This unit was conceived specifically with incoming freshman in mind. As do students in any high school, Wilbur Cross students enter ninth grade with trepidation, anxiety, fear of the unknown, insecurities, common and individual experiences, as well as their own histories and cultural perspectives. More importantly, all students enter with unique and powerful stories to tell. It is this
in storytelling that I am most interested in. The students will retrace the circles they have journeyed through, the process of starting at home, either literally or metaphorically speaking, venturing out into the world of experience, returning home: anew, changed, and matured for better or worse. In retracing their journeys, students will experience the power in the telling of these stories, the power of claiming and reframing all experiences in strength. Helping students to simultaneously learn about themselves, and about the writing process is the main goal, while enhancing the dynamics of our classroom learning community becomes an immeasurably beneficial byproduct.
At the beginning of each new school year I have students write a lot about themselves, a subject they know better than anything else. I use a variety of questions and prompts that probe for the essence of each individual student so that I might catch a glimpse of who they are. In reflecting on my teaching over the years, I’ve realized that I’ve had them do this writing for my sake, so that I could get to know them better and have that knowledge help guide my instruction. But with the dynamics as such, their teacher being a strange (to them), middle aged white woman, and they, teenagers of every ethnic group, their class mates from a pool of at least 25 schools across the district, the writing, relatively personal in nature, and most importantly, the trust between all of us not yet developed, I often learn very little about my students, and they, equally as little about themselves. Therefore, instead of asking students to tell me about themselves in this aforementioned quasi-autobiographical style, we will begin the year by learning about storytelling.
Beyond just the telling of their stories, another goal is to teach students how to use the craft of storytelling to fictionalize their experiences. In fictionalizing their stories, the writers create anonymity and privacy which allows the freedom to explore topics that otherwise might be very difficult to both write about and share. Fictionalizing also allows the writer to play around with multiple perspectives. As the final phase of storytelling involves going public, there is a valued safety in having ones classmates assume that all stories are fictional unless previously identified as otherwise. Therefore, we will focus on a variety of strategies that help the writers learn to fictionalize characters, events, experiences, and family histories. Learning to appreciate literary conventions and devices is a skill that all ninth graders are required to improve upon as part of the critical stance portion of the CAPT.