Sixth Graders Discover Their Voices

Modeled after the 1951 radio program “This I Believe” by pioneering broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, Jennifer Rathkopf’s sixth grade English students were tasked with identifying a belief and trying to convince others of the value of their thinking.

“In a time of much strife, Murrow’s purpose was to show that people had more things in common with each other than some were wont to believe,” Rathkopf explained.

This spring, the students studied the tools of persuasion and applied them to their own “This I Believe” essays and podcast-style recordings in honor of the original medium, radio. 

“There was as wide a range of topics as the students have interests: perseverance, meditating, having a good relationship with your parents, traveling and being open to other cultures, and being a power for good in the world,” explained Rathkopf, who uses the assignment to teach persuasive communication skills. 

Toby Milward ’29 addressed “Having a Goal is the Most Important Key to Success” and enjoyed learning about advertising techniques when it comes to the power of persuasion. “Pathos is appealing to emotion, making people feel happy so they want to buy your product. Ethos is about ethics: We’re a trusted company and this celebrity is making an ad for us so you can trust us. Logos are about using logic so if studies show 20% of people do this, then it makes them that much better.”

For Angus McCallum ’29, sharing his opinions and thoughts on “The Books You Read Can Change the Course of Your Life” made for a fun assignment. “I find the books I read are a big influence on what I do and I want to be like the characters in the book and be a better person,” he said.

Inspired by the love she has for her 2-year-old dog, a Bernadoodle named Archie, Jia Shah ’29 shared her belief about the canine diet. “I was reading this magazine that said dogs are healthier from having a mixed diet and eating kibble every day is not good for them,” she said.

Rathkopf was impressed with her sixth graders' efforts: “The act of distilling a belief, explaining why you believe it, and passing it along to be shared demonstrates higher levels of thinking, courage and vulnerability.”

“It was fun because I got to talk about my passion and what I stand for, but I also got to learn what other people believe,” Shah said. “I got to see different people's viewpoints.”

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