"Introduction to Narrative Writing" Video 1

The objective for this first video in a series of three is to support students in their understanding of what narratives are and how they are written.  An important genre in fields with a practica, narrative is an effective tool for individual and group learning, especially in examining experience, beliefs and values.  In Education, this video aims to guide students on how to reflect on classroom events which may contribute to their development and identities as teachers.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Susan Barber
Funding Agency:
Teaching and Learning Development Grant

Additional Team Members: Gilberto Martinez (director, cameraman, editor); Teresita Barbou (producer); Roxanna Becker (RA)

What's Proposed

Funded by a Teaching and Learning Development Grant, this first video examines ways to improve narrative writing and what its goals are.  Many students do not fully understand how to write narratives that adequately explore their experiences, and hence do not expand their learning to its greatest potential. Students tend to record the factual information of “what happened” in an experience and ignore the emotional verification of how they felt in a conflict and what they thought about it with hindsight which can lead to deeper understanding.   I believe there is an art to writing narratives that connects professional experience to personal meaning.  Effective narratives access not only the cognitive but also the affective realms and enable students to grasp more holistic ways of looking at theory and practice.   When written well, narratives provide starting points of discussion between author and self, author and peers, and author and instructors/mentors.  Narratives can be the heart of classroom dialogue and considerably raise the quality of learning.

 A major stumbling block for many students is not knowing how to begin, how to trace ideas to their roots, what to include and what to leave out.  An instructor can give examples in class and offer feedback on student narratives, but because narrative writing is a process where skills are improved over time, and especially when students enter their programs with different levels of writing abilities, I wanted to discover if an instructional video would advance student learning in more explicit and convenient ways; for example, by breaking down complex information into comprehensible parts and being available 24/7 for students to access multiple times. Digital natives may prefer a more multimedia approach to their learning and ELL students may make greater strides in their language skills and educational understandings. All three videos were shown in Design for Learning:  Elementary Language Arts and surveys at the end of the semester were conducted to determine if students felt they were helpful in advancing their writing skills and personal and professional knowledge.

How This Project is Carried Out

This project began with conducting research on the value and implementation of narrative writing in teacher education programs  which was then divided into three major areas (one focus in each of the three videos).  Dewey (1966) believes that we learn from experience, especially in reorganizing and reconstructing those experiences in our minds, and in so doing, transform ourselves.  Much research has been done on the value of using narrative in fields that require a mentoring phase or practicum (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Beattie, 2000; Walmsley & Birkbeck, 2006).  In education, pre-service teachers create professional knowledge through narrative inquiry that examines prior knowledge and encourages critical thinking (Zeichner & Liston, 1990; Beattie, 2000; Leggo, 2008).  Collections of teacher narratives have proliferated and educators in all settings can benefit from the deep reflection that integrates theory and practice in familiar yet personal ways (Schön, 1983; Bullough, 1989;  Bullough, Knowles & Crow, 1991; Dollase,1992).  Unique teacher voices come forward in a holistic manner, joining the personal with the professional.  Writing and sharing narratives facilitates learning in relationships, and new selves are formed (Noddings, 1984).  Bruner (1986) suggests that we make sense of our lives by telling our stories, and through them, find meaning.

The advantages of using video as a pedagogical tool have been outlined by Koumi (2006) as being able to illustrate situations, show a chronology and staged events told through narrative, break complex processes into steps, offer a visual metaphor, include a nurturing aspect which motivates the viewer, and, lastly, appeal to the senses and the affective as well as the cognitive.  Students recognize themselves in the teacher-characters portrayed there, and put themselves in their shoes.  In this manner, students learn vicariously as they watch characters navigating familiar conflicts, especially afterwards in discussions with their peers when they personalize their learning and multiple points of view are heard.

In class, students were asked to write an initial narrative about a teaching experience of their choice.  Instruction in narrative writing and viewing of the video followed, and additional narratives were assigned where students shared and received feedback.  At the end of the semester, students submitted a portfolio of their original and revised narratives.  Surveys and the portfolio were examined for evidence that indicated the students had improved their writing skills and understanding of narratives as a means of learning.

Why This Project Matters

Without support, students are not learning how to join theory and practice as well as they could, nor are they as aware of how they are developing as teachers if they are not benefiting from hearing other narratives shared in class. High quality narratives model for the students “how to think like a teacher”.   I have used blogs in the past which help some students, but often those from different educational systems and especially ELLs do not always grasp what narratives are and their learning is limited.

The instructional videos and subsequent sharing of narratives may allow students to develop more confidence in themselves as teachers as they learn from each other.  They may also advance their critical thinking and written communication skills that will help them in their professional roles.  For myself, I hope to determine if students’ learning improves, how might it alter my own methods of teaching.  In particular, digital natives may prefer a more multimedia approach to their learning.  ELL students may make greater strides in their language skills and educational understandings through video support.

How This Project is Put into Action

In surveys conducted in 2014-2 (n=44),  all 44 students responded that the video series helped them understand how to learn from and write more effective narratives.  Also, all 44 students stated they would use narrative writing in their future classrooms as a learning tool. In future PDP classes, I will continue to scaffold narrative writing activities with the videos.

Where to Learn More

This video series has been presented at three conferences in 2013-2014. 

Read more about this project on the Teaching and Learning Development Grants Website.

Here is the link to video 1:  Introduction to Narrative Writing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPvDIcszGwo&list=PL5wuwTnFc1cpiN-w67p9alW33Wt5-Gdiw&index=1

"Introduction to Narrative Writing"