How Stories Can Scaffold Creative Learning


My fingers frequently flirt with keyboards, oftentimes making a move, sometimes when they shouldn’t. It’s that digital hush, again: “Facebook isn’t for essays or politics.”

Where ought I write to understand? Describing her writing process, Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

As a graduate student in critical and creative thinking, I’m fascinated by literacy as mastering process, not content. Knowledge isn’t a commodity. It’s an exploration.

It’s about people using tools—it’s sociotechnical.

Exploring Critical and Creative Thinking

Last month, I tried a four-week collaborative exploration, hosted by the CCT program at University of Massachusetts Boston. The CEs are monthly; open to anybody, cost nothing.

You only need a Google Plus account, along with some fluency in threaded discussion forums and online chatting. Our scenario: “Stories to Scaffold Creative Learning.”

How might stories emphasize scaffolding, the external supports that contribute to our learning and finding new paths? What lessons can be drawn about how to foster or support creative learning—in oneself and in others—through telling alternative kinds of stories?

During our initial Google hangout, each talking head fleshed out with a voiced introduction. The first explained interests in mathematical anthropology and work in computational mathematics; others discussed psychology and teaching, writing and horticulture.

Our first session felt like a chance convergence of seven random minds opening from around the world—void of judgment, filled with interest in what might happen. Ideas were quickly sowed, so they may later be germinated, pollinated and ripened.

Listening to everyone talk, including myself, I scribbled some ideas—might we also speak because we don’t know what we think until we hear what we say?

How might stories be open-ended? How might the way you tell a story change how it’s interpreted? What’s the difference between stories told by highly paid writers, and those casually conveyed by a caring grandparent? How do stories set a stage for others?

After an asynchronous week of typing into our Google Plus community, a link appeared for another one-hour hangout. Our silent 4-minute free-writing break gave way to many merging and maturing ideas.

How might personal narratives use fiction? How does that affect knowledge of one’s self? Do our stories purposefully or inadvertently control our ability to connect and relate?

We discussed how, with storytelling, we detach and extend ourselves through an orderly process. Our telling methods are changing—email, blogging, texting, social media—and so must our listening. As we keep telling and listening, we change.

Storytelling and Scaffolding

How Might Stories Scaffold Creative Learning?During our third weekly hangout, we shared our works in progress. A couple of people wrote letters about scaffolding creative learning, rich in symbolism and metaphors. They explained how communities grow together by sharing experiences.

I shared a diagram to show how a storytelling process starts with inspiration. The inspired mind detaches to explore the stimulating ideas, but then connects with others to shape them. After sharing, the process may reboot through sustained inspiration.

Stories are tools for changing or challenging our cognitive processes. While sometimes uncomfortable, they’re always insightful.

Our fourth and final session was filled with reflection. I considered O’Connor again… might we create because we don’t know what we think until we see what we’ve made?



  1. Marcella Corroeli Jager

    December 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    so you are saying that our ideas only mature if they are hung out to dry – they need reality to pick at them and then we re-think and hang them back out again – love your post – very thought provoking – love your area of research too! Thanks for this

  2. Dustin Senger

    December 2, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks, Marcella. While this post focuses on storytelling, ideas in general certainly grow wings within social contexts… and that’s where they’re ultimately accepted or rejected by the keepers of domains. The storytelling process helps us project ideas to listeners, and the storyteller should be considered a listener, too. The act of reading a story involves an evaluation of a communicated version of reality, and those evaluations mustn’t remove the original author as a person who’s been influenced. In this way, an unpublished author matures his or her ideas in a social context: me and myself :-)

  3. chan

    December 17, 2013 at 6:19 am

    I have some scaffolding that I would like to use to build a temporary slide to my swimming pool. The slide I would like to be made out of the side parts which are the ones like rectangles with bars going across them and I have a variety of poles. I would then like to put a slippery tarpaulin on to the frame.

    But how would I hold the tarpaulin up, because the metal poles will be too short? So that if someone slid down it they would not just burst through the tarpaulin and hit the floor after hitting around five metal poles!