I’ve now completed the grading of the first round of scrapbooks that my students turned in for my Western Civ class. As one would expect, their performance was all of the map. By far their best work was for the personal history assignment I give them. Once again these essays (mostly) displayed excellent research, careful writing, and even some historical analysis. Their essays included a wide variety of primary sources–everything from a marriage license from Cuba to an audio tape of a young man facing a mortar barrage in Viet Nam.
Now I need to figure out how to get them to bring the same level of effort to their other historical writing. The essays they wrote on The Return of Martin Guerre, for instance, were (mostly) devoid of evidence and were just not written as well.
One thing that is clearly at play here is that they care about what they are writing about when they write about their family and its history and they just don’t care much about Bertrande de Rols, Arnaud du Tilh and Martin Guerre. Another issue is relevance–the history of their family seems to have relevance over and above their desire to do good work on an assignment about a loved one, while the social realities of Artigat, France seem much less relevant. I’m going to have to think on this and try to figure out new assignments about the past that matter as much in the hope that if the assignment matters, they’ll put more into it (and thus get more out of it).
Finally, only one student in the class turned in anything that would qualify as “new media”, even though Ieft the format of their scrapbooks entirely up to them. This one example was a PowerPoint presentation. By contrast, three students turned in scrapbooks that looked like the scrapbook your family might have from its last vacation.