The following "Ideas" piece was originally published in NCTE INBOX on April 17, 2007.
The horrific shootings that occurred yesterday on the Virginia Tech campus place teachers in the position of wondering what we can do -- both to allow students to express their feelings on the events and to avoid similar situations in our own school hallways. These articles show how stories provide powerful tools to help us all make sense of events that are, at best, completely senseless.
"Stories will save us, if anything will," begins the Voices from the Middle article "Difficult Days and Difficult Texts" (G). Written by Robert E. Probst after the events of September 11, the piece explores how our ability to read the multiple texts that we see, to find and explore the stories behind the audio, video, and print that reports what has happened, gives us ways to make sense of and respond to impossibly difficult events.
This kind of searching for story can be the focus of any writing program that works to help students move beyond what Probst calls "the simple basics of decoding" the events that they see and are a part of deeper reaction, reflection, and empathy. "Warriors with Words: Toward a Post-Columbine Writing Curriculum" (S-C) from English Journal, an article republished in the NCTE book A Curriculum of Peace, places such personal stories at the center of the writing curriculum in ways that promote peace and well-being, voice and sense of self, and respect and caring, as well as powerful literacy skills.
The Language Arts article "Social Narrative Writing: (Re)Constructing Kid Culture in the Writer's Workshop" (E) describes a similar way to encourage students to use their writing to share their feelings in positive ways. The article outlines activities that ask students to move from personal to social narratives in writing workshop to create stories as tools for social action, addressing inequities in their school lives.
As we ask students to write the stories that surround them, the College Composition and Communication article "School Sucks" (C) asserts that we must help students focus on pleasure and meaning in writing that go beyond "the idea of the perfect, final textual product." Occasioned by violence in schools and memories of violent schoolyard rhymes, this article suggests that by asking students to tell stories and to find narratives that make sense of the events they experience, we can encourage them to move beyond writing as a process of simple coding and decoding to one of making meaning of their worlds.
Teacher educators and mentors can look to "Writing Giants, Columbine, and the Queen of Route 16" (M-TE) from Voices from the Middle for ways to support preservice teachers and colleagues by encouraging them to write stories for themselves. The article describes how tragedy inspired the author to write and how writing mentors gave her the courage to share her writing with her class. The end of the story is just a beginning: by becoming a writer, by experiencing the process with her students, her teaching was renewed. This week that is perhaps the best outcome we can hope for: that through writing our stories, our faith in ourselves and the world can be renewed.