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StoryCorps: The Opportunity to Record, Share, and Preserve the Stories of Our Lives

This post is authored by Wendy Maa, third grade teacher at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign, IL.

StoryCorps: The Opportunity to Record, Share, and Preserve the Stories of Our Lives

If you listen to NPR, you may be familiar with StoryCorps.  Every week, recorded stories from people around the US are recorded and played on NPR.  These stories always moved me to tears or to laughter and I always sat in my car wondering, “What is wrong with me?”  It was like these stories were told to me directly and I could feel the emotions through the radio.  I anticipated StoryCorps stories every week and hoped I’d catch them on my way to work or driving around town.

Fast forward to a graduate level class I was taking.  We were discussing authentic opportunities for students to share and write their stories and it made me think of StoryCorps stories.  As we were discussing more, my professor actually showed us a digital StoryCorps recording on YouTube and I began to wonder how I could incorporate something like StoryCorps into my own classroom. The beauty of these recordings were the fact that they were recorded and not handwritten. Many times, my students have tons of stories to tell, but when you ask them to write it, many of the details and emotions are covered and forgotten because they cannot get over the struggle of physically writing and organizing their story.

This began my journey into StoryCorps and storytelling.  I shared my desire to record stories in my classroom with some colleagues and one of them agreed to embark on the journey with me.  She taught first grade while I taught third and we thought it would be really powerful if we heard from the fifth graders at our school that were leaving in a couple months for middle school.  We had her first graders interview the fifth graders at our school and recorded the interviews.  My colleague discussed with her class interviewing skills and they came up with a list of different questions they could possibly ask fifth graders.  While some of the stories were good, you definitely did not get the same emotions and depth as the stories you heard on NPR.

I had my own students interview and record with one another over shared experiences.  Many of them have been friends for years so they either recorded about birthday parties, play dates, or recess times.  Some students decided to record about field trips we had gone on together or other things we had experienced together in the classroom.  These stories seemed to be a lot more natural and interesting.  The stories flowed a lot better and emotions could be heard through the recordings.

Slowly, I began to realize and remember that stories come from shared experiences and relationships. When we meet someone for the first time, it takes awhile before stories start to flow and an ease settles in. On the other hand, when you sit down with a long time friend, even if you haven’t seen each other for a long time, stories begin to flow immediately. There isn’t the discomfort and awkwardness that comes along with meeting someone for the first time (or the first couple times). No wonder our first and fifth grade stories had no depth. These students had never met one another before and the formality of an interview seemed to stifle the stories the fifth graders had to tell.

My colleague and I began to think of ways to promote authentic storytelling. During our Open House the next year, we set up a recording “booth” for parents and children to go to tell stories together. We wanted to set up a culture where recording stories were a part of our school. ddWe wanted to be able to have a whole archive of stories from the families of our school.

Our project is still a work in progress (though it seems to have been at a standstill for the past year). We want to eventually develop videos that go along with the digital recordings of our students and families and hopefully we will be able to put these stories on our school website. Stories can tie us together and help us realize that we are not that different from one another. Through our StoryCorps recordings, we found one more way to connect our families, our school, and our community.

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