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Every story needs a listener

Asking questions and listening carefully, across the years
Saturday, March 11, 2017
 
On Wednesday, first graders interviewed Gordon’s technology director.

Why do you do technology?
 
 

It was part of their study of nonfiction writing.

Where did you grow up?
 
 

Each student got a chance to ask a question.

Why did you come to Gordon?
 
 

They had done their best to make the questions open-ended.

What is your favorite month, and why?
 
 

The purpose of an interview, after all, is to get the subject to talk.

What is your real whole name, and why are you called that?
 
 

On Thursday, eighth graders met with Georgia A. Hunter Farinholt, of Gordon’s class of 1992.
 
 


She talked about writing her book, We Were The Lucky Ones, which documents her family’s flight from Nazi Germany.
 
 


The subject matter overlapped with some of the eighth grade humanities curriculum.
 
 

But stronger thematic connections also emerged as Farinholt talked about the process of researching family stories.
 
 

Like Farinholt, these eighth graders have been thinking about identity, and how their personal stories are woven into world events.
 
 
 
 

And they are starting to realize that it is their responsibility to connect with older generations, as Farinholt did, and bring those twentieth-century stories into the twenty-first.
 

The next day, the eighth grade practiced capturing oral histories for themselves.




Six years ago, as second graders, several of them had interviewed each other for a class project.
 
 

Until Friday, many of them had never seen the resulting video.
 
 

Those who had participated squirmed and laughed as the memories come flooding back.
 
 


But the students who came to Gordon more recently were the most animated in their response.
 
 


Said one who came to Gordon in sixth grade: I’d seen pictures and stuff but to see you guys talking was so hilarious, and so adorable. And also the parallels between your personalities then and now are amazing.
 
 

The teachers then revealed the lesson plan.
 
 

“You all are going to give a gift today. To all of the second graders. You are going to interview them, and video them talking about themselves."
 
 
 

“And I want you to think about the power of you, asking them questions. And you, listening to them and giving them your full attention. That’s a gift, above and beyond anything that they might want to watch in six years when they’re in eighth grade.”
 
 

They brainstormed questions, repeating the conversation about open-ended questions that the first graders had reviewed earlier that week.
 
 


Then the eighth graders headed down to the second grade classrooms.
 
 


Before and after each interview, each eighth grader took a moment to connect with their assigned second grader.
 
 


As predicted, the second graders warmed in the spotlight.
 
 


At Gordon, students work wonders with stories.
 
 

They spend years writing them, repeating them, comparing, combining and recontexturalizing them.
 
 


But sometimes what a story really needs is a good listener.
 
 

In Selma, Alabama, and in the second grade, Gordon students learn that lesson too.

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