The general wisdom in English classes is to start the year with a personal narrative. This allows teachers to get to know students and it also secretly lets us see student writing ability through a non-threatening, usually enjoyable genre. With my senior classes, I save the personal narrative for the end of the year. I like it to be a reflective bit of inquiry for students leaving the hallowed halls of high school for the big world beyond. A few years ago I participated in a National Writing Project Summer Institute and explored deeply into the recesses of multigenre composition. I read voraciously, wrote like a mad woman and by the end of the summer became a strong proponent of multigenre composition in the classroom. I have used it many ways with students, but my favorite is the Senior Personal Narrative Project.
Rather than a static piece of writing, I assign seniors a multigenre personal narrative and it is amazing what they come up with. The power of choice of genres and mode of expression gives wings to what would normally be an enjoyable, but not necessarily exciting piece of writing. The father of the multigenre approach to writing, Tom Romano (2000), posed the question, “Can we identify kinds of learning in students’ experiences that would not have been easily achieved in more traditional writing?” (p. 128). I took this question as a challenge when crafting lessons and assignments for my students and the Senior Personal Narrative project is reflective of that guiding question. The essential question that drives the assignment is “Who are we now and where have we come from?”. Students dig deep into values they have grown up with, as well as wisdom they have picked up along their life journey thus far. We explore 6 word memoirs, bio-poems, letter writing, definitions, bucket lists, elements of music, media applications and platforms, how to create mood, photo editing and anything else that interests the students for their projects. The students must include a certain amount of genres, but which genres they use is up to them as long as the product they create reflects a complete picture of themselves. Most of these become videos of some variation, but some students choose to use a 3D format and I give them that freedom. I have had beautiful projects created either way and the choice allows the students to own their work. In the end these projects end up being a great deal of writing- more than what I would have gotten from a paper and pencil based assignment. They also teach me so much about my students- what they value, how they see themselves, where they want to go in the next chapter of their lives and so many more little things I never would have known through reading a personal narrative that only reflected one moment in their lives.