The students seemed highly engaged in the content of exploring concepts around death, mortality, grieving and spirituality. Because of the pain that this activity caused some students, I did not repeat it with my night school class. Student engagement with the content was noticeably different:
I did not introduce the essay by using the narrative technique that I had in the morning class. We simply did some predictions based on the topic and then title. The intense discussion that my morning class had did not happen. The exercise was simply perfunctory (Journal entry, March 2004).
In an e-mail to a research team member I again noted the difference between the class that had shared their own stories compared to the one that hadn’t:
…the discussion was a bit barren and the engagement was minimal. They are a good class so they did what I asked but none of the passion was there (Email to RiPP team members, March 12, 2004).
It was impossible not to see the enormous effect that telling their own stories had on the subsequent engagement of the students with the topic.
While the difference in class responses cannot be attributed solely to the use of student personal narrative, it certainly seemed to be a major factor. The difference in engagement with this particular course content between the two classes was also evident in the students’ written responses. “The journals from this class were substantially shorter and again very mechanical compared to the day class” (Journal entry, March 2004).
In contrast, the class that had shared personal narratives demonstrated a much higher level of engagement with the topic through their written responses:
I wanted to give the students the chance to tell me that this had been a disaster so I simply asked them to write a journal after they finished the article. They were free to go after that. Most of the students finished reading the article with only five minutes left in the class. A bit to my surprise, they stayed well beyond the end of class to write these journals. And these journals were AMAZING! Intense, probing, thoughtful, insightful, philosophic, deep (Journal entry, March 2004).