Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Learning History by Talking

Tara Smith at A Teaching Life has begun a new meme, Social Studies Wednesdays, which can connect to all teachers. Please join her by posting your blog with ideas of work with students.  






Wouldn't it be great to have interviewed this woman?
             Sometimes people ask me what are my favorite assignments and I'd like to tell you briefly about one.  As the years pass, older people leave us, and I believe we educators are missing opportunities for students to meet elders to discover their lives when they were young.  Beginning experiences in interviewing help students' confidence, so the very first day, an assignment is to interview a classmate for the class scrapbook.  This scrapbook is a record, a history of this year's class.  There is a group that is in charge of creating the actual book's design, but everyone has a chance to add to it.  By pairing up students for interviews on the first day, they have the opportunity to meet a classmate they might not know so well, a good first step in talking with someone 'almost' new.



      There are other opportunities for interviewing that help students feel comfortable:  they interview parents to discover the origin of their names, interview other teachers to discover something interesting to tell about those teachers, interview classmates about favorite books, and so on.
       The small assignments lead to the culminating assignment, a history research project to find an area of history where there is a possibility of finding a living person to talk with, to find out their own experience during that time.  Parent and staff help was asked to find the people who might be interviewees.  Parent help was enlisted to drive students to the interview.  The interview was conducted, written as if the person was telling his or her story, photos were taken.  Then, before the final draft was accepted, a follow-up visit to the person interviewed was needed to get permission to publish.  After all that, all the research checked, the revisions approved, a final copy was made for the person interviewed and a class celebration and sharing occurred with the interviewees attending.  It was a celebration of those life experiences, of the learning involved, and of the very hard work accomplished to put it all together.  
            It is a powerful culmination of learning about history from one who lived it.  To young students, it is way better than reading in a history book.  That is why it is my favorite assignment.



12 comments:

  1. I so agree, Linda - we have embodiments of living history in all our communities, so this is something we should really take advantage of! Thanks, as always, for sharing your thinking!

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    1. It takes some strategic planning, but the ending is just awesome. Thanks Tara.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this wonderful project. Living history is the best!

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    1. Every time I've done it, the students love it, too. New experiences! Thanks, Jama.

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  3. That is awesome! I love the inclusion of photographs, so that it ends up being sort of a feature article when they write up the interview. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Yes, it is like a feature article, except they write in first person, working to give a voice to their person. Thanks, Christy.

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  4. What a great opportunity for students to experience people and a time different from their own. How eye opening it must be/have been for them to learn so much from a person who lived the piece of history they were researching.

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    1. A few students actually make the contact with someone they already know, so it really furthers the relationship. Good stuff! Thanks, Betsy!

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  5. Linda,
    I love how you explain the preliminary steps. I have never tackled oral history as a class project. I know our historical society is always interested in the oral history projects that classes do. They are great resources for help and information.

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    1. Hi Ruth! Great to hear from you. I wondered if you'd read this, being the history lover you are. I agree, the historical museum here is always a trip first. I should have included that part, too. Thank you.

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  6. You've reminded me of a history project of my own from the 80s. I took a high school history class called Local History. One of our assignments was to interview two local residents, over the age of 65. What a wonderful assignment and no matter who we chose, we were impacted by the final result. Of course that was in the day of cassette tapes but I know that the high school kept copies of each and every tape and they are catalogued there to this day.

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  7. Thank you for telling me about the project. It sounds like something that could be so adaptable to many lessons.

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Having a conversation is a good thing!