Life Writing Course connects generations

Laurier offers an English course aimed at building relationships between students and senior community members.


The course, EN420Z: Early American Life Writing, is another way that students are able to interact with the Brantford community. Dr. Michael Ackerman, EN420Z professor and member of the Grand River Council on Aging, said it is centered on a course in life writing. It also aims to reinforce the idea that “intergenerational dialogue” is a valuable practice for all involved.


“Both the students and the community members have something to offer to each other. They contribute mutually to each other’s education. “


It has three main components: experience, theory and history. The experience comes from students working on various life-writing projects, either on their own or with seniors from the community. The theory comes from the textbook, which the students study for one hour every week. The history comes from looking at early American examples of autobiographies until the 1900s.


The course was designed by Dr.  Ackerman in partnership with the Grand River Council on Aging (GRCOA).  Dr. Ackerman said that serving on the board has made him aware of the large senior population in Brantford.


“This is another step in Laurier’s attempt to engage in the local community.”


A change came about when the Children’s Museum in Kitchener/Waterloo contacted Dr. Ackerman after seeing countless news stories on the course. The museum said they are doing an exhibit on Aging and Storytelling, and offered Dr. Ackerman’s class a chance to submit their life narrative projects to the exhibit.


Student and community member feedback has been “extremely positive,” according to Dr. Ackerman. He said within the first two weeks. students and community members asked to spend more time together.


Kathryn Poirier, a student of EN420Z and board member on the Grand River Council on Aging said “Right away when Dr. Ackerman presented this to the Council on Aging at Laurier, I knew that I wanted to become involved.”


Poirier is still deciding what her project will look like. She said her mother passed away four years ago and she would like to write letters to heaven for her. “It’s not anything deep like, why did you do this or why didn’t you do this. Just more conversations that I really miss with my mom,” she said.


Poirier said, “I think it is important for the community to know that here we have academia partnering with a non-profit to bring something of this nature, with this value to the community.”


Nicole De Soysa, another student of EN420Z, said “It is a really enjoyable class structure; half of the class is dedicated to working with the community members and the other half is dedicated to the textbook learning and presentations.”


De Soysa is working with Claire, a visually impaired community member to help write her life story using pictures. Claire is using the project to create a scrapbook-type project to give to her grandchildren. De Soysa said Claire brings pictures to the class, tells her the story and De Soysa writes them down. She will then gather the stories, edit them and put them into a book to read aloud to Claire before the project is fully complete.


“The purpose of it is to see the positives in life, no matter what difficulties you have.”


If any students or community members are interested in being a part of the class or other Laurier community initiatives, they are encouraged to contact Dr. Ackerman at

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