Author, Professor (Emerita),Presenter, Educator Abroad
Project initiated by my students & replicated globally: examines kids' discourse through their art
I interviewed my grandfather (1905-2001) and used his taped messages when I delivered his eulogy. His stories earned me and A + in a qualitative research doctoral course and made their way into my courses over 20 years at two universities.
One of the signature projects in my Social Studies Education course over a
25-year career in higher education, was entitled, "The Ripple Effect of Giving Up Your Story." Undergrads or Graduate students chose the interview subject and asked one simple question: "Tell me about one event in history and how it impacted your life?"
Prior to the project overview, I shared my own research and the multi-year interviews that I conducted with my grandfather, whose 97 years spanned the entire 20th century. He lived through incredible change and historical events, which he linked by decade to what occurred within our family. Our recorded phone and in-person interviews were initially our shared talks because I was curious about his life and encouraged him to talk about it. The notes eventually were chronicled for my doctoral course, then for family history, and eventually an article published in the journal Italian America.
My grandfather was born in Yonkers, New York in 1905. His parents decided to return to his mother's birth town in the hills of Campagna, Italy when he was three. His formative years were spent in San Giovanni a Piro. As a five-year-old, he walked six miles roundtrip twice a day, to get fresh goat's milk for his baby sister (lower left in pic above), because his mother required an operation in another town. Over this life, my Grandfather's hard work, collaboration with others, and deep faith kept him going - he never doubted that things were going to work out.
My students loved this project. For many, it was personal. Sometimes, when students interview family, they may be the first one to learn details of an event. They spend time with their subject, write up the narrative with direct quotes, include artifacts, and share a YouTube video and song from the era with their peers. Data organized on whiteboard spreadsheets were organized by time, date, place, and event. Ancillary themes that emerged from the stories proved incredibly impactful.
When I asked them each class, 'What did you learn?' every student shared emotional take-aways that inspired us. One student noted honestly that that he used to make a joke of his grandfather's stories walking miles to school, but now after sitting with him, stated, "We're a bunch of wimps." (others in the class nodded in the affirmative) "I was humbled by his strength, his resolve, his resilience. I cried. I'm proud to be his grandson, and have ways to go before I can be what he is."
They recognized how they, too, were changed on a deeper level. 90% of participants referenced human emotions, character traits, faith in a Higher Power, random interactions, and unexplainable interventions that changed the direction of their lives.