Ira Glass on Storytelling

I feel like this short video series could be very useful in teaching, but I need another week to digest it fully. Some quotes  that I like with following thoughts:

“…when you have one thing leading to the next leading to the next you can feel inherently that you are on a train that has a destination and that [your] gonna find something.”

“The other thing that that little anecdote has is that it’s raising a question from the beginning. And that is the other thing that you want: you want bait. You want to constantly be raising questions.”

“Everything will be more compelling if you just talk like a human being. If you just talk like yourself.”

Ira Glass has quantified ‘storytelling’ into two main things: the Anecdote and the Reflection. In thinking about how storytelling is done in a math class, I want to say that it’s my job to get the story going. It’s my job to show a picture or a video or bring up things in the news and get the Anecdote rolling, but I want my students to do the Reflection piece. I want to hear their conclusions about facts they have been presented with. I want to help them reach toward beautiful mathematics which we can then put on paper and solve and then sit back and be all ‘wow, that’s neat’ together.

How often do we see teaching where one or both of these components is missing? I know that I’m guilty of teaching students to work through a variety of mathematics and then missing out on that Reflection piece. Or trying to get students to be Reflective when I’ve not presented enough of an Anecdote for them to be even a little curious. How does this stuff connect? Where is it used? Why do I care?

I think my favorite part in the 4-part video is from #3. Glass is talking about video makers, but I feel it rings to true to teaching.  The following is transcript from the video that I’ve edited slightly:

“Nobody tells people who are beginners,and I really wish somebody had told this to me, is that if you’re [teaching] you’re somebody who wants to [inspire], right? And all of us who do creative work like, you know, we get into it and we get into it because we have [a passion for it]. Do you know what I mean?

Like you want to [teach] because you love [education and learning and the kids]. You know what I mean? Because there’s stuff that you just like love, OK? So you’ve got really [strong passion] and you get into this thing that I don’t even know how to describe but it’s like there’s a gap. That for the first couple years that you’re [creating lessons], what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good.

But your [passion], the thing that got you into the game, your [passion] is still killer and your [passion] is good enough that you can tell that [the lessons] you’re [teaching] are kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean? Like you can tell that [they’re] still sort of crappy. A lot of people never get past that phase and a lot of people at that point quit.

And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really [amazing passion] and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short, you know, and some of us can admit that to ourselves and some of us are a little less able to admit that to ourselves.

But we knew that it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have and the thing what to do is… Everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase or if you’re just starting off and you’re entering into that phase, you’ve got to know it’s totally normal and the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one [amazing lesson or unit]. You know what I mean? Whatever it’s going to be. You create the deadline. It’s best if you have somebody who’s waiting for work from you, somebody who’s expecting work from you, even if it’s not somebody who pays you but that you’re in a situation where you have to try not to work. Because it’s only be actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.”

I’m currently working on making something amazing for Rational Functions to try to inspire a room full of anti-math, bored seniors and help them see that they have mathematical ability, but it does take work and they can’t slack off. Right now I’m trying to use some technology to get them to see the problems through a different medium. I also decided to start with adding/subtracting instead of multiplying/dividing because I didn’t want them thinking it was some factor-and-slash cakewalk.  We’ll see how it goes.

2 thoughts on “Storytelling

  1. Maybe this is a little too easy for your seniors, but maybe it’s a good, fun intro to Rational Functions.

    By the way, I like the paradigm between anecdote and reflection. Are my students reflecting on math? I don’t do that nearly enough. How do we help them reflect past the procedures? Are WCYDWT videos sufficient in invoking the reflection? When I think about stories and the attached reflections, I think of emotions! How do we incite kids to have a natural curiosity and emotions(!) about something that is real and mathematically complex?



    • Nice resources that I’ll be adapting for my kids. Might be a bit easy for them, but probably a good at-home/over-the-weekend activity to reinforce the main concepts. Thanks!


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