There’s Power in Narrative Instruction, Part 2

Every year, I started my course with a personal narrative. This assignment served multiple needs. It provided a writing sample for each student and no research was required. Most importantly, I had a two-page snapshot that gave me an idea of what each person valued. Even those students who failed to turn in the essay inadvertently gave me insights- usually that they feared writing or had never had a teacher who valued them or their words.

More than anything, I would use the writing process to help students find their story.

Granted, I taught during the personal narrative heyday of TAKS, but I wouldn’t change much if I was still in the classroom. Even with high school students,  I would still start the year with personal narrative writing instruction. I’d model brainstorming and selecting a topic, then drafting and revising using brief lessons to support growing various areas of need. More than anything, I would use the writing process to help students find their story.

In a time in education when many feel the expository, argumentative, and analytical essays are king, this can be a less than popular position. Bear with me.

Any writer knows that sharing your writing with another is the fruition of the nightmare where you find yourself standing naked in front of your peers.  This bone numbing fear only comes though when fully invested in a piece. If a student hasn’t gotten to the point where they feel they’ve put it all on the line then they will never feel this. I want every student to have a piece of writing matter so much that they anxiously wait for feedback. If they don’t, then I haven’t I done my job. But, I’ve got a lot to do to get my students to this point. It all starts with personal narrative.

I need students writing the moment they walk into the classroom. This means I need a topic where each of them is an expert. Students are expert in themselves and everyone has a story that needs to be told. Without a need to research, students move straight into brainstorming and flash drafting. Getting words on paper is key. If I want writers to leave my classroom then I have to create writing volume. I want their fingers to ache when the bell rings. The only subject that allows for that level of writing early in the semester is self.

I want to coach writers. I have to know what drives them, what inspires them. The personal narrative essay and the brainstorming that surrounds it provide me with this intel. I find my athletes, the class leaders, and the child who gave birth to a child that summer. There must be trust between a writer and their writing instructor. Trust starts with a relationship. The personal narrative is the beginning of a relationship.

Finally, the flash drafts and the conferring lessons that lead to the published essay will provide a starting point for improving the writer.

If the use of the personal narrative stopped here then I could understand those who would scoff and argue in favor of the expository, argumentative, and analytical essays. This is just the starting point, though. After publishing narratives, I would then move into expository writing building on the many lessons I taught during our narrative work. I would transition instruction to using anecdotes and the narrative structure in writing.  Ultimately, the enduring understanding  is twofold:

  1. Most writers blends genres.
  2. Purpose and audience should drive writing decisions.

This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.