About Soul Stories

Dr. James talking about the soulstoriesdna curriculum
and its impact on student learning

Dr. James is passionate about using many public speaking exemplars including TED and TEDx talks to energize her writing curriculum. Students in her classes are introduced to TED and TEDx talks by both adults and kids and slowly warm to the notion that they will ultimately take the stage at their school’s own licensed TEDx event and deliver an “idea worth spreading” to their peers and the school community. This prospect energizes the classroom and writing takes on a whole new significance. The prospect of a real life forum where their ideas will be heard and appreciated in the company of elite adult guest speakers, inspires students to dig deep inside themselves and access their essential story or their “soul story.” Suddenly, students who never wanted to write are clamoring to have their work edited and reedited by their teachers so that they can begin practicing their talks and take the stage. And what is more, students who learn the value of editing their work in this context almost always transfer these new skills back to classroom assignments when the project is complete.

What is a Soul Story and How Do I Help My Students Find Theirs?

A soul story is just what it sounds like! It is that story inside of you that wishes to be told. Sometimes those stories are dramatic and tragic, but they can also be funny and quirky and just something that’s been on your mind that engages or puzzles you. But accessing your soul story is not always the easiest task. As adults, it’s hard enough to be given the opportunity to have a forum to say what’s on our mind and figure out what we really want to say. Think of what that task must be like for a teenage student, particularly in this culture of relentless noise from real news, fake news, advertisements, and entertainment. It is hard to hear the sound of one’s voice let alone one’s soul.

Soul stories are an exercise in having students access that voice, listen to it and engage in self-reflection. By the time that self-reflection is mined into an idea and then a piece of writing and then a speech that can be delivered on a stage, students feel comfortable sharing their soul stories with each other and in so doing share their differences, their vulnerabilities, their truths. How often do you see that happening on a middle or high school campus? Today, more than ever, we must learn to speak with effect and economy and to listen with empathy and respect. The soul stories curriculum accomplishes this. When all is said and done, students walk away from this writing and public speaking project having enjoyed an experience that they will never forget as better project based learners, better editors and writers, and far more ready for a 21st century world because they have learned to to think on their feet, work toward a shared goal with their peers and teachers, and do so with grit and perseverance.