J. Bathina

California State University, Fresno (UNITED STATES)
Students who are at risk are often oblivious to what factors are impacting their success and their ability to learn. Overwhelmed by circumstances and factors such as poverty, institutionalized racism, gang violence, drugs and the struggle for survival, such students see no connection between school and their own lives. In order for at risk students to feel connected to school, they need to see that the process of learning is impacted by life experience. By using Personal Narrative combined with Personal Action Research in the classroom, teachers can demonstrate the ups and downs of the learning experience and help students to think critically about the connections between outside factors and academic success.
This session will describe the effective use of these two strategies in the classroom to motivate, engage and empower students at risk. Four anthologies of student writing have resulted from using these methods in California classrooms with students who were deemed failures. The personal narrative aspect allows students to share their own stories and develop their own voice. Personal connection and “being real” are very effective methods of reaching students who feel otherwise disconnected to school. Teachers can use this method to make strong personal connections with their students. Once teachers present themselves as real people who have also experienced struggle and have overcome challenges, students are more apt to share their own stories.

Storytelling has always been a part of education. “Oral and written stories (both through text and pictures) are used as teaching and learning tools” (Mello, 2001 p. 4). Storytelling and sharing stories allows students to make connections with their own personal narratives. It is “used to teach literacy skills, cooperative learning skills, critical thinking, and to build knowledge of different contexts” (Mello, 2005 p.5). This ties in with the learning theories of Jerome Bruner, which suggest that there are two primary modes of thought, the narrative and the paradigmatic. The action oriented, sequential and detail oriented nature of telling a story engages narrative thought, while the logical thought structure and connections address the paradigmatic. “[S]torytelling brings people together with a common perspective” (Huffaker, 2004). However, if this process is to truly become a means of self discovery and an avenue to power (Friere) then teachers must equip students to become agents of change by conducting participatory action research.
Combining storytelling and critical thinking initiates the process of action research among students and teachers alike. Otherwise passive students become active researchers into their own circumstances. As a result, students feel respected, take an active part in their learning, and are highly motivated to build their literacy skills for a tangible end product.