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We are happy to present the fruits of 27 years of experimentation with an approach that privileges the study of what creates empathy in a reading or listening stranger above the more conventional prompts that pepper reading and writing curricula.  

 

Over almost three decades, we have turned these three questions at the core of our approach into dares meant to draw forth the stories that are hidden in each writer's heart.

1

If your words had the power to change a heart, a mind, or a policy, what would you want them to say?

This question is asked as a starter for every new workshop, whether we are working in a classroom, in the activity room in a jail, in a union hall or community space or a shelter.

2

If you were to choose any Page One Moment in your life  in which to encounter the Stranger/ Reader,

what would that moment be?

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If you were to help a student pick a “Page One Moment” that would open even a very cold stranger's heart, to what stories would we find you listening? Would it be a story taking place during the pandemic, when a student was spraying buildings with disinfectant to help put food on the table? Would it be a moment of taking a dangerous journey or confronting racism for the very first time?  

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3

How would you dare that Stranger/Reader to care?

This third question, as the answers are imaged aloud, in creating the scenes that will open each student's memoir journey, is at the core of turning writing into action, turning hopelessness into healing and hope, and creating a powerful body of student literature to be cherished, shared, and taught.

For a deeper dive, we invite you to read the introduction to Paper Stranger, the manual we use in our facilitator training work.

Our work began in the community of Southampton in 1996, when Erika Duncan, our founder, was preparing to lead a workshop for participants in a conference celebrating women writers breaking silences. Along with a number of well known writers, she had brought together a woman who had just brought her three children out of Bosnia after they saw their father murdered,  who couldn’t stop speaking, hoping that her words would help the violence to stop, and two women who were hidden children during the Second World War, who had taken 40 years to write their stories. The conference culminated with an open mic session in which audience members began to tell their stories, in preparation for a week of free workshops to any woman in the community who wanted to write her story. 

 

On the night before the free workshops began, Erika began to have serious second thoughts about the wisdom of offering such a workshop in a public space in which a new stranger could walk in at any moment when deep secrets were being shaped and shared.  But the invitation had already gone out.  People were registering for it, so it was too late to retract the invitation.  It was at that moment that she came up with a patchwork solution to remedy what she thought was a bad situation, never realizing that her accidental dare to the women who assembled–to come up with a Page One Moment that would allow a “Stranger/ Reader” to walk in the story shaper’s shoes– would change the course of her life and the lives of thousands of women, men, and children over the course of almost 30 years. 


Click here to read the whole story

In the course of this online curriculum we will be taking you through the process of becoming a Herstory facilitator in school settings. We will begin with a self portrait that will help you to understand whether, how and how fully this approach can work for you.

 

Depending on the climate of the school district where you are working and what classes you are teaching, you will have your own level of flexibility or constriction to work around.  The ideal situation is to be working in a district in which the administration embraces this new curriculum, and will work with you to integrate it into their requirements and goals.  That could allow you to implement it very fully year round, if that becomes your own goal as well. A lot will depend on whether you are working in a public or private school setting, and how standards are measured and applied. Within this curriculum you will see examples of adaptations to the standards, which have work well for our facilitators pushing into established classes during the regular school day, and for teachers who have been trained in our methodology.  We have found that the students engaged in this curriculum do not lose ground on standardized tests, but that they gain ground in the areas of reading, writing, literary analysis where other approaches to this work have failed to bring mastery or ignite a spark. Plus there are the gains in social emotional learning that is increasingly being acknowledged as a core standard, and gains in civic engagement, all important for the journey toward college readiness one day. 

 

However, even if you are working in a district where there is little flexibility or buy-in, it is our hope that you will find bits and pieces that you can include in your work plans. If you are working in an after school program or with a community youth club, you will have far greater flexibility.  

 

If you are teaching English Language Arts or English for New Language Learners, the focus on reading, writing and listening will be easier to incorporate. If you are teaching social studies, mathematics or other courses in the sciences and humanities, we hope that the special sections of this website will help to guide you into ways that this work can become an additional tool without becoming the entire focus.

Experiencing Three Pillars

Sharing the Student Stories, Discovering a New Way of Listening and Beginning to Write Your Own Memoir Herstory Style

  1. Immersing yourself in the Herstory collection of stories to see which ones resonate particularly for you.  

  2. Working with the concepts behind Becoming the Stranger Reader, a new way of listening, practice exercises and reflections, videos and more.

  3. Writing your own page one moment, Herstory style with a partner in learning the method, or a small team, so that you will have experienced using the pedagogy before you share it with your students.

First we are going to ask you to enter the “Stories to Share” section our Library to pick out five stories that speak strongly to you, that you might consider using on your very first day of introducing your students to the Herstory unit, to dare them to think big about the changes that they’d like to see. 

How might you talk about each story? If you are working with a partner or team, please share your responses before you go onto the next lesson. 

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