At Lakefield College School, students of history and the performing arts have been participating in a new collaborative learning project that culminated in an authentic and moving Remembrance Day ceremony for an audience of more than 500 students, staff, former LCS alumni ‘Old Boys’ and the Lakefield community. The hour-long ceremony took more than two months of preparation and involved over 70 students from Grades 9 to 12.
Part of an experiential learning process, students were involved in every aspect of the service, bringing to life the personal stories of LCS alumni veterans who served in WWI, from researching and writing the scripts and performing theatrical plateaus and poetry based on original letters, photos and other information found in the school’s archives, to creating original videos and interpretive dance pieces choreographed with live musical performances.
Students created original videos honouring the contributions of LCS Old Boys and Masters such as this one narrating a letter written by Gordon Graham, Master at The Grove 1910-1914.
For some students, finding relevance and meaning in historical events over 100 years old can be challenging. Igniting the imagination of students through activities that bring to life the stories of others using a more expressive medium, like the performing arts, allows them to explore historical themes and events in a way that not only engenders a passion for learning, but also imparts the responsibility of authentic storytelling.
One of two primary facilitators behind the project, history teacher Bruce McMahon explains, the key is to push beyond learning silos defined by subject, isolating ideas and skills in history, for example, from those in the performing arts. “Learning how to review the individual WWI files of LCS Old Boys in history class, checking facts and trying to create a picture of an individual and/or historical events based on a two dimensional description, can be challenging,” says McMahon. “The documents are difficult to read, they’re over one hundred years old, they’re in cursive writing and they’re using military speak – it’s difficult stuff to connect to.” However, projects like the Remembrance Day ceremony provide common cross-curricular goals that allow students and teachers of both history and the performing arts to carry subject ideas forward to grow collaboratively across the two disciplines. “It’s a relationship,” says McMahon, “it’s the development of a relationship that spans more than just one period of a class or a specific subject…that’s when the learning is made much more meaningful, and perhaps, we are hoping, has a much more lasting effect.”
Co-facilitator and drama teacher Rachel Bemrose agrees, there is a massive take-away for students involved in the project. “You don’t put on a show like War Horse without the help of historians in the background, or you will be taken apart,” says Bemrose. “Our students understand that if they are going to do historical drama based on archival research, it needs to be accurate, they need to be sure that their facts are checked, because they have a performance they are working toward and at the end of the day they are going to be standing in front of an audience of people, some who know the stories they are sharing.”
At the same time, through their script writing, choreography and music, students are using their imaginations as storytellers to engage their audience and, “as much as they are telling a historic story about an individual or event during WWI, and representing it to their best accuracy,” says Bemrose, “they are also, in essence, creating what’s not on the page for that person, and through that they become responsible for the stories they share.” Students are motivated by this pressure to find accuracy and understanding in the files they are researching and to tell the stories with respect.
“The most important thing that we can do with projects like the Remembrance Day service, or anything we do that involves our students, the community and our alumni,” adds McMahon, “is to have people come together in a project or to witness something that they can feel a sense of connection to. The student participants, members of the audience, the alumni who are coming back, they’re coming to be part of something and to experience or learn something that hopefully is connecting with them on multiple levels. We all want to know that something that we did, something we were part of or something or someone that we were very close to, lives on,” says McMahon.