For a recent project on theories of storytelling, my students began a process of inquiry by writing a story that is repeatedly told in their family. This low stakes assignment provided an entry point for students from a range of academic levels. In a sense, everyone was an expert in this opening lesson. For this first step I gave credit to students for having a story, regardless of quality.
The unit was framed around three Essential Questions:
- In what different ways can stories matter?
- How do people use stories to influence others?
- How can stories change reality?
I had the goal of students developing a deeper understanding of the roles of stories and myths in our world. After some initial activities we discussed and researched forms of storytelling and different roles and types of stories in societies. Students watched this short video about what makes a hero and then learned more about the Hero’s Journey. They then learned more about Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung and the theory of archetypes.
Having gained knowledge about stories and the roles of myths and stories in societies, students had to revise their family stories. They then turned their family story into a myth, explaining the choices and changes they made and how the changes related to theory we read. At this stage we spent some time discussing the essential questions and the ways that the readings added to our thinking and understandings. For the next step students made a digital story version of their family story and digital story of their myth. Students could make the videos on any platform they wanted with the idea that digital stories are made up of still images and narration. Finally, we watched each other’s videos and left comments to affirm and recognize the work.
Overall this unit reminded me of the value of letting students connect their lived realities to the work of school. The family stories and myths were poignant, quirky, and sometimes hilarious. (I’m not sharing them here because they seem more personal than much of the student work I post.) Students wrote about a single parent breaking the law to support a child, a home birth, a rickshaw accident overseas, police pulling over a mixed race couple driving together, and many other stories that speak to daily realities for students and their families.
It is important to remember that the work of school shouldn’t be separate from life but should help us better understand ourselves, our society, and the world.