In the fall of 2003 David Book (a member of the Worcester Historical Society) and I applied for a Community History Project grant, and our project was accepted. We called the project "My Home Territory." Here is the description of the project, as we originally conceived it:
For several years, Doty’s third and fourth graders have done a project called "My Home Territory," in which each child draws a map of her house and its surroundings, with the map boundary being "as far as you are allowed to go on your own." Each child also does some writing describing her home territory, any "special place" she may have there, and experiences, people, etc. associated with her home territory. As well, for several years third and fourth graders have participated in an oral history project, visiting elders form our community in their homes, or inviting them into our classroom, to interview them about their experiences growing up in Worcester in decades past. This has given students the opportunity to conduct primary source research into the history of their town in the twentieth century.
This year we would like to combine and extend both activities, by inviting elders from the Worcester community who grew up in different parts of our town to take small groups of students for walks in what was their "home territory" as they were growing up, to point out and describe what has changed, and to tell us stories about what it was like living in that place in decades past. We will probably follow up these "history walks" with visits to the classroom, to continue conversations and answer follow-up questions the children may have. We plan to have these "Home Territory" visits and conversations recorded, and to compile a collection of these tours and stories, as well as the children’s reactions and their learning. This compilation would be our contribution to the project web site.
The third and fourth graders have clearly enjoyed the opportunity, over the past three years, to get to know elders from our community, and to question them about their experiences when they were younger. However, it’s clear that much of what the students hear about is pretty abstract for them, since the experiences the elders describe are often very different from what the children know in their lives. Old photographs, when available, begin to help the children visualize the stories they hear. We’re hoping that the first-hand field experiences and interactions of our new project will help the children make connections between what they’re hearing about and their own experiences and knowledge of Worcester today. We hope to make Worcester’s history come alive for the children, and thus to make the oral history project more meaningful for these young historians.
We began attending CHP meetings at the Vermont Historical Society that fall, having a chance to speak with other groups who were involved in similar projects, and receiving training in a number of areas that supported our up-coming work. In the fall of 2004 I began work with my group of 12 fourth graders on our oral history project. The steps we followed included:
- Fall, 2004 - Two rounds of oral history field interviews in the fall. The first, "practice" interview was with two "young elders" who have worked with my class in the past. Six students went on each interview, visiting these elders’ childhood home territories, and asking questions. Then I set up teams of two students to visit and walk the home territory of elders who grew up near the students’ own home territories, so they could learn about the history of their own neighborhoods. Students took notes and did some short writing pieces after these interviews.
- Students wrote narratives based on personal experiences of their own from their "home territories."
- In the spring we started up again, with a field trip to the VHS exhibit at the Pavilion Building. We invited three Worcester elders to meet us in the World War II Room, and spent an hour there interviewing them about their memories from that time.
- We next identified topics that each child wanted to research and learn more about, related to their home territory, or something they had heard about in their interviews that they wanted to pursue in more depth.
- We met several elders at the new WHS building (the old Worcester Village Schoolhouse, across the road from Doty School.) There we spent time looking through the WHS’s collection of old photographs, to identify photos that were of interest to the children’s research topics.
- Next I set up a series of interviews for small groups or individual children, with elders who could help them learn more about their individual topics. Most of these interviews occurred in the classroom. Some were follow-up conversations from the initial interviews in the fall, while others were with new resource people.
- Meanwhile we were reading examples of historical fiction, as well as interesting reporting on historical events. Students considered which genre they might prefer to use for their writing pieces.
- Students then wrote their first drafts, received feedback, and worked on revising their pieces. I encouraged them to include as many details from their research as they could, and created a rubric specific to this assignment, for them to use to assess their work.
- The children also worked on matching old photographs to their pieces, and at times added details to match some of the interesting old photos.
- We were working toward an Oral History Project Celebration, which we were going to hold in the evening on June 14th – the last week of school. We sent invitations to all the elders we had worked with. I asked parents to provide refreshments – dessert and beverages.
- My part of this, along with supporting the students’ writing projects, was to create a Power Point slide show using the old photographs that related to each child’s writing piece. (This took many hours, because it also included scanning the photos into our computer system here at school, since we do not have our archiving system set up yet at the WHS.)
- We also worked on writing verses to a song, called "Welcome to Our World," based on a song written by a class of mine many years ago with an artist in residence, Jane Sapp. As well, we practiced another song, "Country Life."
- We practiced our presentation, with Power Point coordination, three times in two days.
- On June 14th we held our celebration, "Traveling Back in Time," and it was truly wonderful! The children’s readings were so expressive and sincere, I couldn’t have asked for more. Our guests were clearly touched, and the children could see that they had both given and received a gift, through their oral history work.
- Meanwhile, the children worked on planning story boards, to display their writing pieces with the related photographs. I put the boards together, with the help of one parent and her child.
- I am also in the process of compiling a book of all the stories, to give to each student and each elder who helped us.
- AND we have been invited to present our program again in the fall, for the WHS Fall Program. We hope to invite a broader community audience to appreciate the children’s work.