Self Authoring: Writing a life story with your own choice of happily ever after.
One unfortunate shared trait of many of the organisations I have visited is that they are reliant on grants or donations in some way. This obviously takes up a lot of time and money and can be a barrier to the organisations working on everything they want to. Some organisations do charge a fee to their users, but this does not usually cover all the costs involved in running the programme and this is usually on a sliding scale, so that schools pay what they can afford. However, as the programmes are delivering high impact work that often relies on a lot of resources, the money does have to come from somewhere.
A self-sufficient programme
It is from within this context that the programme iVie stood out and I was fortunate enough to meet with Dr. Jordan B Peterson and research student Christine Brophy, who are currently developing the programme at the University of Toronto. iVie is an online programme that harnesses the life-changing power of writing. Through a series of online videos and writing exercises, young people are encouraged to write about themselves by focussing on the various futures available to them. As the programme is completely online, it offers the potential to be self-sufficient and the cost is low enough to ensure that schools can afford to completely pay for the service.
The programme is still in its pilot period, but it is already showing big financial benefits. It cost $40,000 to put students at Mohawk College through the programme, but after implementing the programme the college saw a 25% reduction in student drop-out, saving the college $7 million.
Having the programme online means there are no administration costs that go with the programme. It is easy for schools to sign up for and it does not take up much class time. In fact, it only takes three days to complete the programme and it is recommended that the materials are worked through on one day a week for three weeks. Even though the programme appears incredibly light-touch, not only have the cost benefits, but the personal benefits have been significant.
Students who take the programme have improved drop-out rates, better grades and feel better about themselves and their futures. The students who have taken the programme have also been followed up two years later and the benefits are still apparent compared to their peers who did not take the programme. The interesting thing is that the benefits are seen in data and questionnaires, but the students themselves may not even remember that they took part in a three day writing programme two years ago. Instead, the programme seems to have made an unconscious shift in their way of thinking that outlasts the actual memory of what they did.
I was fascinated to find out why this programme is having such a significant impact and Dr. Peterson surprised me by saying he was pleasantly surprised to see that the programme had such significant results himself! He is one of the founders of an adult version of the programme called ‘Self Authoring’. This programme has had positive results with adults for many years and is designed to help people write carefully and thoughtfully about their past, present and future. Step by step, participants are presented with specific, relevant questions, each addressing some key element of their past, present or future, and each accompanied by the contextual information necessary to properly answer such questions. Adults can go online and purchase access to the programme, then independently guide themselves through it.
For iVie, the programme has been adapted to suit a younger audience as instructions are given in video format and are a lot more focussed on the future aspect of the programme as it has been designed to help young people achieve their potential after finishing school. During the programme, they are supported to write down a vision of their perfect future and a future they don’t want. Through this activity, students are able to spin off possible versions of themselves and Dr. Peterson summarised the benefit of this with a quote from Alfred White North: ‘ Thoughts can die instead of us.’ Writing about a future students don’t want and taking risks in their writing means that students can think of bad situations instead of living them.
They are also encouraged to envision positive situations that they may not have previously considered possible and once they have seen this and written about this, it is easier to set goals to make this happen. Goal Setting Theory, a theory proposed by the prominent psychologist Edwin Locke, states that people who set specific measurable goals are happier in their careers, and the iVie programme is helping students to do this.
A different type of career education
To get to the point where students can write about their future, they are encouraged to write lots of things about themselves, such as who they admire and what they enjoy doing. The emphasis on writing about themselves is what separates this programme from traditional career education, as through the iVie programme, students are able to focus a lot more on their motivations and the type of life they want, rather than just skills and how to access careers.
The writing for the programme is confidential, but teachers can be sent word counts and do have meetings with their students to discuss their goals and progress on the programme. As the work is not being corrected, it is not working specifically on academic literacy, but when the students are answering the questions, they are encouraged to start off by free-writing and then follow this up with some editing. They are also given guidelines on how to structure their goals into an essay format, so there is potential for the programme to fit into academic lessons.
Happily Ever After
The programme is still in its pilot phase, but the starting results are very promising and it is exciting that this could be easily expanded to reach a lot of students. Being intrigued by the programme and the positive effects it is having, I have signed up to complete the adult version of the programme myself.
As Dr. Peterson puts it, our lives are essentially a story and through the written exercises, people can see what their lives look like as a tragedy, a comedy, a romance or even a horror. Therefore, as I write about the potential different versions of my own life, I will be hoping that by putting pen to paper will lead to a better chance of my story and the stories of the students who take part in the iVie programme, achieving real life ‘happily ever afters’.