Storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. For our seventh graders, hearing from local people who heard MLK or Malcolm X speak, who participated in the March on Washington or the March on Selma, or who reached out to African American citizens during this most difficult time helps them synthesize their learning and see why all of this content matters. It is real to them. When these adults walked into our building to share their time and their personal history, the students felt many emotions. They were nervous and excited. In addition, they showed respect by dressing up for the occasion, being completely prepared with questions, and knowledgable about the content. There was purpose to their prior research because they must now write these important stories, and they have an authentic audience-their interviewee. The teachers and students ended last week so thankful that adults in their community valued this project enough to donate their time.
But this relationship goes both ways. The local citizens thanked the teachers and the students for this opportunity. They are amazed at the serious and purposeful nature of these thirteen year olds. One interviewee found them to be "gracious, focused, interested, respectful, and quite insightful with their follow-up questions.” Another emailed us that “the team was delightful. There were some wonderful questions.” Finally, one interviewee left telling us that he is amazed by the work the students in this school are doing. What a perfect match. Students get great historical information and twenty-two community members can now go and talk about the complex work taking place in their local middle school.
The next time you are designing learning experiences, think local! Your students will see the amazing work and efforts of community members, and your school neighbors will be able to share that the teachers and students in your school are doing purposeful, focused learning. Everyone wins!