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In this module, I examine StoryCorps as an educational tool and suggest a variety of ways it can be used in a Middle or High School English classroom.
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Secondary students are at time in their life where they want to see the reasoning behind what they are learning. Within the classroom, relatedness becomes a key tool in keeping students engaged. I will look at how StoryCorps has been used in classrooms to show students real life personal narratives, and then focus my investigations on how StoryCorps can be used to reinforce student oratory and interviewing skills.
StoryCorps was created in 2003 and strives to create and preserve an oral history of the United States from the eyes of the everyday American. This oral history concept follows the work of the Works Progress Administration from the 1930s, which interviewed Americans to highlight their personal stories. StoryCorps, though, takes their interviews to another level. Similar to newspaper interest stories, 60 Minutes specials, and online web journals, StoryCorps allows the everyday American to share their stories with the general public. The difference with StoryCorps is that it creates an intimate interviewing environment where friends are interviewing friends and family members are interviewing family members. These interviews hope to preserve the special and personal moments rather than the big events. Real Life. Real Americans. These interviews are then stored in the Library of Congress in the “largest collection of American voices ever gathered” (StoryCorps.org).
With over 38,000 interviews recorded, many families and friends across the United States have recorded their own personal interviews with StoryCorps in order to preserve their history for the generations to come. Teachers, as well, have discovered the benefit to StoryCorps is two-fold. First, by allowing students to view these personal interviews, they are able to encourage students to think beyond their own personal perspective while viewing the perspectives of others. By introducing students to real life people when describing a historical event or overarching theme, the students are more willing to accept other views through the words of other people. Teachers have also discovered that by actually using mobile StoryCorps technology in their classroom, students are more motivated to work on their oratory and interviewing skills because the end product will be viewed and saved. Yet at present, classrooms and students are underrepresented in the StoryCorps project. By incorporating this program into the classroom, teachers will show their students perspectives beyond the textbook and enhance their public speaking and overall conversational skills.
StoryCorps has the possibility to be an impressive learning tool, yet it is underutilized in most classrooms. Because StoryCorps is centralized in New York, the project seems to lose strength in school systems outside of the state. By using the Do-It-Yourself and StoryKit Programs that StoryCorps provides though, the ability to partake in interviews is available to everyone. In English classes especially, the potential of StoryCorps has not yet been fully explored. Writing, reading, and speaking, are the three main components that make up the Standards of Learning. StoryCorps can be a way for students to demonstrate all of these. By writing out interview questions, reading over prompts and written versions of completed interviews, and participating in the interviews, students can take the skills they are learning in the classroom and apply it to a culminating project. Teachers can reinforce student skills while also helping to preserve America’s oral history. This module will analyze the potential for and ease of using podcast in middle and high school English classes as a reinforcement of knowledge tool. Rather than assign the same old personal narrative paper or run of the mill research paper, English classes could use StoryCorps to continue developing students’ oratory skills in a safe, yet challenging, environment.
StoryCorps is a collection of oral history interviews that may be accessed on the Internet or at the Library of Congress. It includes interviews from toddlers to the elderly all over the United States. StoryCorps interviews are available in a number of subjects, including discover, growing up, identity, struggle, September 11, historias, work, and wisdom. They can be watched through direct access from the StoryCorps website and can be shared to many of the major social networks.
If you are hoping to view a StoryCorps video for the classroom. A user needs to simply go to the StoryCorps.org and select the Listen to Stories hyperlink on the left-hand side of the web page. Teachers and students can then listen to the most recent stories or search under a specific topic as mentioned above. Before using the information in the classroom though, StoryCorps asks that users fill out the following form so they can monitor what their material is being used for and continue to create interviews that interest their users.
If you are hoping to partake in a StoryCorps interview, there are four possible ways to do this successfully. The following link will walk you through the three different ways of performing the interview including in person interviews at the StoryCorps site, Do-It-Yourself Interviews, their StoryKit Program, and their Door-to-Door Service. These interviewing options vary in price from a suggested donation to a fee varying on the distance StoryCorps workers have to travel to perform the interviews. If you choose to do the interviews in the classroom on your own though, please check with your technology teacher or the library to see if cameras, headphones, and microphones are available in your school system.
Additionally, StoryCorps recognizes the impact these interviews could have in the classroom and suggests multiple ways to use StoryCorps to enhance the classroom. Ranging from short informative pieces to student creativity assignments, StoryCorps encourages teacher involvement with their project in order to have students actively involved in our oral history.
StoryCorps can easily be used inside the classroom in a variety of ways. The following links illustrate different ways to use StoryCorps in the classroom in order to increase student engagement and promote understanding of varying perspectives.
Guampedia is a non-profit organization working with the University of Guam that has created a lesson to have students start thinking about what an oral history is and where it comes from. In this lesson, teachers use interviews from StoryCorps to highlight the idea that oral histories often stem from personal stories. Here students learn the emotional power of the oral tradition as they are asked to define the emotions they feel as they watch the stories. This example is useful because it shows how to utilize the StoryCorps videos to bring to life real life oral histories and explain difficult concepts and emotions in a lesson.
StoryCorpsU is an exploration of what makes a good story, what are good questions to ask when interviewing, and then an application of the knowledge students gain to conduct their own interviews. Relying heavily on StoryCorps to provide examples and to promote discussion, this lesson idea combines many of the ways StoryCorps can be used in the classroom to create an all-inclusive lesson. The key to this lesson is students are able to come up with their own definitions for what a good story is and then must prove their stance by creating a good story interview themselves.
This lesson uses StoryCorps interviews to highlight the topics of struggle and exclusion of peoples in society. The lesson idea focuses on students understanding the ways in which people have been excluded from society and these ideas are reinforced through interviews with people directly through StoryCorps. By discussing sensitive subjects like LGBT rights, this lesson illustrates that not all people are treated fairly and allows students to develop their own opinions that they will then write about by reading and listening to interviews of people who have been excluded or judged in society through history because of their beliefs.
Family Memoir Lesson
This teacher created lesson uses StoryCorps to introduce the writing style of memoirs to the classroom. By having students interact with someone who is a generation older than them, they are required to interview a family member to construct a memoir. For this example, it is not the interviews themselves that are important from StoryCorps, but the list of ‘Good Questions’ (http://storycorps.org/record-your-story/question-generator/list/) that they have created. By having students read through these questions and determine which questions would enhance their own interview. This example highlights StoryCorps ability to be more than just a reinforcement tool and illustrates its ability to educate students on good interviewing skills.
By using StoryCorps in both illustrative and informative ways, it can help teachers move beyond traditional methods of instruction. StoryCorps gives students the opportunity to have their voices and opinions heard beyond the classroom as student interviews are preserved for the generations to come. It also creates student-centered classrooms focused on student creativity and exploration with teacher collaboration rather instead of the traditional teacher-centered classroom. Additionally, StoryCorps takes sensitive and historical subjects and displays them through the stories of real people. By using these stories in the classroom, teachers make the content more relatable to their students and provide them with emotional triggers to better remember material. By using StoryCorps, the lessons no longer are focused on the facts and dates of events, but rather the students learn the material through the emotions and perspectives the develop from the people they are listening to in the interviews.
As with all teaching tools, there are problems with using StoryCorps as well. Because the interviews often lend themselves to personal topics, students might not want to share their stories with another person. In the Memoirs lesson, if the teacher would have had a student in the class who was raised in a foster home or another unfortunate circumstance, the student might feel isolated when required to perform the assignment. When dealing with personal stories, there is always a question of personal home life. Additionally, while viewing some of the videos, students might not take the interviews seriously and mock the interviewee. In the Unheard Voices Lesson, LGBT history is a sensitive subject. Students may not understand the seriousness of the subject and mock the interviewee, inadvertently offending someone else in the classroom. Finally, teachers need to check with their school procedures and talk with parents to make sure students are allowed to be filmed. Some parents might not feel comfortable with interviews of their children being sent off for review and editing, even if the end product is to be placed in the Library of Congress.
Have a plan for what you would like the interview videos to enhance in your lesson. Though videos are short, because of time constraints that are always present in classrooms, it is important to know exactly what videos you want to use because there are so many options.
Find a way to connect the StoryCorps Interviews to your school’s personal standards and requirements. Because it does cost money to have a StoryKit purchased for your school or the technology needed to complete a Do-It-Yourself interview, you need to have reasonable grounds for using this technology in your classroom before submitting the idea to the administration.
Before you have your students conduct an interview, conduct one yourself. This way you will understand the materials and be able to answer any questions they may have on the procedure of the interview.
Discuss what you are hoping to get out of the assignment with the students, in an informative way followed by a rubric, before beginning an assignment. This way, as you have students look at interviews or conducting their own you will reduce distractions and unproductive time within your classroom.
Be creative! StoryCorps has a lot of videos but they are not specific to English, History, Science, or Math classes. Their information is still valuable though. Review multiple videos in each category so you can determine which categories will be most beneficial to your classes and lessons.