Narrative Pedagogy

by Rowland Ramdass, Assistant Professor Nursing Unit, Allied Health Sciences

As a nurse educator, I am always looking for different teaching strategies. During my doctoral studies, I took a course entitled “Teaching and Learning.” This course exposed me to utilizing different teaching strategies to accommodate all types of learners. I learned that in the classroom, teachers must vary their teaching strategies to accommodate all learners.

Since joining the faculty at Hostos in 2012, my teaching assignment has been the senior nursing students’ medical surgical course. This course, the last before my students take their licensure exam, is taught in the evening to full-time working students. Because the class is scheduled from 5-8 pm twice per week, I have a few students who would hurry to class straight from work. Keeping these students engaged requires the utilization of various teaching strategies.

Narrative pedagogy, an interpretive teaching strategy, was introduced in one of my Teaching and Learning classes as a doctoral student. Narrative pedagogy was started in nursing education, and is a strategy whereby faculty and students share their experiences by writing essays, and reading them to their classmates. Students would then come prepared for class having written an essay about a topic that they, or someone they knew, experienced.

I chose to implement this strategy into my course. I felt that this type of teaching strategy would engage students in an evening program and build community in the classroom by having students share their actual experiences moving from a content-based lecture to a concept-based teaching format.  Furthermore this type of assignment would improving my students’ writing skills.

The steps taken in implementing narrative pedagogy were as follows: On the syllabus, narrative pedagogy was placed as an assignment worth five percent of the students’ total grade. Each student must write a story that is similar to one of the topics we were covering during the semester. Students then had to present their essay in front of class in order to receive the full five percent towards their grade. I left the due dates open. The next step was to create a wiki space on my blackboard so students could enter the topic and the date they would present their story.

In the guidelines, I asked that students come prepared to read their story at the beginning of class. I spend twenty minutes on the first day of class explaining the assignment to my students. They usually have many questions regarding this assignment, including required length and whether or not they needed to do any research. I explain that for this assignment, they have to look at the topics we will be covering during the semester and pick one that relates to an experience that they have had whether it be personal, a family member or perhaps a patient they cared for in clinical. I guide them by citing examples that they could write about. For example we cover asthma (one of the largest health conditions affecting residents in the Bronx), I guide my students to write their essay about long-term management of their illness, the care they received, and times they had to access health care and type of care they received. They could include a description of what it was like as they were experiencing an acute episode.

I explained the learning objectives to my class in order to garner interest. I asked that all essays be taken to the writing center to be edited prior to their oral presentation. Students were motivated by the five points they could earn towards their final grade.

It has now been four semesters since I implemented narrative pedagogy into my course. It is going well in my opinion, and I have made the following observations:

  • Students are motivated to complete this assignment.
  • Their stories have indeed transformed us as a class, and I feel that it has helped us build community in class.
  • When students read their narrative in class, it is always well received. The entire class is silent; no one interrupts nor leaves the room. There is a sense that they want to support each other.
  • It acts as a reminder of what it is like to be a patient.

As I listen to my students’ narrative, it transforms me as an educator. I find myself becoming more empathetic to my students’ motivation for wanting to change their lives and become nurses.  Adult students, with children and elderly parents, have had varying experiences in health care as a recipient. By listening to each of their stories, it reinforces that my students are becoming compassionate and caring nurses.

To cover all concepts related to each topic we are covering, I ask the class if they have any questions after a narrative has been read. Usually a few students ask for clarification of the story or add that they too have had similar experiences. Afterwards, I utilize socratic questioning to continue the discussions, stimulate critical thinking, and summarize the topic being discussed.

In every class, I do get a few narratives that are not the student’s personal story, but rather a research paper. Some students have submitted poorly written assignments that need to be fixed by the writing center.

Overall, I feel that narrative pedagogy has helped my class build community and stay immersed in an evening course (which can be content overloaded). I have received favorable feedback from students regarding the use of narrative pedagogy. The issue that I wrestle with is whether I should make all of my class time narrative pedagogy. I think that there would need to be more studies validating narrative pedagogy, showing that there is no decrease in classroom exam results, before I consider utilizing this valuable teaching tool more. For now, I will continue to use narrative pedagogy as one of several different teaching strategies.

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