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Narrative group work in schools

Country
Germany
Target Audience
Youth/pupils/students
key themes association
Alternative and counter narrativesFormal/informal education
Peer Reviewed practice
No
Year
2019

Organisation

Cultures Interactive

Founded in 2005, Cultures Interactive is a Berlin-based NGO that works on various projects and networks nationwide and on an international level. Our goal is to prevent group hatred, discrimination and (right-wing) extremism and strengthen democratic and human rights values, in particular among young people. To do so, we provide workshops and programmes for adolescents, training and on-the-job coaching for social workers, teachers and other relevant stakeholders in youth work as well as consultancy and counselling for communities and institutions.

The methodological foundation of our work is a youth culture concept, which has been developed for hands-on and non-formal education and prevention work with youth from every milieu. The approach combines creative and practical elements of youth cultures and (social) media with non-formal political education and social learning, comprising aspects such as empowerment, conflict management, anti-racism, gender roles, equality, etc. Moreover, narrative-biographical group work has become an important addition to CI’s youth culture concept as it creates a safe space for young people to freely discuss their personal experiences, to listen, and to get to know one another better – and thus discover first-hand how a person’s life story shapes their attitudes and actions.

Type of Organisation: NGO

Project description:

Aims

Narrative-biographical group works aims at:

  • building narrative, social and emotional skills, in particular the ability of sharing personal experiences in a group, listening to others regardless what they share, and maintaining a respectful and confidential space for inter-personal dialogue
  • improving self-awareness and self-confidence by making personal stories heard and being valued
  • strengthening democratic values and preventing group hatred, (right-wing) extremism as well as discriminative, intolerant and violent behaviour
  • by reflecting on and discussing current socio-political issues and related grievances from the point of view of the young peoples’ own everyday experiences and biographical events that are at the heart of their world view

Narrative groups provide an open space in which young people are free to talk about whatever is important to them from a personal point of view. The facilitators do not set any topics but solely aim at maintaining a safe and confidential space and, most importantly, encourage attendants to trustfully share personal experiences and observations.

While many other educational activities prioritise information, rational thinking, discussion and arguments, narrative groups shift the focus to telling of and listening to individual issues and subjective observations. This helps participants to explore and reflect on the underlying personal experiences and biographical factors which underlie their opinions and behaviour – and thus strengthen democratic values and prevent/counter attitudes of intolerance, group hatred and (right-wing) extremism. Therefore, narrative conversations can enable people with starkly different views to develop a greater understanding as well as empathy and trust among each other. This can then set the stage for a more authentic in-depth discussion where there would otherwise likely be only a short and heated confrontation on polarising topics.

Method

Methodologically, narrative-biographical group work builds on the established fields of narratological psychology and group dynamic interventions. Its use in prevention is based on the finding that a safely moderated process of sharing and exploring individual experiences and telling personal stories can induce an in-depth reflection on where current behaviour and attitudes come from, whether they need to be changed and how this may be done. The most important practical goals for facilitators resulting from this methodological background are to create a confidential space and support a narrative mode of conversation in the group. The latter is done through relationship building and specific techniques of dialogue that encourage story-telling about first-hand experiences, e.g. by favouring ‘how come’ and ‘what’ questions instead of ‘why’ questions, the latter of which often start debates and arguments and preclude the sharing of experiences.

Narrative groups are implemented as part of regular lessons (or alternatively in ‘school clubs’ in the afternoon). Usually, classes of 20-25 students are divided into two groups of 10–13 students. Each small group is conducted by 2 facilitators in order to enable further group divisions according to group dynamics, points of view, gender, etc. A time-out room and facilitator are provided. These groups meet once a week for 45 – 90 minutes for half a year or, if possible a full school year. Shorter formats are possible, but a duration of less than 6 weeks is not advisable.

As narrative group work is a highly process-oriented practice, CI has also developed additional modules to react to particular circumstances, such as:

  • a module of group mediation based on narrative-biographical exchange but focusing on concrete conflicts within the school context that have been brought up in the groups but cannot be sufficiently handled there
  • practical youth culture or (social) media workshops to provide additional experience of creative self-expression and empowerment
  • group activities of non-formal civic education to deepen the reflection on particular issues that were raised in the groups

Deliverables:

The practice is presented in a leaflet for multipliers, such as teachers, headmasters / headmistresses, or social workers in schools (in German language) and it will be part of a compendium of practices in the CEE Prevent Net project (coordinated by CI, see http://www.ceepreventnet.eu/ to be published in summer 2020 (in English language and most likely also in Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Bulgarian).

In addition, CI developed train-the-trainer modules for group work facilitators which are not published.

Read the full practice

Contact

Contact person: Tina Heise,
Email
Oliver Kossack,
Email
Harald Weilnböck,
Email
Telephone: (+49) 306 040 1950
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Address

Cultures Interactive
Mainzer Str. 11,
12053 Berlin,
Germany