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A full-blown paper may not always be the best way to assess what they have learned. I have found a few ways around the “too much” dilemma.For example, in my large linguistic anthropology course, exams are mandatory.
Part Two of “Teaching Culture and Methods to Novice/Non-Anthropologists” In my last post, I made the case for having students attempt ethnographic papers in courses other than “methods.” By introducing early undergraduates to the pleasures of ethnography, I think we showcase anthropology’s strong suit, but more importantly, I think it is a great way to scaffold them into ways of writing and reading that will serve them well in both the social sciences and the humanities.
In this second post, I share the steps I go through to squeeze an ethnographic experience into what are admittedly short, one-term courses (12 weeks).
If in lecture I ask them to get together to talk or work through a concept or the readings, I ask them to do it in their research communities so that they are dialoguing new information with, and through, their own work/topics.
Their final reading(s) are tailored to their interests, using broad themes like religion, sports, work, gender/sexuality, food, the body, etc. Sometimes this means asking colleagues (or TAs, if you are lucky to have them).
I have framed the essay question to be answerable with their collected data.
I let them bring in a single page of notes and leave it up to them to decide whether that page has “raw” or “cooked” data (thanks Laura! This spares them writing an exam separate from a paper, and provides mental relief (for me, too).Reading my notes out loud lets students see that while some observations seem like they aren’t about anything, over time they can become the basis of an idea or argument.They also see how my notes sound “like me” and that this is just fine.This anchors all the papers in the group to a debate. Revisit I almost always have them do multiple visits (2-3) because it usually opens up their observation skills and brings in richer data. Write To get them into the flavor and feel of ethnographic writing, I start one or two classes with free writing exercises geared at getting them to find their voice, or the story they are going to tell.Kirin Narayan’s book has great prompts adaptable to student projects.In linguistic anthropology I have them choose a “Community of Practice” which is pretty wide open and can mean anything from drag queens to gym rats.In a third year Politics of Indigeneity course, I had students watch patrons pass through (or not) the Aboriginal Canadian exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.After one or two visits, depending on the course, there is enough to get us to the next stage—which is narrowing to a topic/theme (the rabbit).I admit this piece is much easier in smaller courses where you can meet one-on-one with students.The less they put into the notes the harder it is for me to pull a paper out.First-time ethnographic papers feel a bit like grabbing a rabbit out of a hat—there is some degree of hocus pocus involved.