Pushing Beyond the Single Story — Part 1

In my last post, I wrote about some thoughts that I had about my first reading and writing units of the school year and how to merge the two into an inquiry into story.

Since then, I have had the absolute privilege of being able to discuss and think out loud with several brilliant educators.

Shawna Coppola, she is a genius. And she lives and breathes inquiry and has been incredibly gracious in sharing with me the ideas that she had her colleagues had when they led their students in an inquiry into the danger of a single story last year. In so many ways, she is the inspiration for this work that I hope to accomplish and I am grateful for the ideas that she has shared with me. Please know that many of the things that I will share have originated with her and the work she did with her students last year. I will be forever grateful for everything that I’ve learned from Shawna and for all that she does for kids.

It was Shawna who first shared with me the idea of using the TED talk The Danger of a Single Story to launch an inquiry study into a single story and the many other layers that truly exist of a person or group of people’s story. I love the idea so much and am excited to use the ideas with my own students.

So here is what I have planned so far. It’s not much. And it will change, but I want to make sure that I capture my thoughts now so that in the rush of the start of the school year, I do not lose sight of what I hope to accomplish with my students.

Beginning to look at the idea of a person’s story:

I want to start somewhere not too serious. I want to remember that it is the start of the school year and my students have not yet formed a community. They have not yet gained each other’s trust. They have not yet decided if they can really trust me or not. We have not made the safe space yet that we will need to do our work.

So I am thinking that we will start with Taylor Swift. Or Katy Perry. I am thinking that we will look at one of their Instagram accounts (all together so that I can make sure we don’t spend our time getting lost in not so great comments). Based on the pictures that we are seeing, I want to begin to talk about what story is being told.  What are we seeing? What are we learning about this person’s story? What is being shown? What is NOT being shown? How true is this story? How is this person choosing to portray their own life story to the world?

I am guessing that while this conversation will start off in a more shallow place, I am hoping that it will lead to something deeper and eventually to the idea that there is often more to a story of a person’s life than what we see at first.

From there, I think we will look at Cale Atkinson’s Explorers of the Wild picture book. I love this picture book so much for many reasons. The first of is that I just adore Cale Atkinson, his work and his art. To the Sea is perhaps my favorite picture book of last year.  But the other reason that I love Explorers of the Wild is that it’s seemingly simple story carries so much weight and can lead to so much discussion.

When a bear and a boy meet in the wild, they each have an image in their heads of what the other one is really like. These images, at first, lead to fear and mistrust. However, when they get to know each other, they realize that the story that they had been told, was not the true or complete story at all. I think that this beautiful picture book has the power to lead many readers to think about the stories that we all carry in our own heads and how those stories affect the way that we view others and the way that we interact with people in this world. I think it also can guide us toward discussion of how important it is to push past the single story that we have of others.

From there, I want to go to some real stories, of real people. Kristen Picone, who is one of the kindest, most generous, most passionate educators I know and who will be angry at me for even mentioning her name, gave me the brilliant idea of using the Humans of New York stories to begin to think about how people tell their own stories.  I am thinking that I will find enough compelling, yet simple, stories to break the kids into pairs or small groups and give each group a person’s story to read. Together we will think about some of the following questions:

What did I/we learn about this person?

What did this person’s story help me to learn about the world?

How did this person’s story change my thinking in some way?

And here is where I want to bring in some writing.  We begin the year with personal narratives and I want the kids to see that there are many ways to tell our stories. Using the Humans of New York stories as mentor texts, I am going to ask the kids to compose their own stories of them selves. I will ask them to think about what they want others to know about them, how they want to be seen, what about their lives is important for others to know. And they will use these thoughts to compose their own stories. This will be something that we put together on our walls or on our virtual walls to share with each other and to begin to build our community.

And then from there, I believe that our real work will begin. I think that here is where I will introduce the TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that will introduce the concept to my students of the Danger of a Single Story. We will spend some time discussing the single stories that we believe to be true and even the single stories that are told about us.

This is where our writing work will break off as my students think about what others believe about them and what they believe about themselves.  They will then spend some time thinking of the stories that they can tell that will prove or disprove those things to be true as they begin to take ownership over how they are telling their own life stories. They will eventually then choose how to share one or more of these stories with the world.

And then our reading work will branch off as we study how images, videos and texts create single stories for us of people or of groups of people.  We will then begin to study how we can ask questions in order to push beyond these single stories. We will look at how we need to synthesize more than one version of a story in order to piece together a more complete story of a person or of a group of people.


More on this, plus some resources that I hope to use in my next blog post.

You can find the SECOND part of this blog post HERE.


7 thoughts on “Pushing Beyond the Single Story — Part 1

  1. I love that TED talk and I adore HONY! What a great way to use those powerful photo essays… And what an amazing way to add new energy to personal narrative. I think YOU’RE the genius!!

  2. Pingback: Pushing Beyond the Single Story — Part 2 | Crawling Out of the Classroom

  3. Wow! This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful work. I’m going to be thinking a lot about this and how I can steal a bit of it for my kids.

  4. Pingback: Slice of Life: Buried Stories – To Read To Write To Be

  5. Pingback: Your Heinemann Link Round-Up for July 24–30 - Heinemann

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