A developmental reading and writing class at Temple College uses students’ personal history to connect the individual to written narratives.

TC instructor Debbie Gilmore presented “Everyone Has a Story to Tell: Using Life Maps in the Integrated Reading and Writing Classroom,” to the board of trustees.

Students in the class have taken the Texas Success Initiative assessment test and are close to being ready to move into regular classes, Gilmore said.

“Many of them are nontraditional students who have been out of school for a while and just need to brush up on some of their skills,” she said.

This developmental class enables students to move into credit-level classes faster.

“We’re used to teach reading and writing separately and now we’re putting them together,” Gilmore said. “We read a piece, we write about it.”

Early in the semester, students are asked to creatively construct a Life Map to illustrate their life’s journey.

This semester, one student, a waitress, wrote her Life Map on a Styrofoam takeout container; another used coffee filters. A Facebook profile was the template for a student’s life story.

Students use their visuals to tell their story to the class, and those in the audience have an opportunity to ask questions.

The students are open and honest about their past history, education and life events, she said. It’s their choice and that leads to a discussion on writing and how writers make choices, how they choose what part of their story they tell.

“When they’ve shared their journey, we talk about attributes of success — accountability, commitment, compassion, dedication and innovation,” Gilmore said.

Many students want to tell everything and the story becomes too broad, so they’re forced to focus on a lesson learned or personal truth, she said.

In addition to the topic and message, writing elements used in composing the story are considered in the students’ assignments. It’s intentionally connected so students don’t view reading and writing as two separate activities, Gilmore said.

“The main idea in reading is the same thing as the topic sentence in writing paragraphs; making those connections, inferencing and trying to do that as a writer,” she said.

Some students start the class with little confidence in their skills, especially if they have been out of school or have met with failure. The project honors what the students have to say and their experiences.

“Our job is to take that story and shift it into an academic language,” Gilmore said.

One unexpected outcome of the class is the bonding of the classmates and their willingness to coach each other, she said. The students develop empathy for each other and become cheerleaders and supporters. Themes begin to emerge and the students start to understand that others have experienced bad beginnings, missed opportunities, tragedies and triumphs.

The older students will almost parent the younger students and are not hesitant to scold when they see someone taking what they consider a questionable path, Gilmore said.

Temple College President Glenda Barron asked, during the most recent trustee meeting, what kind of feedback the instructors receive from the students in evaluations.

“Students mention that the class is genuine and applicable and they can see the connection between what was learned in class and the real world,” Gilmore said.

This is the third semester for the Integrated Reading and Writing class and there are eight sections with 15 to 20 students per section.

“It’s amazing when I look back over the past three semesters and consider what the students have accomplished,” she said.

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