Within, Without and Below the Story

On its own, reading can be a passive activity. However you can increase your critical understanding of what you read by training yourself to be simultaneously ‘within’, ‘without’ and ‘below’ the story. In simple terms, when reading, you can experience the narrative as a participant (a character), you can examine the narrative as an omniscient observer and you can manipulate the narrative through direct awareness of the subtext. 

The 'Within, Without and Below' process is a 3D approach which offers an in-depth, multi perspective appreciation of a text and, it helps you determine how (and why) the narrative is relevant to you. In essence, being within, without and below the story can help you locate embedded learning. Therefore, the ‘Within, Without and Below’ process acts as a catalyst for building your own knowledge from ideas you have gathered. It is a system of tripartite synthesis that offers an opportunity to consolidate learning and create your own concepts. Deep learning occurs because you are actively blending your thoughts, with the ideas of others, to construct ‘new’ meaning. 

Interestingly, the ‘Within, Without and Below’ reading process works equally well with fiction and non-fiction. While it is true that non-fiction texts may not be ‘stories’ per se, many non fiction texts contain story elements or narrative techniques. For instance, most texts utilise specific language features (ie descriptive, persuasive, informative) to establish a particular tone or mood. Recognising how (and why) these features are used provides clues for interpreting subtext. Similarly, becoming aware of point-of-view offers signals for discerning purpose and bias. This is useful for determining a text’s relevance to your situation. Therefore, regardless of text type, it is possible to explore a text from multiple perspectives using an awareness of narrative functions.

Can you imagine how this may benefit you? Think forward for a moment and predict what the world may look like 10 years from now. Which skills and tools will be required to navigate a world where information is easily obtained and constantly changing technology promotes opportunities and delivers challenges? An endless parade of innovative goods and services will supplant current products and practices, leading to constant revisions of social norms. Who will create these fresh perspectives?

Now imagine your future. Where will you be, what will you be doing?

Chances are the world will continue to change - have you considered your position within it? While it may be impossible to accurately forecast the future, it is possible to make a choice about your role within it. You can choose today, to develop the skills that will prepare you for an unknown tomorrow. You can choose to become a lifelong learner who ‘reads’ patterns and ‘adapts’ new systems. You can choose to gather the tools of critical, emotional and creative literacy (analysis, evaluation, synthesis and construction), so you may direct a course to your future.  

The ‘Within, Without and Below’ process is best demonstrated ‘live’, however here is a brief overview:

1.  Listen while a passage from a story is read to you (you could record yourself reading the passage and then listen back to it)

2.  Listen to passage a second time, but this time close your eyes and imagine yourself within the story. You may be one of the characters or you may be an ‘additional character who acts as a friend or advisor. Allow yourself to become part of the story and notice how you react to the situations encountered.

3. Engage in a focused breathing and creative visualisation exercise where you take charge of the story. Imagine what ‘could’ happen next if you were in control.

4. As soon as you have finished the creative visualisation, write for 10 minutes about a thematic issue raised in the text (without editing or censuring your thoughts).

5. Discuss the ideas born from the text and your own writing.

6. Return to the written copy of the passage. Focus on the language used by the author. In particular pay attention to connotation and figurative language. Consider the reasons behind the author’s choice of words. Reflect how you would (and did) express similar concepts.

7. Write an evaluative piece. This will be a polished piece of writing that has been drafted several times to ensure accuracy and coherency. You may like to publish this as a blog post and invite others to comment on your ideas.

Obviously this is a process that takes time. However, if you train your mind to think ‘within, without and below’ using exercises such as this, you may find yourself reading in such a way that the process occurs almost automatically.  The key point to remember is that passive reading is not ‘learning’, it is simply following words to a destination. However, if you choose to actively think about and manipulate the words on the page, you can begin to construct ideas. This is how ‘knowledge’ grows.

Welcome to a World of Expression