Elizabeth K. Johnston
“I had to search within myself for something which my classmates could not have learned in that school, in the country, or in the planet for that matter” (Cisneros interview, 1992).
Don’t we all have something unique within? Haven’t we all had some experience others could treasure and learn from? In teaching students to see themselves as storytellers, and by fostering a classroom culture in which all stories are valuable connections to the human experience, we, as a community of learners, unite ourselves in an ancient tradition, and in the telling of our stories, thereby pass the gift on to others.
Giving language to our thoughts and personal experiences provides the opportunity to share them with others. Therefore, the telling of our stories becomes powerful in its ability to convey the experience to others, in its ability to connect us to the human experience, while simultaneously having the ability to teach us about ourselves. In
The Making of Meaning: Metaphors, Models, and Maxims for Writing Teachers,
Ann Berthoff cites Vygotsky’s notion that language and thought are simultaneous and correlative, rather than having a sequential relationship. Berthoff says that composing is a continuum of meaning-making, that we compose in order to make sense of the world. Furthermore, she asserts that language, in its discursive character, is powerful (69). Berthoff refers to the classroom as a theater, or forum, “as language can only be realized in social context” (72). The more I read, research and reflect on storytelling, the more I am convinced that all writing connects us to others somehow, whether or not we share the author’s experience. Throughout this unit students will learn to use language and thought simultaneously in order to compose and share their stories in the social context of the classroom. They will make that connection with others and appreciate each unique story. They will learn to use the discursive power of language to make their own meaning of their world. Students will learn to reflect on their experiences as well as their writing. Storytelling as a continuum of meaning-making is what I’ll refer to from here on as the circular journey.
To understand what I mean by circular journeys throughout the unit, it is important to consider the recursive process of maturing, evolving, and growing. Most of our stories do not have linear paths, but rather start with the individual (already entrenched in culture, tradition, beliefs, and values) who ventures out and away, and ultimately circles back, or returns to self, home, or values, but nonetheless is changed somehow by the journey. If we thought of our lives as a linear path, we would never return to our memories, never revisit our past, and never learn to reinvent ourselves. Throughout this unit, the students will learn to think of writing and composing much the same way. It will be a journey that is both recursive and evolutionary. Writing their stories will teach students about themselves, and learning about themselves will teach them to grow as writers.