I was certainly aware that by using their narratives, I had something real and relevant from the students’ lives to “hook” the teaching of essay components onto. I used their stories to introduce the components of an essay and to highlight for the students the skills they already have in using these components. In addition to successfully introducing the intended English content, the students also shared a part of themselves. One student expressed the usefulness of the technique in helping her approach essay writing:
I have to say that that one though (telling a story about a time you tried to convince somebody of something) helped me tremendously for my essays because remember what I said was that I don’t try to convince people of things. You know, I kinda gave up on that a long time ago. So when I went to do my essays which again, I haven’t done since I was in high school—so it was all new to me and how many times did I go back to that ‘convince me’? Okay, this is your argument. So that made a big difference for me, the way that worked (Semester-end taped class discussion, December 14, 2004).
The technique helped students understand the new skill that they were learning, in terms of something from their everyday lives that they already knew how to do, and as result their learning was facilitated.
Adult Basic Education: An Articulation Handbook 2005-2006 describes the goals English instructors have for their students. Two of these goals are to develop the ability to read a piece of literature and recognize symbolism in it and to value the significance of those symbols. The use of students’ personal narratives facilitated the achievement of these goals by making it easier for students to make a connection between their stories and symbols. In addition, using the students’ understanding of the symbolism in their narratives about a significant personal item facilitated the transference of that understanding to symbolism in literature.
Students brought something special from home and in small groups told a story about why the item was significant to them. Through a large group discussion the students easily made the connection between these stories and the literary device of symbolism, recognizing and appreciating the value of symbols in their everyday lives. The following quotation describes different examples the students referred to in the discussion about what different objects symbolize to them:
I asked the class what they thought about when they looked at the son’s graduation cap. They talked about how they saw a mother’s pride, a son’s accomplishment, a family’s growth and development and a connection to better relationships. When I asked the same question about the carved turtle, a class member said that she thought of love when she saw it. Another student said she thought of survival. A third student said that the turtle made her think of rebirth, both that of the turtles who were laying eggs in the sand and of our student who had successfully battled cancer (Field notes, November 2004).