Trauma Narratives

I am excited about a new inquiry project I am starting!  After an outstanding demonstration by Sasha Reinhardt on Problem Based Learning, or PBL, I developed the following focus statement:  What strategies can I regularly incorporate into my classroom activities that will help my students who have experienced trauma in their  lives.

I teach in a small community, but that doesn’t prevent my seventh graders from experiencing many traumas.  One year, we lost two lovely students to a house fire.  Another year, we lost a young man when he fell from a tower.  There are countless stories my students share of realities no child should know – neglect, drugs, abuse, parents in jail.  They shouldn’t know these things, but they do.  After thinking about this question at length, I wondered if I couldn’t allow them the opportunity to deal with those difficulties through their writing during writer’s workshop.  In reality, it is possible I have been doing this for several years without realizing it.

I say this because when I brought up this inquiry project idea yesterday, Deanna Mascle, the director of the Morehead Writing Project, said two words:  trauma narrative.  I had never heard this term before, but apparently it has been used in therapy throughout the world.  It struck a chord in me as I have had so many students choose to write about difficult circumstances throughout my twenty years of teaching.  They always seem to feel better after writing about these things.  I have experienced it myself as I have frequently written about my own difficult circumstances in life as a way of sorting through my feelings and “dealing” with my emotions.  Why wouldn’t this work?

Deanna put me in touch with one of her friends, Dr. Jen Osbourne, who went to Rwanda to use trauma narratives to help the people there.  I will be speaking with her tomorrow at noon central time, and I am counting down the minutes.  She also provided me several websites, one of which provided a childhood trauma questionnaire.

Since I already have students create memoirs at the beginning of the school year to introduce them to writer’s workshop, I really think this will be an opportunity to allow them to write about any traumas they may have experienced without being singled out.  Kids want to write about these things, they want to try to make sense of their worlds, and I really think I will be able to help them deal with issues they face while improving their writing.

To make this a home run, I would love to somehow attach my student smart goal to this.  I am not certain yet how to make this happen, but I have a direction, which is more than I had a couple of weeks ago.  I welcome any suggestions regarding this inquiry project.  I want to see my students make sense of their worlds, express their frustrations in their writing (a healthier venue than other options), and of course, become better writers.


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