Imagine this as if you were a student:
Documents that are over two hundred years old are sitting in front of you. Great. More fancy “old English” words that you just don’t understand. From what you can gather, the person that wrote it isn’t like you at all. Your teacher says that you need to summarize the document by the end of class but don’t even know where to begin nor do you have any motivation to do so.
Now, imagine this:
A journal or poem from a soldier and war statistics are laying on your desk. Once again, your teacher asks you to summarize the documents. You perk up a little, just enough to complete the summary and get on your way to your next class.
And now, this:
You are watching a movie. Forrest Gump. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Shawshank Redemption, or binge watching the Wonder Years. You can’t turn it off. You want to see what happens to the struggling man from Alabama, or the high school troublemaker, or the criminal Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, or even the young boy Kevin Arnold. You are hooked in by the story of somebody that is completely unlike yourself. You can see qualities in people with whom you thought you had very few similarities, if any.
What’s the difference? Visuals? Maybe. A catchy theme song? Okay, maybe. A great soundtrack? Alright, that makes sense, too. But the biggest thing? A personal connection to the story. You can see yourself as that person. You are rooting for them. You can insert yourself into their experience.
Hollywood does a fantastic job of doing this for us when we lose ourselves in a character.
How do we do it for our students?
This brings me to the story of Lin Manuel Miranda, who, as it can be seen on the PBS LearningMedia website, turned his personal reading of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, into what he personalized in his mind when reading it: an energetic hip-hop/rap song (and consequently, a hit Broadway musical).
Again: How do we do this for our students?
I hope that you can join me in March as I share how I have done this in my classroom by employing quality (and free!) primary resources to allow students to answer a larger question while interpreting a story using their own materials and through their own lens using a simple, yet effective technique: stop motion animation. (Think Rudolph!)
As Lin Manuel Miranda brought American History and hip-hop together, you and your students can bring together two things that may not immediately “jive” together in your mind: Primary Sources and Stop Motion. In doing so, you will see a level of personal connection, creativity, and interest that you may not have experienced in your social studies, ELA, elementary, and/or library classes, as students latch on to tell a story through their own eyes. Even neater, students will start to express stories while displaying their own interests, just as these students did, while answering the larger question of “Why did Jamestown struggle to survive?”
Disney? No? Pixar? Not quite? Authentic learning for a real audience? Absolutely. Join me in March to learn about the basics of putting your students in positions to do this as well as tips, strategies, and needed materials. and let’s get started with interpreting primary sources with digital storytelling tools such as stop motion on multiple platforms.