Significant Events and Identity

The theme of identity is one that keeps resurfacing for me this year.  First in “Journeys Into Literacy”, when participants were challenged to think of a “memory book” – the book you keep going back to re-reading and that led you to reading other similar books.  For me, it was the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Our literacy leaders then challenged us to think about what this book reveals about our identity.  Are you what you read?  What path did this memory book set you on?  We started thinking about our reading “diets” and what they revealed about us.  I love historical fiction.  This book set me on a path of reading the stories of various heroines in the past.  I also like reading biographies as you can see in my “shelfie”:


Later on this year, in a leadership course, we were asked to write down 5 events that made a significant impact on us on Post It notes.  Then, as a group, we created a timeline, sharing our events sequentially.  It involved being a bit vulnerable and sharing some pretty personal information.  It felt uncomfortable, but also created community.

Recently, a Grade 7 teaching invited me to collaborate with her in History.  I told her about the leadership activity and we decided to try it with her students.  Students wrote 5 significant events in their life and shared them with the group sequentially.  Our timeline spanned from 2002-2015.  There is probably a more tech savvy way to do this, but we went with this:


We then analyzed the events.  They consisted of their own births, the births of their siblings, illnesses and surgeries, starting school, changing schools, starting different sports activities or hobbies etc.  We then asked students what all of these events had in common.  Students responded by saying that these events had an impact on who they became or involved big changes in their lives.  It’s at this point that we shifted gears.  We told students that it’s the same with history.  For this next part, you could have heard a pin drop in the class.  It was one of those magical moments when you KNOW you’ve got their attention.  We went on to explain that there are events that are significant because they made a big impact on Canadian identity and involved big changes that are reflected in our world today.  We expanded on the idea of what makes something significant, connecting their thoughts about their timeline to history.

Currently, students are working on their “top ten” significant events from 1713-1838.  They have to rank them and explain why they are most significant.  What do they reveal about our Canadian identity?  How did they shape and change us?  And I quote the Ontario Curriculum (p.130):

Historical importance is determined generally by the impact of something on a group of people and whether its effects are long lasting.  Students develop their understanding that something that is historically significant for one group may not be significant for another.  Significance may also be determined by the relevance of something from the past, including how it connects to a current issue or event.

I’m already thinking of the questions that I need to ask after their presentations to tease out the last two sentences in the quote above.

Once students explore each other’s projects, and we delve deeper into significance we’re going to move into “Historical Fiction” and the idea of perspective.  I love the book “Jeremy’s War” by John Ibbitson for example because it speaks to students about the war of 1812 better than a history book can.  The voice is of a boy about their age living through the war and conversations he has when he encounters significant people.  This is a genre that straddles fiction and non-fiction.

And finally, we will be writing some historical fiction.  They are going to choose the event that they connected with the most this year. I share with them my family history in Quebec and model the facts that I would use to create a story.  I blogged about the same task at this time last year.  They will create a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story in a Google Presentation format that will be told in the first person and include at least two different perspectives. If you Google “Choose Your Own Adventure Sylvia Duckworth”, you will find great templates, resources and instructions on how to do this.

This class will have had the chance to discuss history, read some historical fiction and then finally write about history.  It makes me think of Rachel Wente-Chaney, a keynote speaker at the Google for Education summit in Kitchener a little while back.  She started off by asking “What story do you want to tell?”.  She continued to quote from “Consciousness Reconsidered” by Owen Flanagan of Duke University, who says that “evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers”.  Don’t we all write our own history?  It’s probably also defined by the stories we don’t tell…

And well, you can’t talk about impact without a good quote from Winston Churchill.  How do you want to be remembered?


5 Responses

  1. James at |

    Great post, love the idea of connecting a personal narrative to the collective. Likely a powerful learning activity fur many. I just wanted to offer an alternative for creating choose your own adventure styled writing. www is pretty awesome platform for writing non linear stories. Worth a look if you have not come across it before. Links to coding but no coding necessary, lots of tutorials to help too.
    Worth a look.

  2. Sue Bruyns at |

    Your last line “how do you want to be remembered?” is one that I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately. Probably because we are once again coming to the end of another school year. As a classroom teacher, I would imagine that we want to know, how will this year’s group of students remember me? Will they remember a specific unit of study, a special event, an activity or a trip? As a school principal, I would imagine that we want to know how, not only our students, but our broader parent community and staff will remember this past year? Did we host an event that lead to real change in our community? As a staff did we truly come together and make a difference in the lives of our students? As a leader, what impact did I have on the career of a new teacher or an experienced educator? As a system principal, I am asking myself the same question ~ how will I be remembered by our Languages team and by our Instructional coaches? If I were to pen a narrative about this last year, I can’t help but wonder which components I would include and would those items of importance to me be similar through the lens’ of others?
    Do the significant events of the last year directly connect to my identity as an educator? Great post Jen! As always, you’ve given your readers lots to think about!

  3. Joan Velema at |

    As I end my time as VP at one school and venture on to my next placement, I find myself pondering about my impact, my learning, the relationships I’ve built and of course, what I would have done differently, if I could at my current school. I love the connection you’ve made between our experiences and creating a personal narrative. We all come into a situation with
    out own perspectives, attitudes and experiences and then it
    seems, the magic happens. How we react to the daily grind comes from this prior knowledge, I suspect. Whenever I find
    myself challenged by a certain situation, I go back into my
    own bank of prior knowledge / experiences and find a similar situation and reflect on what I did then and would have done differently. It truly does help. Our past affects our present
    which in turn enlightens the future. I think of the mentors I’ve
    had the last few years, I know that without them, I could not continue to move on with a goal in mind, a will to be successful and knowing that no matter what hard work and a
    friendly word always go a long way.

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