Teaching sixth grade Grammar and Composition, new faculty member Jayne Liu has already become part of the Mount Vernon fabric. On day one, she began to guide her classes through project based learning by posing the leading question, “How do varying contexts shape the meaning of a word?”

Her students were asked to define a word of their choice, such as: power, faith, friendship, courage, or freedom, from their perspective. Ultimately, they would investigate how different contexts or perspectives might shape the meaning of a word. One such method of research was to conduct interviews with Mount Vernon neighbors who are two, even three generations removed.

While preparing for their visit with the seniors, students learned practical life skills. For example: preparing interview questions, using appropriate language when speaking to elders, eye contact, annunciation, planning how to record information, developing professional e-mail and letter writing skills, organizing thoughts and outcomes, and being gracious, overall.

As a group, students took a 10-minute walk to Insignia of Sandy Springs assisted living facility. Each student then had an opportunity to connect with one or two seniors, to round out the definition of “their” word.

Following the interview field trip, students developed a better understanding of the depth of meaning of a word based on perspective, experience, circumstances and era.

Student feedback, in response to: What did you find most interesting about your visit?
  • When we asked them questions – I got a different answer than I thought I would get.
  • Hearing his journey and what he had to say about what faith means.
  • All the great stories they had to tell
  • Hearing about our interviewee’s life.
  • Coping with the person who didn’t know much.
  • The guy had a really interesting story. He had some challenges but he fought through them with faith and happiness.
  • I liked how we got to learn about their history.
  • Getting to know my interviewee.
  • My favorite part was meeting the care people.
  • I liked that I got to hear an adult’s perspective on my word instead of my friends’ answers.
  • When we got to talk with the seniors.

By the end of the unit, these sixth graders will have created a film to include a narrative of their “revised” definition, along with images and footage to support their understanding of the word. Upon completion, they will have a film festival for their new friends at Insignia.

Mrs. Liu reflects on the experience thus far, “As we are writing our essays about the chosen topics, students have told me that their idea of their topic has either changed or expanded further. For example, for one, responsibility was just keeping track of their belongings. However, through the interviews and talking about responsibility with others, he learned that it could be helping your family and making decisions that could affect them, or even in the military. One of his interviewees was in the army, and talked about how one decision could affect a population of people. Overall, students have told me their ideas of their topic, whether it be strength, trust, friendship, etc., expanded their perspectives!”

Way to #sharethewell Mrs. Liu!