The idea for The Story Project was first sparked by an encounter with a man called Andy French early in my career as an English teacher.
My students had been studying the novella Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I found they were growing weary of the text as we scrutinised every detail during preparation for their GCSEs. Andy came to deliver a presentation at my school about how he had turned his life around after spending most of his 40 years in and out of prison. The key to ending that cycle was a project called ‘Stories Connect’.
Stories Connect was a prison-based reading group that also studied Of Mice and Men. But rather than focus on technical English skills, prisoners were urged to relate the story with their own lives so they could begin to understand and control their own emotions.
My students were greatly inspired by Andy’s talk, as it helped them to see the book from a different perspective. I, too, was inspired, and began to consider how the idea behind Stories Connect could be replicated at school.
I discovered that Stories Connect was based on an American programme called ‘Changing Lives Through Literature’. In the US, they had taken the concept much further. Rather than being put behind bars, petty criminals were ordered to attend a reading group with their probation officers and the judge. The results were dramatic: reoffending fell by 50 per cent.
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