The first step in the project will be to build students' background knowledge of immigration in general and migratory patterns into the Fair Haven neighborhood, in particular. First, students should be given the opportunity to access their own prior knowledge. This can be achieved rather simply in two different ways: One, a KWL chart, which can remain posted throughout the duration of the unit. A KWL chart is simply a listing of what students already know, want to know, and have learned about a given topic. While this strategy may seem quite basic to some, in truth, it empowers all learners in a classroom, as the culminating classroom list makes everyone feel as though they have something to contribute to the class discourse(11).
Second, I would have students complete an Anticipation Guide. Anticipation guides give students the opportunity to think and write about their own closely held opinions. A series of statements are made, in this case about immigration and their own community, and students must state if they agree or disagree and why. I have found that with struggling readers and writers, the quickness of the assignment, as well as the fact that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers, really empowers them to stretch their thinking and their writing. Some of the best writing I get from my struggling readers and writers comes with anticipation guides. The anticipation guide would be an attempt to encourage discussion within the classroom about various forms of prejudice, as well. It has been my experience that students, particularly at the middle school level, need some help in starting a meaningful class discussion, and an anticipation guide is one such way of achieving that. Also, when topics are particularly "juicy," beginning a new unit of study with such a conversation is way of really peaking student interest in the subject.
Once the overall themes and objectives of the unit have been established, I would then be charged with providing students with the necessary background information about European and Latino immigration. I could present students with a brief lecture on the most important historical points as outlined above. It might even be appropriate to use a quick Power Point presentation to add a non-linguistic representation, thus ensuring that a greater percentage of students in the class truly comprehend the historical piece. However, if more time can be permitted for the unit, it would be preferable for students to work to find their own historical information. For example, the class could be divided up into small groups, each responsible for researching a different piece of the immigration puzzle. The class would then come together again and share their findings to form a complete version of the story.
Clearly, having students conduct their own research at this phase of the project would be preferable, as it engenders a sense of ownership in the project from the very beginning. Students, particularly at the middle school level, are much more likely to take an interest in something when they feel they are constructing their own meaning about a topic.
Now, attention must be given to the actual practice of oral history. The New Haven Oral History Project, the National Oral History Association, and the Baylor University Institute for Oral History all offer possible resources for teaching students about the actual practice of oral history. Baylor University, in particular, offers an on-line workshop about doing oral history that would be useful in this endeavor, as students respond to assignments that seem more authentic and rooted in the real world. The New Haven Oral History Project also offers the opportunity for students to work with the project and perhaps make a contribution to the archives of the Oral History Project and would certainly ensure that students would have the opportunity to interact with practitioners in the field.
I would again return to the idea of activating students' own prior knowledge, this time about what oral history actually is. Students talking about the topic with each other would probably very quickly arrive at their own definition of oral history. I would review with them the differences between primary and secondary source material so that the students would understand that they would, in essence, be creating their own primary source material that they would use to draw conclusions about their topic. Further, this might be a good time for students to read some oral histories and first-person accounts of European immigration. Not only would this give students insight into European immigration, but it would also help to familiarize them with oral history. At this point they might also begin to discuss why oral history is such an important way of learning about history, as they will likely find first-person accounts much more interesting than the dry, removed writing they encounter in their social studies textbook.
To turn the attention back to Latino immigration, I would have students read brief selections from "Aqui Me Quedo: Puerto Ricans in Connecticut" to gain experience with oral history, as well to gain a better understanding of Puerto Rican history. These selections could be reviewed in groups and discussed with the whole class. I would particularly ask the students why they think such a book was written in the first place and why it is important. Students should understand, in the end, that oral histories are an important way of documenting the lives of regular people, just like themselves.
The students would then begin thinking about their interview subjects. In every class I teach, there are students with stories to tell. Beyond that, many have family members who have stories, as well. In addition, students would be able to interview members of the school staff, as well as other members of the community, both large and small. Within our building, the students will have access to community leaders such as Martiza Rosa, as well as several teachers and paraprofessionals. All of these adults have unique stories to tell about their immigration experiences. Furthermore, they provide students with Latino role models who are right there in their community.
It would be helpful to encourage students to interview a range of subjects, as no one single type of person makes up a whole community. Within the Fair Haven community, there are business owners, alderpeople, professionals, teachers, police officers, religious leaders, and regular working people, all of whom have something unique to contribute to the total picture of the Fair Haven community. This will help students see themselves in new ways, as well, as it will encourage them to see there a multiple things they might become as adults.
Of course, students will have to secure permission from their subjects, as well as setting up times to meet with their subjects. This will give students practice in writing formal letters, as well as making phone calls, skills that should help them later in their lives.
Once subjects have been selected, now the attention of the class would turn to actual interviewing. Because this unit targets middle school age students, I feel that it would be of the utmost importance that the students be given time to practice before they went out into the community. They will also need considerable help in developing their interview questions.
One approach would be to divide the class into small, cooperative groups and give each group a set period of time to develop a list of questions they think they might ask. Once time is up, one student could act as a recorder and the class could develop a list of questions they feel would be appropriate for their interviews. Stress to students that it is important to ask open-ended questions, not questions that look for specific answers.
SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:
1. Name and date of birth
2. Place of birth
3. What kinds of things do you remember about the place you were born?
4. When did you (or your immediate family) come to this country?
5. Why did your family decide to come to this country?
6. How did you (or you family) come to live in Fair Haven?
7. How were you treated once you came to America?
8. Do you think immigrants face discrimination in this country?
9. What kinds of opportunities do you think people have in America?
10. What are some of the biggest differences between their home country and America?
Once a list of questions has been generated, the teacher should review with the class a list of interview guidelines:
1. Always remember to show respect to your subject.
2. Always use your best manners and be polite; say please and thank you.
3. Be quiet while your interview subject is speaking.
4. Do not interrupt your interview subject while they are speaking.
5. Do not argue with your interview subject
When the list of guidelines has been made clear, the class should be divided up into pairs. Each pair could do a slightly longer version of a THINK PAIR SHARE activity. In this activity, each student would think about a specific set of questions. They would take turns asking each other to answer the questions, documenting their answers along the way. Once both students have had the opportunity to be the interviewer and interviewee, each pair would share their answers with the class.
At this point, it would be important for the class to attempt to analyze their answers, as well. For example, if students were asking simple where were you born kinds of questions, what might that say about the students in the class? It would be important for the teacher to model that type of analytical thinking for the class once the practice interviews have been completed.
At this point, it would be appropriate for students to go out into the community and conduct their interviews. While it would be ideal for the students to be able to tape record their interviews, this will probably be difficult due to a lack of available tape recorders. Therefore, it is important to remind students to very carefully transcribe what their subjects are telling them so that they can accurately report what their subjects said at a later date.
Once the student interviews have been completed, and this will hopefully occur within a week, students will then report back to the class. The class can then draw conclusions about contemporary immigration. It would be helpful for the class to make a list of these generalizations, prior to identifying the similarities and differences between contemporary immigration and earlier European immigration. When the class has completed this list, they can then make a list of characteristics of European immigration. Once the two lists have been created, only then should students attempt to identify the similarities and differences between the two. This can be done in a variety of ways, for example a Venn diagram, or a double bubble graphic organizer.
It would be useful to create a writing assignment here, in which they can express the similarities and differences between European immigration and contemporary immigration. A graphic organizer would be a helpful way to facilitate this process. A simple way to further this writing assignment would be to use some basic sentence stems, as shown below(11).
IDENTIFYING SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES: SENTENCE STEMS
European immigration and contemporary immigration are different because ___________________________, ___________________________, and ___________________________.
European immigration and contemporary immigration are similar because ________________________, _________________________________, and ____________________________________.
Once they have done this, they can then begin to type up and prepare their interviews for publication. Each class should be able to create a class "book" documenting their learning, including their interviews. Each class could also work on creating an introductory essay, stating why their interviews are important and how they create a look at contemporary immigration in the Fair Haven neighborhood.
Because this project could be used throughout an entire school year, students should complete an essay at the completion of the project in which they discuss what they have learned and how their perspectives on immigration have changed since beginning the project. One way to facilitate this would be to have students return to their original Anticipation Guides from the beginning of the unit