English 881/781: Narrative Inquiry — School Story/Language Legend

The Story Task

The heart and soul of Narrative Inquiry is school stories. Narrative Inquirers train most of their focus on students, teachers, classrooms, schools, and universities. Of course there are many other places that learning takes place: homes, libraries, book stores, online spaces, and even parks and playgrounds. But most Narrative Inquiry research focuses on classroom stories.

Your task for this paper is to write a School Story or Language Legend. You may select any story that focuses on learning, education, teaching, and/or language experiences. Feel free to define education and language as broadly as you like.

Story Guidelines

  • The final version of your School Story/Language Legend should be in the range of 10-15 pages in length. Although I won’t penalize anyone for page length, I do like to give you a target range.
  • This narrative should be in a typical 12-point font, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins.
  • This story should include discussion of some related outside references which you may include in the text (perhaps separated by lines/***) or as footnotes/endnotes, whatever you think would work best for your story.
  • You will be sharing a draft of this story with other class members, so please write with a real audience in mind. That means you should avoid writing anything that is too private to share.

Story Linkages

  • If you can see a useful way to link your School Story/Language Legend to one or more of the the other stories you write, I encourage you to make that connection. Your book will feel more cohesive if there is some common ground among the stories.
  • You might want to use some of the same characters or settings across your stories.
  • You are not required to make connections like this. It’s fine if all the stories you write are entirely stand alone. But if you can make connections among your stories, that’s even better.
  • Remember, though, that these are your stories, so tell them however you think is best.

Step 1: Select an Interesting School Story/Language Legend

A lot of our lives are spent in schools and universities. Sometimes exciting things happen there. Sometimes the days are long and boring. But readers don’t like boring stories. So, please try to pick something interesting for your School Story.

The best educational stories have conflicts in them or challenges that the student or teacher have to overcome. Many good educational stories focus on moments of crisis, such as when funding gets cut or something challenging occurs. There are probably lots of interesting stories a person could write about the pandemic since it was such a difficult time for everyone. You can write about any educational story you want, so pick something that seems interesting to you.

One other good way to pick a story is to select an event that happened which you have thought about more than once but about whose importance you are unsure. Sometimes the best stories emerge when we write without knowing how the story will end.

Step 2: Select a Main Character for Your School Story/Language Legend

A lot of the School Stories and Language Legends I have written focus on me. That’s often the easiest place to start. So, if you want to be, you can choose yourself as the main character of your School Story. Most school stories do involve our perspective, even if we are only a secondary character in the story.

You can also write about someone else for your School Story/Language Legend. You could write about one of your students, a former teacher you had, another teacher with whom you work, a principal or chair, an administrator, etc. Select whomever you want to be the main character in the story.

Step 3: Pick a Narrator

Select a point of view from which to tell this story. You can tell the story from this character’s point of view. Alternatively, you might the story from your point of view while observing the main character. You can be an active person in the character’s story or you might be more of an omniscient observer.

I encourage you to try a new point of view to see what it is like to write your story that way. On the other hand, you might want to tell all your stories from your point of view to give your book a consistent narrator.

Step 4: Describe the Main Character

Be sure to tell us about your main character in detail: What do they look like? How do they dress? How do they talk? What is most interesting about the character? Give us plenty of details in your story to help us get to know the person.

Optional Step 5: Interview the Person

If the person is available and you think it would be helpful, please feel free to interview your main character. Since this is a class learning task, handle this as you think best. Interviews are certainly a staple of Narrative Inquiry. On the other hand, you can also learn a lot just by trying to write a story from memory.

If you do interview the person, ask them to recount the School Story/Language Legend to you. Getting the story in their words should help you add some rich details to it. If you decide to do an optional interview, tell the person that this is a class project. Be sure to explain that you will share the story with people in our class. Ask for the person’s permission to write their story.

If later on you hope to publish this story, you would need to get a signed consent form from the person before publishing.

Step 6: Write a Draft of Your School Story/Language Legend

After setting up your story with a main character and narrator, write the story with as much interesting description as you can. Make sure we get a feel for where the story takes place and what happened.

Step 7: Add Pictures to Your Story

Find a few pictures that work for your story. If you don’t have pictures that are from the specific educational setting, you might need to find some stories that fit the general theme of your story. Feel free to add picture captions if you want to do so.

Step 8: Frame Your Story

Once you finish writing your School Story/Language Legend, re-read it from start to finish. Then find 2-3 places in the story where you can insert some commentary. Use this commentary to shape how readers interpret the story. This is called story framing, and it is a common Narrative Inquiry technique.

I am including a chapter by Richard Meyer to give you the basics on creating story frames. Meyere’s book was written to encourage public school teachers to tell their stories. He uses a nice clear and direct tone that I find quite encouraging and helpful.

For each framing moment in your story, add an outside reference to some relevant scholarship that relates to whatever issue you are discussing. You might have a different source for each framing moment or you might use the same source each time and discuss that source more at length across all the framing moments.

I like to offset frames with * * * symbols and white space. That can be a useful way to handle frames, but other people just weave the frame into the text. Handle this in whatever way seems to fit your story best.

Step 9: Make a References Page

Please list all references you use to outside scholarly material.

Step 10: Share Your Draft

If you interviewed someone for your School Story/Language Legend, I encourage you to share your story with that person to see what they have to say about it. You can do that now or after you finish this class, but I’m sure they will want to read your story of them.

Step 11: Smile Big

With your first draft of an educational story written, you are well on your way to learning how to be a Narrative Inquirer. I hope you are enjoying the journey.