Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Transformative Power of Letters Home from Montanans at War

A few months ago, Helena High School Theater 1 students, under the direction of their teacher, Rob Holter, performed Reader's Theater: Letters Home from Montanans at War, using the lesson plan we published last fall (and described in great detail here).

Their performance--which you can view here--was extremely moving. In addition to giving voice to the soldiers whose letters our archivists chose for this script, the students found powerful images to accompany the reading.

But the best part of all--which sadly was NOT recorded--was hearing the students and teacher talk about how this lesson plan affected them. According to Rob, when he introduced the lesson, many of the students asked "why anyone would save old letters by ordinary Montanans"? During the Q and A, after their performance, many of these same students vowed to write letters in order to provide personal reflections to posterity. And they were saying things like, "ordinary people make history."

Rob told me that one of his struggling students responded to the letters with dawning recognition: "people just like me can make a difference in this world!" In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined any lesson we produced would have such an impact.

We took Rob's feedback and revised the lesson slightly. You can find the latest version of the Reader's Theater: Letters Home from Montanans at War Lesson Plan on our Teaching with Primary Sources web page, along with other primary source lesson plans. I hope you'll consider sharing it with your class--and possibly with your community. The Montana Historical Society was thrilled to provide a venue for the HHS student performance because it broadened our audience (many parents came to see the performance who had never been to the museum before). Perhaps your local historical society, veteran's hall, or library would be interested in sponsoring a similar performance by your students.

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