Cultural Artifact Assignment: connects students with their own & other cultural stories

Education is all a matter of building bridges. –Ralph Ellison

Insight, I believe, refers to the depth of understanding that comes by setting experiences, yours and mine, familiar and exotic, new and old, side by side, learning by letting them speak to one another. –Mary Catherine Bateson.

Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students.  What better books can there be than the book of humanity?  –Cesar Chavez

The more deeply you understand other people, the more you will appreciate them, the more reverent you will feel about them.  To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.–Stephen Covey

Two weeks ago, I was asked to take over as a long term sub for an instructor who had a medical emergency. I was able to meet with the instructor, get copies of her syllabus, texts, and scores for the students etc.

It was up to me to figure out how to combine her teaching style with mine in a way that would equal a smooth transition and success for her students.

The first class I taught the students how to do Natalie Goldberg style writing practice and we held a council so I could learn from the students what was working for them and what they needed from the class. I then incorporated what I learned from them into a few changes in the syllabus, specifically in the essay assignments and the deadlines.

Since I don’t know the students at all, they barely know each other, and I think forming a community is of the utmost importance to build the trust required to work together in seminar discussions and on writing projects as well as for other reasons discussed in the link below, our first assignment is the Cultural Artifacts one described here:

Usually this assignment does not include a formal essay but again this isn’t a typical class. So I adapted a personal narrative assignment to the task; it’s posted below for those students who need to refer to it or for other faculty who may be curious about it. The students will also be writing an argument that analyzes a text and writing a research paper.

Cultural Artifact Assignment
Ventura College Fall 2011
Gwendolyn Alley

M/T   10/31, 11/1                 
Draft Due (get your ideas down into a typed form)

W/Th  11/2, 3                 
Draft Due (revise to bring topic, thesis into focus)

M/T  11/7, 8                 
Draft Due (check every “tooth”); see a tutor

W/Th  11/14, 15                 
l Draft Due: with drafts, comments from readers, tutors etc

You get credit for each stage of your draft you bring in for peer review, for seeing a tutor, and for having drafts and finals in on time. You can always revise to improve your evaluation.

In this paper Using narrative, description, and sensory information, recapture a specific time and place that relates to the cultural artifact you shared, your name, or your food. Do more than just tell a story: your narrative needs an argument or point, and should show (not simply tell) readers how to understand more about human nature, about each other, and about ourselves. For example, how did this experience teach you and influence who you are today and who you wish to become? How might this experience show the universality of humanity?

Start Brainstorm, list and use writing practice.  Consider people or experiences about which you might write.  What memories do you have of this person or activity? Is there one event in particular to build your essay around?  What do you remember about that event visually? What did it smell, sound, feel, or taste like? Why does this memory stand out? How did it impact you? When you look back and reflect on it, what does this memory teach you about yourself?

Draft Memories are a rich source for writing. You might try writing about a few of them for writing practice (they will count toward your 25 for the semester). See if any of them can be developed for this essay. Memories are what you and only you know best.  There is no wrong or right—you are the authority; however, there are ways to write your essay so that your meaning gets made most clearly, most vividly to your reader. The goal is to go deep into one memory, one time, one place, one experience. Bring your reader with you. Use as appropriate the rhetorical strategies of narrative, description, exemplification, compare and contrast. Review examples in VC Voices. Conduct research by talking with your family members.

Develop Try Natalie Goldberg style writing practice for 10 minute sessions to generate lots of details and ideas. Do a Donald Murray style discovery draft— just writing and writing everything you know and can think of about your topic, discovering what you know and what you don’t know. Keep in mind Anne Lamott’s discussion of “shitty first drafts” and Goldberg’s permission to write the worst junk anywhere. You can always cut it away later.

Thesis. Even though you are telling a story and using first person, your paper should still have a thesis. Your thesis may or may not be in the introductory paragraph. It may be at the end.

Revise/Research Consider readings. How can you use ideas, quotes, or research in your work? Discuss and incorporate quotes from one or more sources (people, texts) to develop and strengthen the ideas in your essay. Cite sources using MLA. Revise using suggestions from readers in class and VC tutors.

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