name(s): n/a


Area of the World from Which You Will Present: Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada


Language in Which You Will Present: English


Target Audience(s): Elementary school teachers, teacher educators, curriculum developers, administrators


Short Session Description (one line): I would like to present on the work I am doing in my Master's thesis: examining teaching history through storytelling in elementary classrooms as a way to counter dominant narratives, create a space for non-dominant narratives, and possibly enable greater equity for students from non-dominant ethnic backgrounds. 


Full Session Description (as long as you would like):

In my Master's thesis I am examining Kieran Egan's theory of teaching through storytelling. He suggests that rather than learning in developmental stages, children learn through experience using what he calls "cognitive tools," which are groups of skills and abilities we accumulate as we grow and interact with others. He also suggests that these "tools" are culturally specific: people in different cultures will develop different "tools" for learning because each cultural environment is unique. His theory suggests that in order to make the curriculum content meaningful to students, we must engage their emotions and their imaginations by introducing the content through story.

In my teaching practice, of particular concern to me are the questions and issues regarding marginalization of students from non-European heritage that remain in our school system, and the fact that we do not empower students to live with difference. In the study of history this is particularly true; certain historical narratives are more dominant than others, and can have a powerful influence on children’s sense of identity and citizenship. Current research in children’s understanding of history suggests that there are multiple narratives or historical stories that Canadian students construct, and that students define their identities in relation to the histories they believe in.

My research is an inquiry into the relationship between storytelling and identity in teaching history to young children. I am examining how children form their identities within multi-ethnic learning contexts and how using Egan's theory teaching through storytelling may provide a more equitable approach to teaching history in public school classrooms by allowing for multiple narratives to co-exist alongside the dominant narrative. I am asking: What are the historical stories that young students in multi-ethnic learning environments imagine before they have begun formally learning history? How do they envision their roles in the stories that they imagine? To what degree does our teaching of history in Egan’s imaginative framework allow learners to form an authentic connection between their experience and the experiences of others?

This could potentially provide teachers and researchers with greater insight into children’s historical thinking and how this impacts the way they address diversity, as well as provide additional benefits of teaching using the imaginative education approach for classroom teachers.

The more we know about the stories children imagine about history, the better able we are to provide counter-narratives to create the dissonance necessary to promote critical thinking as well as counter marginalization and discrimination.


Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session: Please see The Imaginative Education Research Group at, for more information about imaginative education, and The Historical Thinking Project at, for more information about historical thinking. 

* Please note that I am not affiliated in any way with either of these organizations. They are two of the resources that inform my research, but I have no official connection with either group. 

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