Academic journal article Social Education

Latina Women Speak

Academic journal article Social Education

Latina Women Speak

Article excerpt

Using Oral Histories in the Social Studies Curriculum

WHAT IS AN ORAL HISTORY? Simply put, an oral history is a record of spoken memories. Oral histories turn ordinary people, their lives and their stories, into a collection of credible, historical resources.(1)

We want to show how teachers can effectively integrate oral history into a social science curriculum. First, we will describe the methodology by which teachers can use oral histories in the classroom. Next, we will present our own example: narratives that we collected from Latina American women. Our focus--comparing and contrasting how these women experienced and confronted forms of ethnic, gender, and religious discrimination--serves as a model for teachers to examine complex social issues through oral history projects.

Teaching with Oral History

Teachers are constantly searching for ways to maintain student interest and motivation. Student-generated oral history research has become "a powerful antidote to students' frequent apathy toward textbook studies of history."(2) By conducting their own projects, students become engaged in the process of creating history.

There are two means of engagement: passive and active oral history.(3) Passive oral history exposes students to oral history from sources to which they have ready access. These sources include cassettes, videotapes, books, television programs, and electronic media. Students can research specific populations and analyze how the oral histories fit into a broader historical or sociological context.

When conducting active oral history, students serve as "rookie" researchers who collect data. They research a topic, interview participants, and analyze data. This interactive approach not only empowers students with research skills, but also gives them the factual elements of a specific unit of instruction (in our example, in the areas of ethnic studies, women's history, or immigration in America).

The steps to conduct oral history projects are as follows.

* Encourage students to choose a project theme or topic relevant to the curriculum, current issues, and their interests. Carefully craft choices around curriculum objectives.

* Determine an audience for the product outcome (e.g., teachers, family, peers, or community members).

* Identify project outcomes (e.g., oral or multimedia presentation, paper, portfolio) and desired skills. In the Latina oral history example, we modeled a fairly traditional presentation approach--the written narrative.

* Once students have decided on a general theme, present mini-lessons modeling the desired project outcome and guidelines. For example, our data focused on how minority women confronted discrimination in their lives.

* Have students conduct their preliminary research. An important component of the project, such research provides important background information, especially for the interview.

* Illustrate how to prepare for and conduct an interview. Other students, teachers, administrators, or parents can take part in mock interviews. These will help students get a better feel of the dos and don'ts of interviewing. Students can also practice active listening skills. Once students see firsthand potential pitfalls, they will more likely prepare for their actual interviews.

* Help students schedule the interviews with family members, local sources, or community leaders. Students might inform the interviewee of the purpose of the interview and how the information will be used. They might also pass along possible questions and topics beforehand.

* Assess equipment and material availability.

* Present mini-lessons on note-taking, basic transcription, synthesis, and writing skills that focus on isolating data relevant to the project theme.

* Have students conduct and transcribe the interviews.

* Have students compile and present the final projects. …

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