Bringing in the Language of Identity into Collaborative Storytelling

Developing a sense of identity has to do who one thinks one is and how one perceives oneself.  It is about how one defines oneself.  As a person’s identity is formed by many factors, such as race, gender, nationality, talents, interests… Which message we repetitively inform our children/students regarding who they are matters so much.

There is no other classroom can be richer in embracing and forming students’ identities than a TCI classroom .  On a regular basis, we have class artists, actors, performers, story writers, quiz writers, time keepers, greeters, helpers…  On top of all being a storyteller together.

One question keeps lingering in the back of my mind is: our students take on various “jobs” in our class, are they aware of they have multiple identities?

Another question I keep pondering on is: Who are my students becoming as thinkers and learners as a result of their time with me?  I truly believe that the language of identity is one of the main culture forces in the classroom,  along with the language of community, listening, naming and noticing, and feedback and praises, etc.  Many educators use these languages to create cultures of thinking AND challenge students to go above and beyond their primary role of being a student, in preparation for an unpredictable future.

However, do we make our belief explicit?  Do our students know it for sure?  Or it is this kind of thinking: we do it all the time, we have so many different jobs, they should know it… It’s no brainer…

“They should know it.” is different from they know it and embrace it.

In my intermediate class, we co-created a fantasy character “008”, a panda was born in a lab.  The scientists want to use him to clone more pandas.   They want to solve the world problem of rare animals are going extinct.  Some disagreed the approach, some thought that these scientists were “forward thinking”.   “What are the pros and cons if we start a mass clone?”  I pushed further.  The whole class became quiet.

I pointed at the phrases “risk taker”, “thinker” and “critique” then waited.  “Well, it could be a good thing, if they clone mass pigs and cows, there would be enough meat for everyone.”  One student took the risk.  “I see your point.  But, the cloned animals share the same DNA, if one gets sick, they all get sick…”  Another student challenged back.

I pointed at the word of “leader” on my poster and said: “As future leaders in the world, how would you like to solve these problems?”  The debate went on…


In my class, I hope to create a belief that we are more than one thing, and we all need to work together.  I hope to achieve that through the power of story and the languages I use through the collaborative storytelling process.

Formal president Obama, on many different occasions, talked about how reading helps one to connect with others who are very different from oneself and help us to develop empathy.

Neuroscientists have discovered that we have mirroring neurons in our brain, when we hear a good story, the same brain region of a listener is activated as the storyteller.  A good story can create an emotional journey that makes us want to act.  A good story widens our direct living experiences…

Robbert Kagan proposed five stages in adult development, even though the majority population does not pass stage three of being socializing mind.  On the other hand, we also have Carol Dweck inform us about growth mindsets: if we keep our mind open, if we believe we can change and we are willing to change, changes will happen.

Most of TCI practitioners work in a K-12 setting.  Our students’ mind and heart are so malleable during the time we are with them.

Few years ago, I was encouraging my 7-year-old son to try out a play.  He said to me: Mom, I’m athletic, not artistic.  I don’t want to be in a play.  I looked at him and puzzled where his perception of himself came from.  I said to him: You can be more than one thing.  You are too young to define yourself in one way.  He was challenged to be an orphan in Oliver!  He had a great experience.  This year, he happily participated in Winnie the Pooh, he took on a leading role as Christopher Robin.  At the same time, he’s been practicing Taekwondo for nearly three years, he has his eyes set on becoming a black belt.  He also plays piano beautifully.

“You can be more than one thing!”  This is what I always say in my class.  When I want to push students to become an independent learner, a problem solver, a delegate or a risk taker…, I provide them with specific vocabulary and opportunities to embrace these roles.

Last night, on my hike, I was listening to a talk by John Kabat Zinn on mindfulness.  He said that back in 1979, practicing mindfulness was pretty much an alone “me” thing.  Decades later, when enough “me” cumulated, slowly, a mindful “we” phenomena formed.

Some of you might think that you are the only one in your building doing what you are doing.  It is the nature of being a pioneer.  You are not a teacher alone.  A teacher is never a teacher alone!  We are a performer, director, writer, singer, dancer, critique, thinker, explorer…

Embracing your multiple identities and make it happen for your students.



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