Many of my best lessons have come about by accident and this one is no exception. It got a really positive reaction not only from my students but from their parents and grandparents, too. You see, those parents and grandparents were part of the learning.
For this project, my students had to complete the fairly simple task of interviewing a member of their family. However, it couldn't be just any family member: the interviewee had to be their oldest living relative.
Another complicating factor was that the interview had to be videoed, so that the class could watch and listen to it as well as read a transcript.
This extra visual dimension had the unexpected result of getting everyone to take the task a lot more seriously than they would have done otherwise. It went from being a fun lesson where students asked relatives about the old days to a professional dissection of that relative's life. I suddenly had a bunch of investigative reporters on my hands.
This passion was channelled into several days of planning that led to some excellent lessons. We discussed what made for a good or bad question, resulting in some extremely effective examples that aided enlightenment and exploration.
Meanwhile, the children gave lengthy consideration to lighting, sound and the setting of the interviews themselves. We looked at how to set up the exchange, how the environment could affect audience perception and how to edit the interview fairly afterwards.
The end product proved to be valuable in unpredictable ways. Years later, I still hear from students whose projects are now worth their weight in gold for their families, because they capture lost moments of both youth and age. Answers given in the interviews amused, moved or even stunned the children and their parents; tears flowed, epiphanies were had.
Today, most of the interviewees are gone and the young reporters are all grown up, but what they made together will last for ever.
Kevin Kelly is an elementary school teacher in Charleston, South Carolina, US.