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Celebrating the lives of the uncelebrated:

What if Anne Frank hadn’t kept her diary?
What if no one could listen to Martin Luther King’s Mountaintop speech?
What if the camera hadn’t been rolling during the first moon landing?
But what if, this Thanksgiving, the youngest member of every family interviewed the oldest?
Or if on February 14th, you asked a person you love some questions you’ve never thought to ask.
History is all of these things, the testament to tragedy, the progress of civilization, the heroic triumphs, and the moments and stories that are our lives.
It’s also the act of actively listening to the voices of the past and the people who matter to us.

What if you approached your upcoming family gatherings a little differently?  What if you asked your students to listen more carefully? What if they were easily able to preserve the wisdom of their dearest friends, family members, and elders?  What if we engaged them in helping build a global library of voices?

The goal of the StoryCorps movement is to provide every person of any background or belief the opportunity to not only tell their story, but share and preserve it for future generations.

The new StoryCorps app (available free at the App Store or through Google Play) makes it so much easier to ensure that the stories of the folks we know get told.

Created as a global platform for listening, connecting, and sharing stories of the human experience, the free mobile app, supports users through the interview process. It scaffolds the development and ordering of questions, the documentation of participants (first names are required–last names and emails are optional) and suggests three interview lengths (15, 30 or 40 minutes or I don’t know).

After a brief, painless set-up, interviewers are ready to tap a thumbtack button to record and a star to highlight a great moment.

There’s an excellent list of suggested questions from StoryCorps.  (I can see these being use in so many interview scenarios!)

Helpful tips along the journey prompt interviewers with such advice as:

“Begin with all participants introducing themselves.  Interviewer: My name is (name). I am (age) years old.  Today is (date) and I’m speaking with (partner’s name) who is my (relationship).  And we are recording this interview in (location).

When they are finished, users are encouraged to take a group photo to accompany their interview.  Interviews are saved with summaries, keywords, participants names, and recording locations and may be uploaded later to the website.

This very personalized experience absolutely supports ELA Speaking and Listening Standards as well as History/Social Studies explorations of primary sources.  Engaging them directly in the creation of oral history, it forces learners to think like historians.

It all started with Dave Isay who opened the first StoryCorps booth.  In his TED Talk, Everyone around you has a story the world need to hear, Isay describes the importance of the interview itself:

The thought was to take documentary work and turn it on its head. Traditionally, broadcast documentary has been about recording interviews to create a work of art or entertainment or education that is seen or heard by a whole lot of people, but I wanted to try something where the interview itself was the purpose of this work, and see if we could give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way. So in Grand Central Terminal 11 years ago, we built a booth where anyone can come to honor someone else by interviewing them about their life. You come to this booth and you’re met by a facilitator who brings you inside. You sit across from, say, your grandfather for close to an hour and you listen and you talk. Many people think of it as, if this was to be our last conversation, what would I want to ask of and say to this person who means so much to me? At the end of the session, you walk away with a copy of the interview and another copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress so that your great-great-great-grandkids can someday get to know your grandfather through his voice and story.

It’s a little late for the big roll-out project, the Great Thanksgiving Listen, but it’s not too late for the upcoming holiday break or to browse and search the existing library for a little inspiration or some stories to study, connect to curriculum or simply enjoy.

Users need to be at least 18 years old and agree to the Terms of Use, or (at least 13 years old with a legal guardian agreeing to the Terms of Use on his or her behalf.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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