ENG 121 – English Composition I & Introduction to Literature in Tandem
English 121 combines English 101 with English 201. Both are composition courses, but English 101 focuses reading and writing about non-fiction essays and English 201 focuses on writing about literature. Both classes teach students the process of finding sources in places like the library catalog, library databases and then documenting sources through in-text citation and Works Cited.
This project is part of a semester-long project where students read, respond to, and write about Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Milkman, the main character of the novel, undergoes a hero’s journey in which he understands his self-identity through a trip to the South in which he learns the true history of his family. I came up with the oral history project as a way to connect students to the stories of their own families and communities. The process is to record themselves interviewing a family member or a person from a community to which they feel intimately connected. Afterward, they write an essay in which they reflect on the story they learned about in the interview and tie the story to larger cultural forces. Finally, they set out a research plan by going to the library catalog and databases to find five sources they could read to understand the cultural forces the story is tied to more deeply. The essay contains the reflection, discussion and the Work Cited.
Why did you select this project? How does it relate to identity and purpose?
I wanted students to connect to the journey Milkman makes in the novel, but moreover, I wanted them to experience first hand the ways stories create a sense of identity and belonging to a community. During the course of the project, multiple students uncovered stories about their families they never knew or that they didn’t know fully. Because the stories were so meaningful, I saw students connect to this assignment deeply and witnessed the ways in which understanding these stories shifted their sense of themselves and their understanding of the forces that have shaped their family.
What advice do you have for other faculty who would like to implement a similar project?
Students got excited about this assignment. It was one of the most successful assignments I’ve ever used in any class, but I had to push students to do the library research and create the Works Cited. The assignment clearly called for the research and Works Cited, but I had to hand the essay back to almost all the students and ask for them for the research and Works Cited.
Students used Zoom or even just the memo function on their phones to record their interviews. They referred to these recordings when they did their presentations to the class.