Using stories in teaching is very old, yet very new. Jesus utilized parables to engage listeners, to involve them in problem solving, and teach them deep, spiritual values. Many adult education classes employ films as discussion starters. Classes for young children have used storybooks as a lesson extension.
Yet, for some reason, when students pass third or fourth grade we set story telling aside. We assume that because students can read for themselves we should not read to them. We assume that they cannot yet handle the complicated issues that adults discuss in their gatherings. Both assumptions are false. In utilizing literature in education for youth we open up vast avenues to reaching them where they are at developmentally. We can travel down roads together that lead to values important to our personal and societal growth. We enjoy a shared experience based upon a story.
Using fiction in youth development has a very specific purpose and design. It allows the teacher or parent to anticipate and meet needs of young people. The goal is to help young people move through the stages of life by providing sound foundation in good character traits. This approach is not lecturing. The adult cannot simply tell young people what they are to "get" out of a story. Do not worry, young people are more astute than we often give them credit for.
Many articles have been written about the levels of development that children and adults pass through. The key phase associated with adolescence is developing a sense of identify. Fiction allows a "safe" method for adults and youth to discuss who they are. A story allows the reader/listener to "step back" from the situation involved, analyze it, and then apply it to themselves.
Teachers may cry out, "I don't have time to read a book to my students." Some educators, such as religious education teachers, may only see students once a week. As a Catholic school librarian I understand this frustration. When you only have students for a precious, short period, reading to your class may seem like a waste of time. It is not. Taking fifteen minutes each week to read a long book is all that is needed. Allow the students to recap what happened last week in the story. You will be surprised at how much they remember, even when it seems they are not listening.