Using students’ personal narratives in the classroom is a teaching technique that I would highly recommend. There are positive benefits for the students in terms of content acquisition, engagement in learning and creation of an educationally supportive classroom community. However, it is a technique in which there are risks for the instructor. Each and every time that I used the technique I felt terrified that it would not work and that the class would be a disaster. Introducing personal content, even when connected to course content increases the vulnerability for everyone in the classroom. Be prepared to feel a bit “out on a limb” if you decide to try this technique. In my experience, however the risk and anxiety are well worth it.
After having used the technique in my classroom for several semesters, I presented a workshop on it at the Research and Practice in Adult Literacy (RaPAL) conference in Sheffield, England. One participant at the workshop later shared both her trepidation and delight with the technique in e-mail to me:
In July I used your ideas as a way of facilitating my basic skills students’ end of course evaluation—what a revelation! I was concerned that by giving the group this level of freedom, I would not get the information I needed. The leap of faith was rewarded a hundred fold. The levels of understanding of personal learning were way beyond what I would normally have expected of low-level readers…the most insightful stories emerged. The experience was a real wake up call, prompting me to look at my own learning/practice (E-mail from Sheffield RaPAL conference participant, September 25, 2005).
For me, using students’ personal narratives as a teaching technique not only resulted in enhanced learning for the students, but proved to be a profound learning experience for me as well. I recommend that instructors who want to expose the role of the personal in education, and thus make visible their own role in the learning experience of our students, try this technique. Throughout the semester, I found myself constantly clarifying my educational philosophy and how it translated into my practice. I recommend the use of students’ personal narratives as a teaching technique for instructors who want to re-visit their understandings of teaching and learning.