At a time when teenagers are more present online than in person, one English teacher is actively working to engage students in face-to-face communication.
Part of the English curriculum requires students to spend a quarter of the time giving oral presentations, which are typically done through in-class presentations. However, Jennifer Rosewarne found a way to encourage students to have meaningful conversations with strangers and turn it into a project.
Students in the grade 11 college-level English class are partnered with someone from the community and meet with them three times, over the course of a few weeks, at the Canada Summit Centre. The students then create a memoir about the community member (storyteller), based on conversations they’ve had.
“I think there’s a need to make it as authentic as possible,” said Rosewarne, an English teacher at Huntsville High School. “I also think everybody in society today has less interaction with people from other generations. We’re less likely to go to church, to community dances and we tend to stick with our peers. The memoir project is in answer to that. It’s face-to-face communication, which teens aren’t doing as much as some other people. Face-to-face interactions are authentic, there’s a real audience and it’s a great way to get to know people in our community that aren’t at the same age as we are.”
Rosewarne received some money from a grant to be able to rent space at the Canada Summit Centre and bring in food catered by Seven Main Cafe.
“Those components are pretty important—that we’re not at the school; it feels different. The breaking of bread is also important when you’re having a community event,” said Rosewarne, who is thankful for the generosity of Seven Main Cafe.
The students spent a couple of weeks studying memoirs and learning about what makes a good conversation prior to meeting with the storyteller.
“The idea is to get to know someone and find a story,” said Rosewarne. “It’s not an autobiography. I love the stories they find, they’re all so different and the students take creative freedom with it too.”
Rosewarne is always impressed by how her students seem to blossom.
“I’m so proud of the students, I was brought to tears watching them interact with people in their community,” she said. “You see the students respond; in a way I feel like we’re a little bit jaded about them. I think we underestimate how good they are at reading people in the situation. Students that are matched with an elder, they take their hat off right away. Whereas, if they’re with someone closer in age and they have a hat on they they leave it.”
Rosewarne said the teenagers are no different than teenagers of past generations in that we’re all human.
“I think given the opportunity the students will rise to the occasion. They’re not so different than we were at their age, even though it feels like it because they’re so inundated with technology,” she said. “But at the heart, they’re people and human instinct just tends to kick in and take over. Knowing that the students engage less in one-to-one conversations, even with each other, it becomes that much more important as each year passes. The students haven’t changed but society has changed. So my expectations are a little bit different. When they meet those expectations I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that they’re able rise to the occasion. It’s just heartwarming.”
The students and storytellers had final meetings on Dec. 9, after which the students began the writing and editing process. The storytellers will each receive a copy of what ‘their’ student writes.
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