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Luisa Fracassi Transcript
I knew I wanted something where the kids would be doing history, and I also wanted something where I could get to know my kids because this was the fully online semester, so my students were little black squares. I needed something — some type of connection — so my proposal was to partner with Pier 21 and it started with two tours: One tour was about Jewish immigration to Canada, the other tour was about Asian immigration to Canada, and, in those two virtual tours, students saw primary sources being used — specifically oral history interviews — and then they conducted a workshop for my class that was specially designed by an oral historian; on how to conduct oral history interviews, how to seek consent, how to construct questions, and also the philosophy behind oral history interviews.
From there, students created a question guide that focused on the historical thinking competencies, and this guide was designed for an interview with a recent immigrant. Then, from there, students had to conduct the actual interview; they recorded the interview; and then they transcribed the interview. So, the transcription took maybe six hours. My students complain, they're like, "Miss, every um, every, ah." I was like, "Yes, every, like, laughter, all of it, all needs to be in there." So, with the transcription, we entered the final phase of the project, and I told them, "You have to become a co-author with your speaker. You're going to remove yourself from the transcript. You're going to condense it to 400 words. You're going to edit, rearrange, you can focus on a theme of your choosing, and you're going to create a first-person historical narrative." The layout was going to be, or is an editorial layout. They needed a title, they needed to include two pictures: One of the person shortly after, well, shortly before they immigrated to Canada, and then a recent image. They needed to have proper historical captions and that was it—a beautiful historical narrative.
I wanted my students to find their entry point in the Canadian story because — for most of them — their stories don't start until the 1990s, and our curriculum starts in 1914, and it can be really challenging to get to that point. So, I wanted to insert them into our narrative, so that was one. Another goal I had was for them to do history because it's sometimes difficult to do history. You can interpret some sources, but I want you to create something, like contribute to history, so I felt like the oral history interview was that; and I was also hoping that students would gain skills: questioning skills, how to ask big questions, how to ask clarification questions, how to become overall better communicators.
So, the takeaways for the students — I did have one student say she felt lucky having done the project because she didn't know she needed to have this conversation with her grandmother, and she's so lucky that she had it, and she just didn't know so many things; and then I had another student, so similar line, you know, she said she was grateful for having done the interview, and has a greater understanding of what her relatives went through to, you know, start over again in Canada. One of our graduate expectations is that students leave the school as informed citizens, and I think if you were going to be an informed citizen — an informed adult — you need to understand where you have come from, so that really is what history is doing. Why are certain groups demanding certain rights? Why are you going to believe these politicians who are promising certain things? What have they done in the past? So, the present is a product of the past. So, to be an informed citizen, you must understand that.