Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 32

In Practice:
Set-Up and
Pay-off
In MAP-Works® presentations
exploring first-year students’
academic experiences, we use a
set-up/pay-off approach to frame
the story. The set-up is students’
grade expectations. On the MAPWorks 2012 Fall Transition Survey,
for instance, 80 percent of first-year
students expected to earn a grade
point average of at least 3.00, and
almost none expected C’s or below.
These data points serve as great
set-ups for housing and residence
life professionals, who know about
typical grade distributions and
understand that these expectations
are not realistic.
The story continues with
progressive complications,
including data about study
behaviors, academic self-efficacy,
and class attendance. The payoff comes when we compare
students’ grade expectations
with their actual performance.
The difference between those
who expected high grades and
those who earned them is more
than 20 percent. Because the
pay-off comes late in the story,
the audience pays attention,
looking for clues to see if their
expectations are accurate.
If time permits, we add
a twist to the story after the
pay-off by comparing students’
grade expectations for fall with
their grade expectations for the
spring semester. Although poor
performance in the fall should
probably affect expectations for
spring, the data show that grade
expectations are actually similar
for both semesters.

32

Talking STiCk

rest of the play reveals the aftermath.
In assessment stories, the hook or
inciting incident may be something
negative, such as a campus accident,
or something positive, such as a new
agenda brought by a new campus
leader.
A third foundational element is
a major dramatic question. What
happens to a character who is thrown
into an unfamiliar context? What
happens when two very different
characters have to depend on each
other? In housing and residence
life, we have dramatic questions not
only about our students and their
experiences, but also about our staffs
and programs. Does RA training work?
Does changing quiet hours affect
academic performance? These practical
and important questions can provide
powerful themes that unify a narrative.

Complications and Conflicts
Conflict in a story creates interest and
arouses emotion, keeping the audience
interested as the story progresses. We
naturally think about conflict between
characters, such as the arguments
between the leads in a romantic comedy
or the classic fights between the hero
and the villain. But conflicts can also
be internal or can exist between larger
entities, like two different cultures, or
abstract entities, like opposing values.
In the comedy show “The Big Bang
Theory,” Sheldon’s rigid adherence
to the roommate agreement creates a
conflict that drives the story of many
episodes. The conflict in an assessment
story can be based on situations with
competing priorities or mismatching
expectations and experiences, or it can
be embodied in conflicting results.
The satisfaction that residents feel for
their RAs may be high, while that with
the floor environment and learning
outcomes is low; residents may like
the RA as a person, but the RA has
not helped them to learn and grow.
Conflicts in data can prompt interest
and discussion whereas a simpler story
would not.
Many stories have progressive
complications, which can be relatively

minor in the scope of the narrative
(Harry Potter not being able to find the 9
3/4 platform at King’s Station) or can be
major obstacles or a series of challenges
that compose the bulk of a story
(Frodo returning the ring to the fires
of Mordor). These obstacles keep the
story interesting by renewing audience
interest with each complication. When
assessment results are being presented,
audiences often want an easy answer.
We can provide it, but we can also add
progressive complications in the form
of data that demonstrate how the easy
answer is not applicable to all students
or every situation. These progressive
complications keep the story from
getting simplistic and boring, and they
add depth to people’s thinking.
Other story elements are pivotal
events or twists. A pivotal event refers to
an occurrence that has a dramatic effect
on the characters or the progression
of the story. It may be the climax of
the story, the turning point in the plot
that the audience has been waiting for
or expecting. Or it may involve twists,
those unexpected turns that surprise
us and change the direction of a story.
For assessment stories, a pivotal event
may be represented by an illumination
of the program we provide, while twists
can be represented in our surprising
or unexpected data. One of the twists
in an assessment story might involve
presenting data that demonstrate a
relationship between two elements that
would not, on the surface, seem related:
how residents see their RA and how
satisfied they are with the timeliness of
repairs.
One pair of linked story elements
that can be particularly useful for
assessment storytellers is the set-up
and the pay-off. The set-up involves
relaying a piece of information that the
storyteller shares with the audience,
which may or may not be shared with
the characters. Its purpose is to provide
information for the pay-off. Intuitively,
most of us understand these concepts
because we have seen them so often in
movies and stories. The set-up comes,
and we wonder why the storyteller is
providing this particular information;
only at the moment of pay-off do we



Talking Stick - September/October 2013

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Talking Stick - September/October 2013

Talking Stick - September/October 2013
Contents
New Member Highlight
Vision
Just In
Your ACUHO-I
Transitions
Res Life
Business Operations
Facilities
Calendar
Becoming an Assessment Storyteller
The Quintessential Professional
Conversations
First Takes
Reporting Out
New Members
Snapshot
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Talking Stick - September/October 2013
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Cover2
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 1
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 2
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Contents
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - New Member Highlight
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 5
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Vision
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 7
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Just In
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 9
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 10
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 11
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 12
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Your ACUHO-I
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Transitions
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 15
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Res Life
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 17
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 18
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 19
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Business Operations
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 21
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 22
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 23
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Facilities
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 25
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 26
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Calendar
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Becoming an Assessment Storyteller
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 29
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 30
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 31
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 32
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 33
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 34
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 35
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - The Quintessential Professional
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 37
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 38
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 39
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 40
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 41
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 42
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 43
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Conversations
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 45
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 46
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - First Takes
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Reporting Out
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 49
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 50
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 51
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 52
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 53
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - New Members
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - 55
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Snapshot
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Cover3
Talking Stick - September/October 2013 - Cover4
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