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Opening Our Eyes to What We Can’t Imagine: Storytelling

Session 1
Tom Jones — NYC iSchool (H.S. 376)

In several past iterations of a public speaking class I teach, the topics students have chosen to write about (race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, religion) have tended to diminish their own unique experiences in favor of a broader identity. This has, ironically, tended to move them further away from, rather than closer to, acknowledging the kinds of shared experiences that connect us all. This past fall I took a different approach, asking students to write about events in their lives that have helped to define who they are, now. Fortuitously, this altered direction coincides with the broader questions being raised by my school and district; specifically, what does it mean for a teacher to be responsive and sensitive to the specific experiences of the students in their classroom?

In this session, I will recount the evolution of my approach to student speech writing, noting in particular the shifts I’ve made over time in an effort to encourage passion and authenticity in the presentations. I will also explain why the objective has evolved from wanting simply to build confidence within my students to using the speeches themselves as a way to communicate something important about how each student sees and experiences the world. We’ll take a look at the writing assignments and classroom activities I’ve developed with this aim in mind. I’ll show participants examples of the student work that has come out of these assignments and activities, highlighting both successes and opportunities for continued growth. Participants will walk away with tools that they can use in their own classrooms to provide students with the opportunity to share their stories.

Conversational Practice

We will adapt two NSRF protocols (Last Word and Multiple Perspectives) so that teachers can grapple with and respond to an excerpt from Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain. ———— The Last Word protocol will be used after each participant reads the Hammond text. When they’re ready, participants at each table will take turns sharing one quote from the text and why the quote made a strong impression on them (in no more than 2 minutes). Then, each of the other participants will get up to 1 minute to respond to the quote and what the presenter said, the purpose of the response being

To expand on the presenter’s thinking about the quote and the issues raised by the quote, To provide a different look at the quote, To clarify the presenter’s thinking about the quote, and/or To question the presenter’s assumptions about the quote and the issues raised (although at this time there is no response from the presenter).

Finally, the presenter has one more minute to have the “final word.” Now what are they thinking? What is their reaction to what they heard? ———— The Multiple Perspectives protocol will be used to encourage participants to think about what it looks like to build community and arrive at shared understanding in a classroom.

Participants will introduce themselves—name, point of view. The facilitator points out that point of view can be broadly defined—”woman” or “African American” or, more narrowly, “first-year teacher” or “second-year teacher.”

Participants are encouraged (and helped) to select their identifying perspectives according to the group’s purpose. Clearly this involves judgment, but no one’s self-selected perspective should be argued with; however, all should be willing to negotiate. It must be stressed that we all have multiple ways we could describe ourselves and, for the purposes of the protocol, we will settle on one or two. E.g. “I am a principal who is committed to the 10 Common Principles.” (7 minutes)

The facilitator then presents a question which has emerged from the work of the group or which has emerged as an important one to the group. E.g. “What does it mean to understand the world from another person’s perspective?” (3 minutes)

All write their first thoughts (5 minutes)

Each participant, in turn, gives their preliminary thinking on the question, prefaced with their point of view: “From the point of view of a first-year teacher, I think…” (10 minutes)

Then there is a second round, with each person giving their thinking based upon what they heard from the other participants: “Having heard all of the other points of view, I now think…” (10 minutes)

A final round to reflect on the quality of the responses: “I noticed that my/our responses…” (15 minutes) ———— After the initial presentation and the two protocols, the group will come together as a whole and share their final thoughts on the role storytelling can play in the classroom.

Conversation Links

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Presenter Profiles

Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones
NYC iSchool


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