Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Council on Anthropology and Education
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Teaching
Secondary Theme: Identity and Equity
When educators have opportunities to envision the impact they can make on students through curricular innovation, pathways for how they will teach their students to value their identities, cultures, and languages can be both vibrant and passionate. We, a university instructor and three graduate students, share here our adaptations of a specific graduate-level assignment so that it resonates in powerful ways with far-reaching possibilities for the diverse students we teach and the communities where they, and we, work and live.
In a graduate course, First & Second Language Development in Cultural Contexts, taught by Dr. Lois Meyer at the University of New Mexico, students complete the Mackey Boxes assignment, which asks them to examine cross-generational linguistic and cultural practices in their own families. Through interviews with family members of different generations which are analyzed comparatively and reflected upon, students document ways that cultural practices and language use have been maintained, lost, and transformed over time in their family histories. Rogoff’s (2003) theoretical understanding of culture, that “people contribute to the creation of cultural processes and cultural processes contribute to the creation of people” (p. 51), aids students in their analyses.
Several graduate students have been profoundly moved by completing this assignment themselves and have adapted and applied it in their own highly diverse curricular contexts: (1) Molly Perara is a PhD student who has collaborated with a teacher to adapt the assignment in a 7th grade humanities class in a diverse Hispanic/Latino, heavily Mexican immigrant community in Albuquerque, New Mexico; (2) PhD student Amber Gordon works at University of New Mexico, Taos, where she has a large proportion of Pueblo and New Mexican Hispanic students. She is adapting the Mackey Boxes assignment to focus on intergenerational storytelling in these deeply cultural communities; (3) Dania Ammar is a Saudi woman, graduating with her MA this May, who will use an adaptation of the assignment in her future gender-segregated women's English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes in Saudi Arabia to open up feminist stories, voices and views toward a transformation of women's participation in Saudi society.
In each case, the original Mackey Boxes assignment has been adapted to a specific sociocultural context. Still, the intergenerational focus, personal narratives, interviews with family members, and self-reflection remain vital components of this work. That is, students’ lives, experiences, and family histories are what give this project life, sparking dialogue and meaningful reflection. Collectively, we believe this assignment has the potential to move students toward personal transformations, both in their classroom lives and beyond.
Our session will focus on sharing the developments in our work. We will discuss the original Mackey Boxes assignment and reflect on how it has been adapted for each particular student population and why we feel these adaptations are important in maintaining and revitalizing culture and language within each specific context, as well as how these diverse adaptations have impacted reassessment of the original assignment itself.
Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.