The following themes that emerged from the data support the argument of this research report: the use of students’ personal narratives in the classroom is a valuable teaching strategy because it facilitates the students’ understanding of specific course content and it enhances their engagement with classmates, class activities and course content. As well, it creates a classroom community. These developments enrich the learning experience because they allow the students to be seen.
What happens when the use of student personal narrative is introduced into an upgrading English classroom? A student answers:
I think (using student personal narratives) enhanced it. I think that’s what it did best. We may have been able to talk about things even if we didn’t know each other but it made it that much better. We shared personal stories and it was easier to say something out loud and not feel judged about it (Semesterend taped class discussion, December 2004).
I found out much more than I went looking for during this research. Initially I was excited about the idea of finding out if students could more effectively learn course content through sharing personal narratives on topics related to that content. I found out that they could. The use of this teaching technique enhanced their understanding of essay writing skills, symbolism, the role of text in their lives, the value of applying prior knowledge and experience, and of speaking in public. The technique was an effective tool for introducing these topics.
However, it was much, much more. As one RiPP team member reflected,
have, in effect, linked the affective and cognitive domains of learning by using
personal narrative to teach academic/cognitive content/concepts” (E-mail from
Leonne Beebe, January 26, 2005). Not only had the use of student narratives
facilitated content learning, it had resulted in positive student engagement. The
students were actively involved with the content of the course, in the storytelling
activity, with one another and with the course itself and school in general. This
engagement created a vibrant learning environment for both the students and
As a result, a classroom community developed which further enhanced and enriched the learning that took place. Students bonded with one another, showed respect for the opinions and ideas of one another, felt comfortable learning together and provided academic assistance to each other. I too felt part of a classroom community in a way I never have before in my teaching experience. The power relations of student/instructor shifted. Within this positive, energetic and respectful classroom climate, the students, their ideas, opinions and learning needs were seen.