The students themselves raised English goals they thought this teaching technique fostered. Most consistently they mentioned the goal of developing speaking skills as one of the reasons they thought I had asked them to tell stories from their own lives:
I think you are giving us the experience of speaking in public in an environment that is safe and not critical of our efforts…Speaking publicly about something in your own life is a lot easier than speaking on a subject you are not very familiar with. So I am getting practice with public speaking in subjects I am familiar and comfortable discussing (Individual feedback form, November 2004).
Developing speaking skills was not a goal I had planned to facilitate through the technique of having students tell personal narratives. The public speaking that this technique requires seemed more informal than the delivery of an oral researchbased presentation assignment that I had in mind. However, it was enlightening to learn that students felt that the activity helped them develop their public speaking abilities that could then be applied to the more formal research presentation.
They also felt that they learned from telling their own stories because doing that
involved, as one student explained,
“the thinking it will take to explain our story”
and the clarity that was needed to make sure that the story was understood. To
respond to my request to tell a personal narrative, students were aware that they
had to engage in an educational activity. Searching their memories for a story
that related to the assigned topic, reviewing the narrative in their minds to make
sure the sequence of events and details were in place, and then presenting the
story to the group were all activities that the students saw as valuable learning. As
one student explained, it was important to think about what she was going to say,
“wanted to make my point clear.” The significance of being understood, especially because the story was personal, added the dimension of developing
strong public speaking skills that I had not identified prior to getting feedback
from the students.