I took a big gulp and decided to try asking the students to share a personal narrative
with one another.
“Get into small groups and tell each other a story about a time you
learned something important to you,” I asked the class. Five minutes later, a noisy din
filled the classroom as students shared their stories. I was certainly happy with the
level of engagement I observed in the students. In terms of course content, I had posed
this narrative topic in the hopes that the students, in describing the events of a significant
learning experience, would explore the components that are important for each
of them that make a situation conducive to learning. The goal of this exploration was
to encourage the students to both create and demand those conditions in our classroom
so that English class would be as beneficial to them as possible.
Once everyone’s narrative had been shared in small groups, I asked for several narratives
to be shared with the whole class. At this point, I was planning to “pull out” the
learning concepts that were the goal of this exercise. I was right to have GULPED when
I initially started this exercise! While the narrative topic did elicit enthusiastic responses
from the students, I learned that I needed to be well prepared in advance to ‘work’ with
the student stories and to connect them to the course content. When I left the class I
had that horrible frustrated feeling of the class not having quite worked.
things did I want the students to get out of the activity?” I asked myself as I walked
back to my office,
“What was the intended content?” It was clear that I did not use the
students’ responses to their full potential. As is often the case, I learned more from this
activity than the students.
Even though my ‘official’ practitioner/research project would not begin until the next semester, I had tried the technique in my current class. While the frustrated feeling that I had was not pleasant, it did excite me professionally. How could I have been teaching for twenty five years and not be clear on what was the base content I wanted students to grasp? I realized that in the future when I used this narrative technique, I would have to be intentional about what exactly were the content concepts being elicited and how I was going to work with the students’ personal narratives to connect their stories to those concepts. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… the practitioner research process had begun!
Armed with my research question I proceeded to select the research participants and time and setting for this project. After having received my teaching assignment in the College and Career Preparation Department at the College of New Caledonia for the next semester, I chose to conduct this research project in my Provincial level English class (English 050). In terms of public school education, this course is similar to grade twelve English and is a necessary pre-requisite for many other college programs.