The previous two articles discussed how to build external bridges with families, community leaders, and organizations. Now I’m going to talk about one of the most important “bridges” educators can build, and that’s with students. One way to do that is through personal narratives. I’ll share with my experience below.
One of my favorite times of year as a teacher was when I taught our personal narratives unit. This was a time to have students use stories familiar to them and share them in a descriptive way. One year my class talked about the most important person and another year was about a favorite place. It’s always an interesting process because oftentimes these young second graders are beginning to find their voices. I would often share a memorable story that shows a product and then we’ll use our Writer’s Workshop process to get them started. Usually, I’ll have them use a variety of techniques depending on the class–brainstorming, freewriting, outlines/graphic organizers–that we’ve modeled and work with the kids to build their pieces. I notice that as they are writing, revising, and editing their pieces, they glow with pride as they talk about those things that matter to them. Once they were done, we’d display them in the hall or our classroom for others to enjoy. Sometimes, if they’re really personal, we’ll create a card and give them to the person of honor.
Why is this important? Several reasons. First, kids often struggle having their voices heard. Personal narratives give kids the chance to share things on their own terms. Another thing personal narrative brings for the educator is that it provides a window into their students’ lives. I’ll never forget one student who wrote how he was proud of the fact that his mom was getting healthy after having issues with her mental and physical health. Another child wrote how they recognize the sacrifice their mom makes every day to care for them while their dad works for the family. Still another child wrote about how her mother supports her while running a successful business and caring for an ailing grandmother. I cried real tears when I read these stories, and for those who shared them, kids were supportive and loving. This leads to my final point: creating and sharing personal narratives may potentially foster community among the classroom by building empathy and compassion for one another. These were central values I sought to instill in my students, and as a teacher who taught intentionally, personal narratives were a great way to achieve this goal.
How have you used writing to build bridges with your students? Share your experiences below.