Rossiter suggests that adult educators intuitively understand the value of using students’ personal narratives to enrich the learning that goes on in the classroom. Within the literature, an emphasis seems to exist on the use of students’ stories as a means to growth and development on a personal level.
M. Carolyn Clark (2001) cites the example of Alcoholics Anonymous where participants tell stories of their decline because of alcohol abuse and also share stories of better lives created because of personal change. In this sense, the sharing of personal narratives is transformative for both the storyteller and audience. Rossiter (1999) also explores this personal development value of students’ narratives:
The idea is that the process of telling one’s story externalizes it so that one can reflect on it, become aware of its trajectory and the themes within it, and make choices about how one wishes to continue (p.15).
Within much of the literature, personal narratives are discussed as an effective tool to promote this self-discovery and development, or, as G.C. Rosenwald and R.I. Ochberg describe it, a “means by which identities may be fashioned” (1992, p.1). The literature on this value of the use of personal narratives did not address the use that I was interested in researching. The stories that students would be asked to share would be specifically focused on topics that would support a particular course content issue. The sharing of events from students’ lives would not be undertaken as a way of exploring personal issues in order to facilitate personal growth and development but as a way of approaching course content.
Although the learning did not go on in a formal education setting, the work done by Linda Smith (2002) in a collaborative inquiry project does indicate the value of the personal narrative technique to get at content, in addition to personal growth. While the use of personal narratives was not her research focus, Smith indicates that the technique was useful. In an attempt to have community women construct knowledge from their experience, Smith utilized the storytelling technique:
At the next meeting I had a potluck. In listening to the relaxed way we told recipe stories, I asked us to consider telling stories of what happened between sessions as a way to do inquiry (p. 25).