Helping Students Find their Writing Voice – Faculty Focus

December 19, 2021 by No Comments

I woke up when I heard the opening chords of Chopin’s Ballade in F Major. I’d been dozing off, phone in my hand, trying to keep up with the news. I vaguely remember Dr. Fauci and Rand Paul’s heated jabs about the pandemic because by then, the piano music, the subtle, delicate sounds of innocence had transcended me to the daisies in the meadow. Chopin’s Ballade in F Major opens stately with warm choral tones but soon turns torment-like, embodying the violent waves of emotions that only a good story can convey.

“Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone wants to tell it,” a colleague once said. She’s right. Storytelling is what excites my students the most. It’s an invitation for them to read, observe, dissect, understand, feel, and write. Through writing their stories and mine, we learn about our past, current, and future selves; we get an intimate glimpse of our joy, loneliness, sacrifice, anxiety, heartbreak, anger, fear, guilt, surprise, and all the nuanced emotions that make us human.

Another colleague had written about why storytelling is important. “Storytelling,” he explains, “is a universal method for making sense of the world, and as the world grows more complex, storytelling will become increasingly important.” He is also right. Storytelling gives the writer a voice and engages the reader’s heart and mind; it helps us make sense of the world, the situation. This human connection is the reason why speakers of all industries open with stories.

Before I was teaching college students how to write a story, I was a piano teacher. I taught the Suzuki twinkle variations, among other pieces, for almost ten years, day after day to the young, sprightly students joining my studio. One evening, after a piano recital, a parent mustered the courage to ask, “Really, you don’t get tired of teaching the same song?”  “No,” I said, “each student playing the same tune tells a different story; they don’t sound exactly alike dynamically.”

Like with piano lessons, in which I help students develop their musical voice, I also strive to help my composition students find their unique writing voice. Here are some ideas on scaffolding a storytelling unit:

  1. Let students experience the power of stories. To start, have students read books embedded with rich, complex stories that will serve as a model text, and discuss them in book groups. Meanwhile, kick off the power of stories with quotes for storytelling or TED talks about storytelling. My students found The Power of Personal Narrative (J. Christen Jensen) and Your story is your strength (Tiffany Southerland) inspiring.</…….



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