This morning in our presentations of personal narratives, TR enthusiastically shared a story about falling off a bike. The story had lots of specifics and was quite engaging though its topic was somewhat generic. Students were focused and energetically responded to the humor and the gore.
After each presentation we talk for a bit, sharing what we liked about the presentation and then offering any suggestions we might have about how the storyteller might have made their story more powerful. Lots of hands flew up at the end of TR’s presentation.
Each student gave a well-observed and honest response about the presentation, then slid into a story of his/her own about falling, crashing, hurting themselves while on a bike. This wasn’t an attempt to distract the group from the next activities on the agenda. The students were sincerely sharing their personal experiences. Even my most on-task students had their hands up to tell their own tale. A palpable energy and momentum was building in the room. At one point I asked why was it that so many of us felt compelled, after hearing TR’s story, to tell a connected tale of our own? What was it about stories that drew us all into wanting to share our own personal experiences?
Students responded that maybe the story touched a nerve, a universal place about risk and we have all had those experiences. Another student responded that maybe there is an archetypical desire to compete for the bloodiest and most unusual accident. Other comments: It was fun to learn about each other and there was something that felt good about all of us experiencing something very similar; danger and surviving help us all feel a bit heroic even though the only person who gets saved is ourself. In an earlier post I had talked about how eye contact and immediate feedback have a lot to do with the fuel and energy of a story and that being held in community is powerful and seductive, especially for 13 year olds. It was clear that many of my students were striving for that social recognition this morning.
But the conversation turned. I asked if all of us make these connections, maybe even just at a subconscious level, when we read? Is this what helps us to sink into a story, because the stories we are reading are hooked somehow into our own experiences as humans. Do we bring what we know of what it means to be human to the characters in stories? Does this make them endlessly interesting because they reflect that shared experience? Does our experience help to animate their narrative?
Some students responded in a very literal way. “If you’re reading about an alien culture on Mars, you’re not going to bring to the book any real experience about living on another planet.”
“But wouldn’t you bring the experience of human interactions? Wouldn’t the aliens’ interactions reflect our own?”
“I’ve never been in war and so reading about it is a new experience (We’re presently reading All Quiet on the Western Front). Maybe the act of reading itself is giving me the experience.”
“But don’t we all experience friendship and loss and death and intimacy that we bring to bear when reading about any topic?”
Then the period was over.
As I gathered my books and laptop to get to a meeting, I wondered if this decade of technology, which has substituted a virtual world of touch for tangible, visceral experience, has reduced the kinds and numbers of real human interactions my students encounter. Has this lessened their abilities to bring a more mature worldliness to their reading capabilities? Has this made it harder for them to comprehend text in a more nuanced way?
When I walked into the 8th grade teachers’ meeting, MG was handing out the schedule for Professional Development day next Friday, saying it really wasn’t his job to put all this together, and asking us all to brainstorm ways we might improve communication at this school.