Alice Walker discovered Zora Neale Hurston accidentally, in a footnote. In Walker's essay, "Saving the Life That is Your Own" (discussed above), she realizes the important role Hurston played in "saving lives." Hurston was an anthropologist, a collector of stories about people. And to her Walker is forever indebted.
Students will now have the opportunity to assume the roles of anthropologist, historian, researcher, writer and critic. The culminating assignment for this unit will be a research project. This will involve all the necessary components of teaching students to utilize the resources in the media center, including technology and the media specialist, to their greatest advantage. This sub-unit, as a result, will be quite lengthy, and much depends on how independently students will do their research. At least two class days in the media center are necessary to reacclimate students to various resources for their research. One additional day might also be helpful to ensure that all students can access information electronically, and that they know how to use the school's technology. In total, students should have about four weeks for this project, from start to finish, including class days in the media center, writing workshops, and other necessary direct instruction on writing, citing sources, etc. Given the amount of time this will take, the assignment needs to be introduced early on in the unit. Or, the assignment can be an extension of the unit, and take additional weeks. This is definitely a timing issue, and one that each individual teacher needs to work out. [I am inclined to begin this assignment toward the end of our work on the novels, and let it run its course that way.]
The purpose of this project is for students to learn how to integrate formal research with personal reflection about who and why they are the people they are. It culminates this unit by asking students to examine how they see what is important to them as Americans (hyphenated or otherwise) and how this differs from the ways in which their female elders envision(ed) their America and themselves. They will hopefully also acknowledge that the conversation about who we are in this society and where we are headed transcends gender (as about half of our students are male), race and generational differences, and that our past is an invaluable part of our present.
Instructions for Students
Step One: Select your mother, or a female adult relative or friend from a different generation whom you feel has had a significant influence on your life, as a biographical subject for your research. Read the
New York Times
that was printed on your subject's seventh birthday. (Students will have had media center orientation on how to access this information.) Take notes on all sections of the paper: front page articles, editorials, reviews of films and plays, the classified ads, etc.
Step Two: Repeat the above research for your own seventh birthday, taking similar notes.
Step Three: Interview your adult subject about what it was like growing up. Try to solicit anecdotes and stories, observations that might suggest the influence of place as well as time. What was family life like? school life? social life?
Since interviewing is a skill, some direct instruction on what characterizes good questions, and how to probe for a detailed response, will be helpful.
Step Four: Do some directed free writing that addresses the questions in Step Three as they relate to yourself. Possible prompts might include: Remember a time from your childhood when you were aware of a historical event taking place. Or write an account of your first day at a new school. This kind of writing is a way for students recall experiences in their own lives, and to bring them to life through the written word. Students should understand that this free writing is not for a grade. It is a chance for them to explore ideas, to experiment with new writing techniques, and to probe their memories. They could spend class time sharing this writing with one another.
Step Five: Now write an essay that describes and compares the life of your adult subject to your own life. The paper may take whatever form it needs to take in order to describe the influence of time, place and person on the shaping of the self. It should, however, incorporate the research the student has done, as well as his/her thinking about this unit's major themes.
This task, in addition to the extensive instruction around use of library, media and technology resources, will also involve instruction around notetaking, interviewing, and reviewing of "the writing process" (see above). Students may be provided with assessment lists for some components of this project (and this task may be written as a performance based assessment ), as well as with samples of previous student work and similar kinds of essays by published authors.
The parameters of this project allow latitude in how much time is spent on it, as well as to the page length of the finished project. Depending on students' prowess with research processes (how adept they are with electronic searches, how available their adult subject is for interview), the research itself may take two. The writing could begin somewhere in that time, allowing students who are moving apace to work at a speed comfortable to them. Writing workshops would serve students well for this project. Anticipate paper lengths anywhere from four to seven pages, exclusive of any works cited pages.