English 881/781: Narrative Inquiry — Course Overview, Philosophy, Goals, and Expectations

Course Overview

“It’s against the rules,” Sanders said.  “Against human nature.  This elaborate story, you can’t say, Hey, by the way, I don’t know the ending.  I mean, you got certain obligations.” (from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried)

As a teacher and scholar, I’m convinced that we not only should value stories as a tool for learning, but that we are obligated to do so. Narratives help us to understand the world around us in ways no other form can. So I believe we need to seek out and then recount the vital stories of people’s lives.

That’s what we’ll work on in this course: reading, writing, and telling stories. We’ll study narrative inquiry and story-based teaching. We’ll look at why stories are so important to our thinking and also why they seem to be overlooked in our schooling. I hope that by the end of the course, many of you will be looking ahead with thoughts about narrative dissertations you might write.

Course Philosophy

I design this and every course based on current pedagogical theory as well as my personal beliefs about teaching and scholarship. The works of Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygotsky lead me to believe that learning takes place through social interaction. For this reason, active in-class discussion is essential by every class member. To facilitate this socially-based learning, students in this class will read and share their writings with each other. The work of other people in this course is just as valuable as works published by professional authors, and we will treat it as such. For this reason, adequate time will be allocated to read and discuss everyone’s writing for the class. As the teacher of this course, I will strive to make sure that all voices are heard and that no one voice is privileged, not even my own voice. Following the work of Kenneth Bruffee, Lisa Ede, and Andrea Lunsford, I’ll ask students in this course to work collaboratively on some projects to increase  opportunities for dialogic thought.

Course Goals

This is a graduate seminar which will demand a high commitment from you as a student. If you want to do well in this course, I expect you to:

  • Grow as a scholar
  • Work hard
  • Speak regularly in class
  • Do all the work assigned
  • Attend class
  • Try your best
  • Work well with others
  • Keep an open mind
  • Be courteous
  • Improve yourself as a teacher
  • Learn as much as you can
  • Have some fun

Graduate students who meet all these very basic expectations will do well in this course.

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of English 881/781: Narrative Inquiry, students enrolled in the course should achieve the following goals:

  • Gain insight into the fundamental value of writing narratives and using narratives as a tool for reflection and research
  • Improve their abilities as a writer of stories
  • Improve their ability to frame narratives
  • Consider the potential narrative inquiry might hold for a dissertation project
  • Write and revise a narrative inquiry book of high quality