Luisa Fracassi Transcript

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Welcome to another episode of Teaching Canada’s History Podcast. I’m your host Julia Richards and in this special educator’s series, we’re speaking with the finalists for the 2022 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Created 26 years ago in 1996, the award recognizes best practices in teaching Canadian history and is an opportunity to highlight the important work that teachers and students are doing to interpret and share the stories of the past.  I’m sitting down with Luisa Fracassi. Why don't we start by introducing yourself? Do you want to tell us a little bit about your school or the students you teach? 

Luisa Fracassi 

Okay, so my name is Luisa Fracassi and I teach in the east part of Toronto, for Toronto Catholic District School Board. Our school’s called um, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Academy. In terms of students that we have at the school, we have I want to say 95%, maybe 98%, of our students come from minority groups. They're coming from the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. We also have large group from South America, we're getting more students from Colombia. And I would say we're getting more African students as well. So definitely a diverse population. In terms of what I teach and how long I've been teaching, I've been at the school for 16 years and I'm the head of the Canadian and World Studies Department. So that's the um, the histories, geographies, social science, philosophy things like that. Uh what I most enjoy teaching is Grade 10 History, which is the only history course that students in Ontario must take, the Grade 11 Ancient History and I also like the Grade 11 Law and our Grade 10 Civics class.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Do you want to tell us a bit more about your project?

Luisa Fracassi 

Okay, so the project — um I called it Immigrant Voices — and I broke it up into I want to say four phases. So, the first phase — and actually the project was funded by our board because our board um, had an experiential learning fund that was available. So, I, um, put in an application for the project; it was approved, and I got some funds. So, the first part of the project — and this is where the funds were used — my Grade 10 academic history class attended three, actually two, tours with Pier 21 Museum in Halifax and one workshop. So, the two tours were about different immigrant groups coming to Canada so the first one was called um, “Where Are You Really From?” and that was about Asian immigration to Canada.  And then the second uh, virtual tour was about Jewish immigration to Canada. 

So, both the tours used primary sources, like interviews, um, and letters, and journals to tell the story of immigration, um, about these two immigrant groups. And then the third, um, experience with Pier 21 was a workshop. So, I had their oral historian — designed a workshop for my Grade 10 history class about conducting oral history interviews. This is probably my favorite part of the project, um, because it was like the students really learning about doing history like history as a discipline. So, this, um, the historian went through sort of what the purpose of oral history interviews are, um, how you gain consent, how you construct a question guide, how you prepare for an interview, then how you create a transcript. Um, so it was really the entire process of conducting oral history interview. 

So, after the two workshops and the tour I always had a student the students complete exit cards. So, these exit cards were questions like: what is the most important thing you learned today? Um, looking at the immigrant group tours things like how does Jewish immigration differ from Asian immigration; you know differences similarities. What are some questions you have? and then for the third workshop about conducting oral history interview. You know I had students consider, what are some of the challenges you might face when conducting an oral history interview?  What are you most excited about? Again, what did you learn?

So that was the first part, then the second part I put students in groups, and they constructed a question guide for their oral history interviews, and they were supposed to take what they learned in the workshop by the oral historian and apply it to their question guides. So, the groups handed in the question guides I evaluated that, and then from their students conducted their oral history interviews. So, they did have to get consent from the person, uh, they were interviewing, and I did give them a standard form for that based on what we learned in the workshop, and they had to do a little pre-interview and then finally they actually had to conduct the interview which they had to record.

Most of my students, did it, um, — this was during COVID so most of my students interviewed either a grandparent or a parent I had a couple who did it, um, virtually as well. So, after they conducted the interview which had to be about an hour, the next phase was transcribing the interview and that was a long process. My students said it took them hours to transcribe the interview because it really had to be in full every um, ah, laughter, cough. All of that had to be in the interview. So, then students submitted the transcript to me for evaluation and then they were finally moving on to the last part of the project.

And the last part of the project is students had to construct historical narrative based on the transcript. So, I like to say that you know students were co-authors in constructing the narrative because the words were entirely of the person, they interviewed but students were rearranging the order of what was said, and they could cut things, so the words are entirely on their interview subject, but students were sort of were able to edit the final product. So, in the end I was looking for something that was about 400 words in a magazine style layout and then I wanted two photographs. One um, after shortly after the person immigrated to Canada and then another more recent image.

And that's the entire project. Then ultimately, um, I had kids share their work with each other and we did that over Zoom because again, this was all during COVID. And that's the project.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

That sounds incredible! I wish that I would have done that in high school that sounds so fun.

Luisa Fracassi

Yeah, yeah, I enjoyed it.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Yeah, I bet! Um, okay, well what inspired you to develop this project?

Luisa Fracassi 

It really was the call from the school board because they sent out an email that they had this experiential learning fund and I wanted to do something it was during COVID, and it was just — uh I was not feeling inspired with the online learning, and I really felt like I wasn't connecting with my students. I was like, I need something I need to take advantage of being online. Um, and I always, you know, I would look at Pier 21, um, there's a lot of Italian immigration that came through Pier 21, and that is my background so I would spend some time on that website, and I knew they had collections of interviews with immigrants, so I wanted to do something with interviews and storytelling and really um, that's where the idea came from.

Experiential learning, you know, is having an experience and then applying what you've learned and doing something with the learning. So that's — I felt like you know attending a workshop with an oral historian and then conducting an oral history interview um is the experience. So that's, that's where the idea came from.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

That's amazing and such an important skill for students to learn as well.

Luisa Fracassi 

Even um, just the preparation for the interview I think that's another thing that students needed to learn; how to — how to ask questions, how to then elaborate and get your interview subject to talk a little bit more. Um, so just you know those are like everyday life skills being able to carry on an adult conversation and appearing professional.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Yeah, absolutely that could be challenging sometimes.

Luisa Fracassi 

Yeah, some of them were nervous.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Um, what do you think is the greatest impact of your project?

Luisa Fracassi 

Um, for quite a few students, the impact was really learning about their parents. I think most of the students did interview their parents and just learning about what their parents went through to start this life in Canada. Because you know you're a teenager, you don't necessarily take the time to talk to your parents in this way but that — the project forced the kids to do this, you know, to take the time and have a deeper conversation with their parents. And, you know, hopefully it was a conversation where they were on the same level. It wasn't you know, parent and child. It was um, see I'm going to say two adults talking to each other.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

So how do you keep your students engaged in history? How do you make it relevant for them?

Luisa Fracassi 

Ah, so this question. So, with Grade 10 history, again, I said it's the only course that Ontario students must take and we have it divided and in different levels. We have an academic level, we have an applied level, and then we have a locally developed level, and I'm thinking about, you know, how do I keep the different groups engaged and it it can be very similar. Definitely I want to start my lesson, you know, we would call it some type of a hook. It can be a question that I pose to students, sort of the bigger question like the enduring idea I want students to walk away with I'll somehow create a question around that and have students discuss that. Or try to ask them a question, you know, what if this happened to you? How would you react? What if the Canadian government did this? How would you react? Give them some type of a problem to discuss. Um, that’s one way I like to engage.

I like to engage by using different primary resources. Students really respond to images right, uh, editorial cartoons, paintings, photographs, trying to get them to ask good questions about these images even before we start the lesson. And of course, you know drawing upon their prior knowledge. That's another way you engage students. Also students love working together. So, I like to do, you know, partner work, small group work. Um I like to get them presenting, creating. I guess another way I like to keep them engaged as well is to break up the class into chunks. You know it's not — they're going to tune out if I'm talking for 75 minutes. So there needs to be a variety of things going on throughout a lesson.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Alright, well that's — that's all that I have. Did you have any final thoughts that you want to share? Something maybe you didn't get to touch on before?

Luisa Fracassi 

Oh, I guess sort of what I did — I wanted to mention what I did after with the project. Because typically — so this Grade 10 history course is supposed to go up to, you know, the 2000s so you're starting at 1914, you're supposed to cover 100 years in one course, and it can be really challenging not to get bogged down in the wars. So, I'm trying to almost you know, really condense the World War I, World War II units so we can look at more post-1960s content. And that's really again, what I was trying to do with the project, um, to push beyond the 1960s so we were able to look at the 1960s and how immigration and multiculturalism how those — well the immigration system changed, and the points system came about and how multiculturalism, you know, became an official policy. So, I was able to tie, um, this project to that. And again, we were able to highlight how immigration changed in the 70s, 80s and 90s to allow these immigrant groups to come to Canada in larger numbers. So, this project was intended to really engage the students and sort of fit them in the narrative of Canadian.