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2023 - In Their Own Words: Students share life experiences through stories

Tags: Academics
Published 06/27/2023

"Every student has a story," said Brian Bohr, instructor of communication studies. Bohr is reinventing the classroom experience to embrace and enhance what students can bring to storytelling. In his communications course, Oral Interpretation of Literature, students take stories that are not traditionally performative and bring them to life from their personal perspectives through different mediums, including poetry, personal narratives, and digital storytelling.

Although Bohr's class is rooted in performance, it differs from a theatre performance class because students are not playing characters but performing each piece as themselves. "This class is an entry point into thinking about 'Who am I?' and 'How do I interact with stories and put myself into them?' instead of thinking about what the author wanted me to do," said Bohr. He even replaced the traditional desk-and-chair setting by holding classes in one of ECC's dance studios to facilitate creative thinking.

"It was really refreshing to be free to try something different," said ECC Oral Interpretation student Roswell Howells. For one performance, he wore an inflatable dinosaur costume to tell a story of nearly fainting in a parade.

Freedom to make choices within their performances is the backbone of Bohr's course. For the poetry component, students took a poem they felt connected to and performed it in either their open classroom or a specific location on campus. "This freedom gave them a way to think a little bit more critically about what they were doing and why they were doing it," he said. "So many of my students have come to me and said they would never have interpreted the text this way had they only been instructed to stand up and recite the poem."

"We could each perform the same poem, and all have wildly different interpretations of the text because the performance centers on your unique experiences, values, and beliefs," said Bohr. "It's about what you get from the piece of literature and what you want to show from it."

For another project, students partnered with McKinley Elementary School in Elgin, adapting the grade schoolers' short personal narratives into full performances. Bohr based this project on a group in New York called the Story Pirates and a Chicago group called Barrel of Monkeys. "People often neglect kids' stories. Here we ask: 'How we can give them a voice, and how do we show these kids that their words matter, their stories matter, and that they hold worth?,'" said Bohr. In May, ECC invited the elementary school to see their stories performed on campus.

For the final project, Bohr's students performed their narratives at a live "ECC Speaks" event based on NPR's "The Moth Radio Hour." In collaboration, students from the ECC Working with Groups class, taught by Assistant Professor of Human Services Liddy Hope, PhD, helped plan the event. "This is a neat collaboration where we get to share our students and create this experience for them," said Bohr.

"This class allowed me to explore a different part of me," said Howells. "Effective communication will help me in any field I pursue, and it reignited my love of public speaking and presenting."