Thoughts about my demo

Monday, June 21, 2010

I’m trying to put together my demo for teaching personal narratives.  As I research for materials that could potentially become my contentions, I have found a common theme running throughout the articles that I’ve found.  The authors say that having students write about their personal lives helps to validate them within the classroom.  Basically, I am beginning to understand how powerful personal narratives are in helping students to understand who they are in the contexts of their past, present, and future.  It is through writing about their lives that students can make sense of their past, present, and future.  Writing about our lives is a lot like storytelling.  Telling stories brings pleasure to the listener and, I believe, situates the story within a culture, time, place, and event, and, therefore, gives the storyteller a clear identity.

Why did I want to expand on teaching how to write personal narratives?  I guess I could have chosen many other ideas or concepts for my demo but…well…my thoughts are a slight jumble with many reasons for why I chose personal narratives.  Let me see if I can unravel them:

  • This genre was the most challenging for me to teach when I was in the classroom, teaching the Lucy Calkins’ series (both years).  My students found it hard to believe that their lives and experiences mattered.  They mostly thought their lives were boring.  It was a challenge to get them to think that the “small moments” in their lives were worthy of putting down on paper.  If we’re honest with ourselves, I think a lot of us feel this way about our lives as well.  Who would think that moment when we stopped to notice a little pond with tadpoles in it, or burning toast in the morning, or getting stuck in a line at the McDonald’s drive-thru would be interesting to write about?  I think the big question students have is:  “Would anyone really care about what is important to me, even though it might seem insignificant?”
  • I am also interested in working more closely with students (whether in a school context or not) that have lived in cultures that are different from their own.  These children are sometimes called “Cross-cultural Kids” or “Third Culture Kids”.  I remember sitting in on a professional development session that Haeny Yoon was giving several years ago on writing personal narratives.  She had us pick a moment in our own lives that was significant to write about.  I think I wrote about a time when my family was returning back to Kenya after a furlough in Korea and found ourselves missing our connecting flight in Hong Kong.  This story was important to me because my family had made a very difficult decision to go back to Kenya.  While on furlough, my parents realized that there was a lot of work they could do in Korean churches and were getting offers to stay in the country.  It came down to a family decision.  For my sisters and I, there was no question:  we wanted to go back “home”.   Now, this story might merely be a “story” to the average reader but to another child who has lived a similar transient lifestyle, it is a connection point.  There have been small moments in all our lives that have fallen by the wayside in our minds and lives because they might have been insignificant to our parents at the time (there were bigger fish to fry), or because our friends might not have understood what the big deal was, or simply because it felt like no one really cared (I’m not trying to sound self-pitying here, just matter-of-fact, I hopeJ).
  • Writing about our lives can bring validation, closure, and a place to carve out our futures.  If we can understand our past, much like historians do, perhaps we can understand ourselves better (our errors, our tendencies, our thought processes, our gifts and talents) and make decisions based on our knowledge of ourselves and our lives so far.
  • Validating stories gives students purpose and a reason to be in the classroom.
  • Deconstructing exclusivity occurs when students are exposed to stories.
  • Validating students’ stories to help put them on the path to becoming competent and contributing adults could make the biggest difference in their lives.
  • Listening and telling help individuals understand themselves and others.
  • Storytelling helps children make better sense of their lives.
  • Stories bring children into the act of creating.
  • All stories shape life direction, identity, and beliefs.
  • Student empowerment comes from feeling in control of one’s options and stories support that feeling.

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