Creative Autobiography: Adding a Meaningful Dimension to Social Studies

Article excerpt

Autobiography: The next thing like living one's life over again. -Benjamin Franklin

The two most important words in this article are creative and autobiography. Autobiographies and collections of memoirs and self-reflection offer students exciting human stories as well as models of good writing and storytelling. Second, ideas are given for autobiographical projects designed to provoke creative responses in gifted students of all ages.

As today's talented youths prepare to enter into the larger world, their parents and teachers want them to be as well armed as possible. Social science teachers have long used biography as a means of illuminating the histories of the leaders of the nation and the world. Biographies allow students to connect historical events with real people, and at the same time, they provide role models of leadership and good citizenship. Autobiographies add to the process by helping students become part of the historical scene as they prepare for their future roles in society. Autobiography, in its various forms, may be one of the best tools existent to share with gifted students in order to prepare them to meet the creative challenges and opportunities they will encounter the rest of their lives. Autobiography can be more than just an exciting introduction to the lives of writers and artists; it may also be used to help gifted students become more aware of their own creative strengths.

Recognizing and realizing a creative life does require courage. And courage begins with confidence in one's mettle and one's ability to succeed. Wise teachers provide abundant opportunities for gifted students to examine their lives autobiographically, noting and celebrating the things for which they have great love and in which they excel. Young gifted people who discover their passions and their creative strengths feel good about themselves. And those who feel good about themselves develop confidence and orient their talents to creative productivity. Before teachers and parents send young people out into the battlefield of society to face life's tribunals and critics, let them first make each aware of his or her remarkableness, singleness, and uniqueness. Build students' creative confidence through autobiographical experiences.

A word about choice. No student should be expected to complete every project described here. The wise teacher offers choices from which students may select preferences. Of course, teachers may choose one or two projects they want all their students to complete so that there is a shared, common classroom experience. Other teachers may want to make autobiography an all-year experience. Students would then complete many of the activities for an ever-growing autobiographical portfolio that is complete at year's end. Teachers will also note that some activities are best suited to particular age levels.

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

Fortunately, many of the most talented writers, creative artists, and even astronauts have told their own stories in books for children and young adults. There is much that gifted young writers can learn about creativity and problem solving from an ever growing treasury of autobiographies by many of the most popular and esteemed writers and illustrators of children's and young adult literature. Where do writers find their ideas? How do illustrators work? How do the life experiences of creators inform their own works?

Alma Flor Ada, professor of multicultural education at the University of San Francisco and a popular author of numerous children's books, recounts her childhood in Cuba in two memoirs, Where the Flame Trees Bloom and Under the Royal Palms. Ada was born in the countryside and later raised in the relatively small town of Camaguey. She writes beautifully and poignantly of growing up in an extended family with loving familial bonds. There is joy but there is also tragedy as she loses a beloved uncle in a plane crash. …