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?