Narrative group work in rural and small town schools
Intensified civic education that links content and emotions
To be open-minded and cosmopolitan, to behave humanely and in solidarity with others and to establish a good working relationship with one another - this has always been a difficult task for pupils. The skills of speaking openly, listening attentively, and engaging constructively with each other must also be constantly relearned. In order to support schools in implementing these important tasks of tolerance and democracy education, Cultures Interactive has developed narrative conversation groups, which are offered as a new method of intensified civic education, especially in rural areas.
The need for this is underlined by the increasing social polarization of recent years. Resentful, polarized and anti-democratic attitudes as well as populist positions that are brought forward emotionally and evade rational debate are increasingly setting the tone. This also reverberates in school rooms. In structurally weak regions, this is often reinforced by the perception of being "disconnected" and not being heard by politicians and the media. All the more reason to create new spaces for dialogue and to promote the ability for well-meaning debate and interpersonal encounters.
The narrative conversation groups are offered specifically to schools, as they continue to be an important socialization and meeting place for young people with different views and backgrounds. Despite the challenges posed by subject curricula and narrow framework conditions, schools also often seek additional external help in order to become an effective learning place for experiences of democratic understanding and sustainable conflict transformation.
Filling key issues of society and politics with own experiences
The narrative conversation groups effectively support this important function by creating a safe space for open exchange, trustful dialogue and lived democracy as part of regular lessons. Methodologically, they are based on proven principles of narrative exchange and group self-awareness as known from youth welfare and social therapy. External group facilitators offer a self-determined framework, open to any topics, in which the young people can talk about their experiences and interests and establish relationships with each other in a new way. Chronic tensions and hardened debates are thus pushed into the background. For individual experiences hidden behind opinions and resentments are revealed. In a narrative-reflective and personal way, the young people reassure themselves of democratic attitudes and dissolve hateful affects. This leads to intensified civic education which links content and emotions.
Our experience shows: The pupils quickly discover their personal concerns and actively work on the tensions of their respective class dynamics within the groups. At the same time, however, they intuitively move towards key issues of society and political life - (in)justice, bullying, violence, group-resentment, gender roles, friendship, family, participation. These are, in general, also the subject of education curricula. In the conversation groups the pupils do open up to these topics based on their own wealth of experience - thus filling them directly with life. This results in intensified civic education and democratic education.
Acquiring social competence – experiencing self-efficacy
The group work encourages and enables the pupils to talk about personal experiences, to make their own views understandable, to have a committed conversation and to listen to one another. In doing so, they are perceived with their experiences and learn to be sincere with each other and with themselves, to deal constructively with their own feelings and insecurities - and to negotiate differences of opinion free of devaluation and hatred.
Strengthening democratic attitudes – countering prejudice and group hatred
The pupils set the content of the group talks independently. In doing so, they naturally come up with questions of social interaction and current socio-political issues. This is based on personal experiences they have made themselves in terms of respect, being heard, equality, diversity, prejudices and being different. In this way, the basic democratic attitude of the pupils is strengthened and misanthropic attitudes are prevented - both in terms of content and emotion.
Mainly pupils from grade 7 onwards, also elementary school
In the project, an innovative and targeted procedure of quantitative and qualitative evaluation is being developed and implemented in cooperation with a university. Accordingly, the effects of the respective group processes are recorded and documented. In addition, the project is supported by a specialist advisory board in content-related, methodological and strategic questions of project implementation and development.
Cultures Interactive offers narrative conversation groups for 1-2 school semesters in a single or double lesson per week in regular classes or as a working group. The individual groups are formed ad hoc from half of existing school classes (8-13 pupils) and are accompanied by 2 group facilitators. The composition of these groups is as mixed-gendered and socio-culturally diverse as possible (e.g. with regard to experiences of racism), so that temporary group divisions along gender, ethnic or other lines of tension can be avoided.
In addition, a time-out room is provided in which pupils can exchange information in individual or small group settings as required. For cross-class dynamics - e.g. between pupils with and without refugee experience - a mediative group procedure for conflict management is provided and systemic school counselling is on offer. The conversation groups can be framed by creative youth culture workshops or youth culture school project days in the run-up to and/or after the event.
The teachers not participating in the groups are informed in advance regarding the procedure and asked for their assessment. Furthermore, they are informed about the students' determining concerns and topics during the process, while maintaining confidentiality. Evaluation discussions and factual reports continue to support the school in identifying points of contact for the work of the subject teachers and possible courses of action in the organization of everyday school life. Further training for the teaching staff can also be offered as required.
The project has been ongoing since 2019 with changing funding in changing, regionally limited contexts, currently primarily in Saxony-Anhalt, until 2025.