The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.
As a high school librarian, I was excited by the announcement of Jason Reynolds as the latest National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. I have read many of his works and often recommend them to students. But what drew me in more was his platform for his time as Ambassador.
In his remarks at the celebration of his selection as National Ambassador, Reynolds noted that he regularly tells students he meets at schools around the nation, “I want you to love my stories, but not nearly as much as I want you to love your own.” He feels there is a need for an “oral history of America” from children, which is why his platform “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story,” will take him to rural schools around the United States to offer students, who may feel unheard, the opportunity to tell their stories.
Even if your classroom or library will not be honored with a visit by Reynolds you can find ways to offer opportunities to your students and school community to tell their stories, perhaps through a reflective experience that involves reading, creating, and reflecting.
Begin with an all-school or class reading of Reynolds’ multiple-award winning verse novel Long Way Down. Fifteen-year-old Will’s story chronicles 60 seconds in his life as he travels down in an elevator on his way to confront his brother’s killer. Despite its brevity, this minute may be the most significant of his life.
The novel explores the importance of decisions, while also immersing readers in Will’s story. Whether the book is a mirror of your students’ experiences or a window onto the lives of others, discussions about the ways in which our stories differ and are similar is an important one to prepare them to tell their own stories.
Ask students to think about a decision they have had to make, or a time in their lives that was significant but of short duration. They may want to begin by jotting down notes or recording themselves revisiting the decision or memory. Over time, perhaps over the course of a marking period or semester, they can shape their raw stories into something they will share with others. The audience can be large enough to fill the auditorium or small enough to sit side by side with the storyteller. What makes the project profound is the experience of sharing one’s story with others.
To make the project personal, students should be encouraged to explore any medium for sharing their story such as a podcast, vlog, blog, essay, song, speech, poem, art piece, or other creative outlet they choose for expressing themselves.
Bring the experience to a close by asking students to reflect on the journey, from hearing Will’s story to exploring their own to sharing it with others.
How do your students share their stories?