Overview of Extension
In earlier parts of this lesson, students learned about some aspects of culture. They also discovered that folk arts and folklife are major ways by which people express their culture.In this part of the lesson, they'll learn how to find out about a specific tradition that belongs to one of their own folk groups. To do that, students will need to apply the basic research, interviewing, documentation and presentation techniques they learned in earlier activities to complete what folklorists call a "fieldwork experience." Doing fieldwork and knowing more about their own folk groups will help students more easily identify and understand the folklife of other cultures.
Objectives of the Extension
- Students will use proper interviewing, note taking and recording techniques.
- Students will be able to identify, research, document and present to the class one or more folklife traditions of their family or of another folk group of which they are a member.
- Students will be able to accurately place the tradition(s) they have documented into one of the five previously-studied genres of folk arts/folklife.
Planning and Preparation
Background Information for Teachers
Body of Instruction
Preparing for Fieldwork
Practice in interviewing and using equipment are both keys to successful fieldwork. Even experienced folklorists sometimes find their photos underexposed, tape recorder batteries dead or videos dubbed over. Interviewing requires the interviewer to:
- Listen closely
- Pose good initial and follow-up questions
- Run and monitor equipment
- Remember necessary formalities, such as release forms, all at once
So, it is not as easy as it first appears. You might find that putting students together in teams of two or three to practice interviewing and recording techniques is helpful. They could interview you, other teachers or students from other classes about folk groups, for example. In this way, they can learn about the multiple roles of the interviewer. For example, in a group of three, one student can run an audio recorder, one student can ask the questions and take some field notes, and one student can take still photographs.
After interviews are completed, the groups can share portions of their interviews with the class as a whole, and you can encourage students to point out places where the teams used good interviewing skills, as well as areas that could be improved.
Critiques should focus on how to improve questions, listen better to responses, follow up interesting leads, avoid questions that invite "yes" and "no" answers, and make sure the interviewee is the one doing most of the talking, rather than the interviewer.
Conducting fieldwork also furnishes important lessons in ethics. Students must learn to ask permission to interview, photograph and record people; behave respectfully; conduct themselves politely; honor interviewees' privacy; make and keep appointments; thank people; and act honestly. In addition, interviewees' permission is needed to use fieldwork results in final products, if any are planned. At times, fieldwork might tread on people's wishes that family or community stories are kept anonymous or not shared publicly. Interviewers must respect these boundaries. If a public presentation is to be made, double-check permission forms. Remind students that they cannot use their fieldwork for public presentations unless they have received recorded or written permission, and make this requirement part of the assessment. When modeling and practicing with students, remember to include obtaining permission from the interviewee as one of the activities modeled.
In addition to ensuring that students work ethically with interviewees (sometimes called "informants" by folklorists), it is important to let students' families and caregivers know if your class is going to be interviewing people outside of the classroom or conducting family folklore research. Briefly outline what you are undertaking, share some topics you'll be covering, and ask them to contact you with any questions. (Use the "Letter to Parents and Caregivers" included in handouts, or fashion your own). Providing parents with the context of the research, such as sharing an example of the kind of folklife you'll be studying, is helpful.
Students also will gain confidence with any equipment they will be using later, such as cameras and recorders, and they will learn how equipment can get in your way or be a great blessing.
If you haven't personally performed field interviewing, and if time permits, it's often very helpful to do some fieldwork of your own before or along with your students. Through that experience, you will see first-hand the kinds of skills and lessons your students will learn from the exercise.
Choose a topic or person you're interested in and use the same interviewing techniques to get a feel for what students will experience. You might ask a colleague about her hobbies, a neighbor about his craft, or a relative about a recipe. You can make this a simple investigation to practice your own interviewing and technical skills, or you might use the results to model fieldwork for your students. They can critique your work and tell you what went well and what was missing.
For example, to begin an in-depth fieldwork project with her class, one teacher thoroughly documented her first fieldwork experience. She took photos of the equipment she was using and asked others to take photos of her as she began her work. She created a presentation with the photos and some overheads of checklists of things to remember. These provided an opportunity for students to view and discuss her work. She then modeled the steps of an interview with students in the classroom in subsequent class periods, letting them handle equipment in teams and practice interviewing and critiquing one another. Although such elaborate preparation is not necessary for our purposes here, it is always a good idea to spend at least a small amount of class time modeling proper techniques before students perform interviews in the field.
Fieldwork Experience Assignment
The fieldwork assignment is to collect an example of folk arts or folklife from one of your own folk groups. These can be from a family member, from the leader of a club or organization to which you belong, from a fellow member of a team, from a friend or classmate, or from a member of an ethnic or occupational group in the community. (Teachers should have some specific suggestions in mind for students who need alternatives to interviewing family or acquaintances.)
The steps to follow in completing the assignment are:
- Choose one of your own folk groups from the ones you identified earlier in class.
- Choose one person from the group who is willing to be interviewed about a group tradition.
- Do some research on the tradition and write down a list of questions to ask, using the suggestions provided in class.
- Conduct and document an interview with that person. (Documentation methods specified by teacher.)
- Present a report (presentation) to the class about that tradition, explaining its history and identifying which of the five genres of folklife it best fits into.
Summary and Closure
This extension was focused on practicing proper interviewing, note taking, recording and other documentation techniques, learning how to research, identify, document and present to the class one or more family or other folklife traditions, and recognizing the different categories (genres) of folklife. The extension activity contains examples and discussion questions and refers to a teacher's resource on conducting fieldwork projects that is included as a handout. Completing a fieldwork experience helps students understand that all cultures, including their own, have a great variety of folklife and serves to show the relevance of studying culture in their own lives. Furthermore, it gives them additional skills and knowledge with which to approach the study of a culture different from their own, or any research experience.
Using a generic rubric or other common assessment tool for assessing the students' learning from this part of the lesson, indicate the answers to the following questions:
To what extent were students able to:
- Use proper interviewing, note taking and recording techniques?
- Identify, research, document and present to the class one or more folklife traditions of a folk group of which they are a member?
- Accurately place the tradition(s) they have documented into one (or more) of the five previously-studied genres of folk arts/folklife?
Correlated Nebraska Educational Standards
- (8.1.2) By the end of the eighth grade, students will identify, locate, and use multiple resources to access information on an assigned or self-selected topic.
- (8.2.5) By the end of the eighth grade, students will demonstrate the use of self-generated questions, note taking, summarizing and outlining while learning.
- (8.3.2) By the end of the eighth grade, students will use multiple presentation styles for specific audiences and purposes.
- (8.4.1) By the end of the eighth grade, students will identify information gained and complete tasks through listening.
- (8.1.9) Students will describe key people, events, and ideas since World War II.
- (8.4.6) Students will improve their skills in historical research and geographical analysis.
Visual and Performing Arts
- (12.4.1) Essential Learnings 4. Students exhibit a variety of creative skills in their own artistic expressions and in response to others.
- (12.7.1) Essential Learnings 7. Students recognize diverse perspectives in the creation, performance, interpretation, and evaluation of the arts.
Materials and Resources
Worksheets and Handouts
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Click on the picture to access a printable image. All images are at a moderate resolution (150 dpi) but may vary in usable size. Most images will fill an 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper when printed.
Volunteer interviewer Elena Guerra doing a practice interview with fellow volunteer Blanca Ramirez, Mexican Americans in Nebraska Project, Lincoln, 1996 (Photo by G. Meister, Personal Collection)
Francesca Lopez being interviewed about traditional Mexican cooking by Emilia Juárez and Emilia Gonzalez-Clements, Mexican Americans in Nebraska Project, Lincoln, 1996 (Photo by G. Meister, Personal Collection)
Interviewees Juanita Garcia and her brother, Robert Huerta, Sr. listen to part of their Mexican Americans in Nebraska Project interview. Scottsbluff, 1996 (Photo G. Meister, Personal Collection)
Fieldwork interview of William Masters, old time fiddler, by Gwen Meister Tryon NE 1993 (Photo G Meister Personal Collection)
Tryon NE rancher Wayne Connell and Gwen Meister discussing a quirt he made by hitching horsehair 1991 (Photo G Meister Personal Collection)