Rich Story Development

Objective: play with the ideas in the quote that began the Collaborative Exploration on “Stories to scaffold creative learning”  (quote repeated in the Preamble below) in light of inquiries that participants had been doing into stories, scaffolding, and creative learning.

(if you finish a step early, go on to the next step without waiting)

Time 0-5 minutes
Read preamble to follow. Ask for clarification, if needed. (Ditto throughout the activity.)


  • It is one thing to know that people are not passive recipients of life forces. But… it is another thing to identify initiatives that might provide a point of entry to the sort of rich story development that brings with it more positive identity conclusions and new options for action in the world. Michael White (2011)

Delimited “Container” – an activity for 75 minutes that makes no claims or expectations that the rest of us will solve your real-life problems or support you in doing so after the activity is over. Accepting these limitations gives everyone some freedom to take risks.

Playful – build a story by serial contributions starting from a seed that each person provides. The contributions may be far-fetched or even fantastic—you choose. Ditto for the “gap” you identify to seed your story, e.g., “I want to be selected as an original colonist to live on Mars.”

Serious parts
– Identify a “gap” (small or grand) between where you are and where you would like to be. Bridging that gap will involve creativity, entailing something novel and useful.
– Remembering conversation.
– Review the complete story and reflect.

Time 5-10
5 minutes Freewrite, starting from: “If asked to identify ‘gaps’ (small or grand) between where you are and where you would like to be regarding either creative pursuits, creative learning, learning in this creativity course, or some other area of my work and life, then the thoughts, feelings, experiences that come to mind include….”

Time 10-25
Choose one gap to focus on as you write your responses in the following Re-membering Conversation (drawn from work of M. White):

  • a. Identify someone who’s been in your life that wouldn’t be surprised that you would be concerned with [the gap you identified].
  • b. Think of something that this person—call them xx—contributed to your life. What did they invite you to share in, to be part of?
  • c. Could you say something about what xx appreciated about you that had them contributing these things to your life?
  • d. Thinking back, what did you do to take in their appreciation?
  • e. What do you think it contributed to xx’s life that you were available for them to take an interest in and to appreciate? How do you think xx’s life was different for knowing you in the way that they did?
  • f. What has it been like to recollect about you and xx?

Time 25-27
Enter the gap—perhaps refined in light of the Re-membering Conversation— into a googledocs beside your name. (Doing so seeds the story for you.)

This google doc has everyone’s names down the first column, then everyone’s names (except the person in the first column) across the row counting backwards.  E.g., If names are A, B, C, D then the first row reads A, D, C, B and the second row reads B, A, D, C, etc.  The names in columns 2, 4, etc. are preceded by a + and the names in columns 3, 5, etc. are preceded by a -.

Time 27-55
Take each other person in turn, read their story to date (from left to right), then make a contribution that extends the story. (You have, on average, 3-4 minutes for each participant.)
These extensions take one of two forms, which will be specified for you. The + form helps bridge the original gap and any subsequent obstacles that have arisen (e.g., “A group of us invite you to a picnic so you can get to know people informally before approaching them to get involved in your specific project”). The – form thwarts or teases or delays the gap-bridging (analogy: “It rains on the day of a planned picnic with friends and the umbrella store is closed because the owner has had a baby.”)

Feel free to add in parentheses any questions you have for the person, where your uncertainty about how to contribute might have been reduced if you had known the answers to the questions.

Time 55-65 (and continued after class)
Review the complete story and any side-questions that the story-extenders pose to you. Then reflect in (free)writing on anything in the story that struck you as interesting, especially as it resonates with your Re-membering conversation.

Time 65-75
Go around plus-delta on the activity


This activity was run in a class on 22 Oct 13.  Some of the feedback included:

“in the beginning of the exercise… I was not sure what to do.  Once everything got started, I was quite engaged.. and I enjoy the result.”

“Today’s activity made easier to understand the concept of scaffolding.”

“I was a fan of the exercise we did today… I found it to be not only engaging, but also had a personal touch.”

About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

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