Learning Under Lockdown with FamilyBookform

Learning Under Lockdown with FamilyBookform

22 July 2021 Life Writing Autiobiography Memoir Collaboration

by Monita Leavitt, Ph.D.

“Life is about creating and living experiences that are worth sharing.” Steve Jobs 

I have been an online instructor of gifted, twice-exceptional, and homeschool middle and high school students at Athena’s Advanced Academy (CA, USA) for the past several years. Due to Covid, more and more students experienced learning through technology. In collaboration with Step-Net, a non-profit organization supporting gifted children and their families in Italy, I taught additional courses for their gifted children, many of whom had never before participated in online learning.

Learning under lockdown proved to be an opportune time for these and other students to find out about their family history through my 8-week course, “Our Family Story.” In this course, students developed their appreciation for both family members and the innovative technology of FamilyBookform (https://familybookform.com).

The FamilyBookform dashboard empowers students to speak, write, interview, and collaborate to collect original content into a published book for an authentic audience. My students worked to create a printable (and digital) family heritage book featuring interviews of family members. The “Voice to Text” and “Text to Text” technology enabled them to record and upload interviews in a language of their choice.

Although Covid created an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear, and isolation in our world, it proved to be a good opportunity for students to engage with their family members and the FamilyBookform platform to create a book. For many, it was the first time to navigate a dashboard and attend classroom webinars. And, for many more, it was the first time to hear personal accounts of what family members had experienced during times of war, immigration, and different stages of their life.

One of my students, Emma said, "FamilyBookform definitely gave us an opportunity to talk to family members in a depth that, I think, might have been more difficult to accomplish had we not had a project. Even just having an official class project to do made the grandparents and great aunts and uncles more inclined to talk to us for longer! Of course, once they got over their initial trepidation, they really enjoyed having someone listening to them. :) They keep bringing up how great it was to talk to us! It's especially valuable that we now have a recording of a conversation with one of our great-aunts, since she recently passed away. I think that even just going through this experience has changed the types of conversations that I want to have with family members, as it's helped me realize how interesting and valuable family history can be!"

Student Dawide, shared that creating a family heritage book based upon family interviews encouraged him to “spend more time trying to connect and bond with relatives.” Student Virginia agreed, adding that it “helped her to feel more connected with relatives who lived at a distance.” This was so important while living in lockdown, a time of enforced social distancing and travel restrictions due to the pandemic.

Virginia went on to explain she was learning that her relatives’ lives were more complicated than she had suspected. She felt she was experiencing some of the same emotions they revealed in their stories. And, she exclaimed, “It’s beautiful! The connection between me and them – even living during two different times in history and in different places.” Students soon realized that family history played an important role not only in their past, but also in their present. Student Giacomo hit the nail on the head when he said, “The students were learning about who they are.”

In our weekly webinars, students had a chance to share by retelling stories they were uncovering. As their awareness of family grew, students became more empathetic and developed an interest in the lives and events of individual relatives. Upon locating photos of family events, they were able to connect stories to these photos. As Student Miguel said, “These stories were important for preservation – we are not just doing this for the past, but for family members now and those in the future.”

Some of the stories, including those of relatives who lived in an occupied country during World War II, were heart-breaking. Others were very touching. Student Mira shared that she sometimes thinks about the beautiful ending to her great-grandmother’s life. “My great-grandmother died 6 years ago, one week after my smallest sister was born. Even though she was dying, she got to meet my sister and managed to kiss the baby one last time in her hospital bed.”

Sharing personal experiences in class motivated students to figure out what worked best and what didn’t work at all for them when communicating with relatives to conduct, record, and write interview sessions. Mira pointed out how much she liked the list of interview questions provided by the FamilyBookform template. She also appreciated that she could create her own. Mira encouraged her relatives to talk by asking an open-ended question followed by some shorter ones. Caleb interjected and cautioned, “Don’t get too carried away with the questions. Just let them tell their story. [Listen]. That’s working great for me.”

Mira found it very helpful that the FamilyBookform offered a feature that allowed a preview of her work. On the other hand, Student Gemma was disappointed that the template didn’t offer fonts of different style and color. Because she wanted to add her own creative touch to the writing, Gemma decided to figure out how to do that by other means.

After a discussion of beginning their book with an eye-catching cover page and an inviting introduction, Caleb revealed, “For the cover, I searched for family tree pictures on Safari. Nothing satisfied me until I found this [the picture he chose]. This one was amazing! It was a ‘must pick’ for me. And, maybe you’ll find something that fits you, too!”

Miguel also enthusiastically declared this experience had been “a monumental journey.” He felt he had learned “a new set of skills and better communication.” Miguel liked being challenged to set personal goals and construct the book’s content as he learned new technology.

Because FamilyBookform gives students one full year to complete their books, students have plenty of time to create questions, contact family members, and conduct, record, and write interviews. Relatives can be contacted to become ‘Contributors’ who can then link their written stories directly to a student’s book. Additionally, FamilyBookform offers online tutorials and technical help throughout the year, which encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning.

At the completion of their family heritage book, students can make and share copies with their family members to be treasured for generations to come. As their online teacher during the Covid pandemic, I found FamilyBookform was a great tool that promoted personalized learning and enhanced family connections through technology!

Dr Monita Leavitt is a FamilyBookform Ambassador. Teachers use her Ambassador code: C7PWFD when signing up free on the FamilyBookform.com website to access personalized lesson help and discounts. See lesson plans, explainer videos & case studies.

Enquire about using the FamilyBookform dashboard to scaffold & document your student's inquiry learning: office@familybookform.com

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