Friday, September 3, 2010

Our Spiraling Lives...

In preparation for a large autobiography project, I asked my students to create “mapas de la vida” (life maps). I remember doing an activity like this years ago at a previous school. I had spent some time considering the best approach to get my students to write meaningful things about their lives. I notice that when they talk about their day to day existence, it often rotates around video games and television shows. I was hoping to find a way to channel some deeper thought. 
The idea is to map out one’s life mostly with drawings rather than writing. They could organized these drawings as they saw fit: time lines, spider webs, random, but the example I gave for my own life was a spiral line whose center represents my birth. I spoke about few events in my life I could choose to represent: my childhood house, my family divorcing, kayaking and tennis, going to Mexico etc… But I also included one family tragedy: my brother’s death. My students immediately wanted to know the circumstances of his death, which I wasn’t really interested in telling them, so I let them know that while I included it on my spiral map, I did not necessarily want to talk about it (though I may change my mind later as I am writing).
Something about the sample events I put on the map seemed to inspire many of my students. As I walked around I saw my students intent and even passionate about their sketches. Many wanted to share them with me; explain them in very personal ways.
One of my students came to the US only two years ago from El Salvador. She drew herself being raised by her grandmother, then, later one, a bunch of people gathered around a plane saying “Adios”. Later down the spiral, though, was a birthday party and right next to that, a body laying down next to a cross. She really wanted to share that this was her grandmother who had died on her birthday. I was surprised. “On your birthday? She was there with you?” 
“No, she was in El Salvador. I was having a birthday party here and on that same day my grandmother left her house in El Salvador on a bike and was hit by a car. She died on my birthday”. 
What can I say? What a powerful autobiographical story awaits to be read and shared?

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