Creative learning should include a certain level of awareness of barriers that prevent us from being creative learners. This awareness of barriers may help us look at things from different perspectives, overcome obstacles or simply learn more effectively. A “single story” activity should make learners realise that the world is complex and that “a single story” perspective can be ineffective, misleading or sometimes even dangerous (for our lives, for lives of the others, or for our studies and research, for example).
In the context of a second language development, it can help students get a better idea of the fact that each language differs considerably from other languages. It can also help teachers handle difficult questions and comments such as “Why is this irregular?” or “The use of xy is illogical.”
The activity is relatively simple at the beginning but can get slightly more complicated later on, when students need to use their critical thinking skills.
Students are instructed to watch a part of Chimamanda Adichie´s TED talk: The danger of a single story.
The first five minutes are usually enough to get the point, but they can watch the whole talk outside of class (it can also be a home activity from the previous session).
Then, the idea of a single story is discussed with the aim to make sure everybody understands. Then, depending on the group, this discussion can be either a final activity or it can be followed by another step.
Students can be asked to think about their own experience with a single story. It can be focused on language, their private lives or, and this is where it can get really difficult for some students, we can focus on their disciplines. The students should look critically at their own disciplines, professional fields or academic fields of interest and try and identify some areas that could pose a risk of “the danger of a single story”.
Here are some examples:
a) private lives:
- “I don't come from Brno. I moved there from Ostrava year and a half ago. My single story about Brno was, that there are many people who have an strange accent called "hantec". Next I thought there will be wine shops on every corner because around Brno are many vineyards. I thought that park around Spilberk Castle will be full of young dating couples because my grannie told me that. My grannie and my dad studied there in Brno and they love this city. … Since I moved to Brno I found out there are just very few people actually speaking "hantec". I counted more pubs than wine shops. I have never met more than two dating couples around Spilberk. ….It means I am pretty satisfied even if my single story was partly wrong.”
- “I'm a little bit embarrassed about my first thaughts about the Czech Republic. I'm from Luxembourg and we see the Czech Republic as an Eastern European country. So I was thinking that it is a poor and a little bit fogy.. but when I'm here now those thaughts were misguided. It is a developed country with everything! It is very clean, has nice buildings and everything looks so nice! I'm now very happy about Brno and the Czech Republic!”
b) academic lives:
- “I have lived in a small town so I have never met a professor or a PhD before coming to the university. I watched them only in a TV or red about them in a book or newspapers. According to these information I considered them a very arrogant, big-headed, superscilious and proud superheros which don’t ever want to talk to me. Because of it I was really frightened and nervous about the first class at the university. I couldn’t sleep and my hands was shaking when I came to the Faculty of social studies. :-) Fortunately I found out very soon professors and PhDs are only human beings and also they are open-minded and friendly, quite most of them. :-)”
- “I think the most common single story within sociology (discipline that I studied on the bachelor degree) is that all our lives, behaviour and characteristic is influenced and made by the society. I think sociology rejects a psychological dimension of human being and especially a biological dimension (but this is the classic conflict between natural science and humanities :-)). Because of this I decided not to continue Sociology because I have a problem with the one-sided view.”
We can also connect this activity to some other skills:
1) The listening part could be used for effective presentations. This talk is a great example of three areas:
1.1. nervousness – Chimamanda seems to be nervous at the beginning of her talk but we do not care about it because what she is saying is simply more important and interesting than signs of her nervousness.
1.2. audio-visual aids – her speech itself can get full attention of the audience. This shows we should use audio-visual aids when they can help increase the impact of our words but they are not always necessary.
1.3. structure / coherence – the talk has an excellent overall structure and coherence.
2) Writing: After students write their first versions of single stories, they can be asked to change the style and rewrite the ideas in a more formal or academic style (either their own or somebody else’s single story).
Here is an example of a style transformation:
- "According to auto-ethnographic research conducted by student XY (student XY, 2014) on stereotypes about Czech Republic in context of migration from Luxembourg, it is possible to summarize that the initially strongly stereotypical image usually changes during the visit of this country. More specifically, perception of this country as an underdeveloped polluted post-comunist country has changed (because of immediate personal experience) into the image of country with high standard of living and developed service sector. This change causes feelings of happiness felt by Luxembourg migrants."