This kind of engagement was also demonstrated at other times when student personal narratives were used in the classroom. The second time I attempted the strategy, again early in the semester, the students participated immediately and willingly:
I was a bit nervous about the vagueness of the request (tell a story about a time you tried to convince somebody of something) but when I asked the students to get into small groups with people they have not worked with before, they immediately broke into groups and began sharing stories (Field notes, September 2004).
Instructors are always trying to hold the attention of students and induce them to participate in educational activities. To see that facilitated by this teaching strategy was most exhilarating. Student engagement with the activity itself was not only demonstrated by how many, how fast and how readily students participated, but also by the way they participated. The students were not simply going through the motions because I had assigned the activity. They were both focused on what they were doing and intense in how they participated:
While I observed the class in general, it appeared that everyone took a turn telling a story while the other members of the group listened intently. Everyone was engaged in the activity. Pairs did not break off into independent conversations. Laughter came from each group at some point and I could hear people asking questions of the storyteller (Field notes, September 2004).
The activity did not seem to be carried out by the students in a perfunctory way. Instead, they were purposeful and on task. I discussed student engagement with the personal narrative activity with RiPP team members:
Yesterday I had the students each bring something special from home. Then they got into groups of four and showed their group members their special item and told the story about why the item was special. The students in each small group were so engaged (understatement)…you could “feel” them listening to one another…asking questions…sharing their personal and emotional responses to everyone’s stories (E-mail to RiPP team members, September 28, 2004).
This engagement in the classroom activities affected everyone. The atmosphere in the class was intense and focused on the work at hand. As an instructor, it is hard to ask for more than that. As one student expressed on his feedback form, “It felt good to talk about my life because it was something that I was proud about.” The use of student personal narrative proved to be a teaching strategy that resulted in high student engagement. Because students were sharing some of themselves with one another, allowing themselves to be seen, interest and attention were heightened.