Beginning with the end in mind, we kick off the year helping students to discover the stories of the past in their own families. Students are asked to speak with their families to identify possible interview candidates. These individuals may be grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors or other family friends. We ask that students find at least two candidates from among these choices. Students may also investigate the stories their parents have to tell after coming up with at least two other names. Within the first few days of school, students are asked to complete the Contact Information Assignment.
Next, Mr. Parr and I introduce the project by showing them sample projects from years past. This year we connected that process to the summer reading selection, The Wednesday Wars. We showed three archived videos produced by former students that reveal different aspects of the Vietnam War. Students see that the experiences of these characters relate to the historical events that directly affected St. John’s families. These connections were serendipitous. However, as we collect more and more stories, we find that the individual story threads weave together to tell a larger tale.
Showing these films also helps students to generate questions about what they know about the project, what they don’t and what they might need to learn by asking new questions. This helps to develop students meta-cognitive abilities and historical thinking skills.
Mr. Parr and I model conducting a pre-interview in order to teach students to ask open ended questions and to follow up with new ones based on what they learn during the pre-interview. Students have three weeks and two weekends to complete a Pre-Interview Form for each of their contacts. This year it is due on September 14.
We encourage students to be open to new stories they may not have heard instead of honing in on one idea they may already have. The idea is to generate options so that the student has a choice about the story they want to work with that is most interesting to her.
Once students complete the Pre-Interview Forms, we will coach them on how to pitch their three best story ideas in order to hone in on the story they will spend the year telling. That will involve preliminary research in order to develop research questions before interview season begins in November.