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Community Search

Bruce Hucko
Al Clarke, Montezuma Creek Elementary School, Montezuma, Utah

Subject: Language Arts/Photography
Grade: 7-9

"Looking for and thinking aloud about what would constitute a good photograph for a particular situation created new perspectives that enhanced student language use and the photographic product."

Purpose and Description of Project

Bruce Hucko and Al Clarke devised a language arts/photography project that gave their Navajo students an opportunity to examine their community from a journalistic perspective. Students photographed and interviewed parents and community members and produced photo-story posters to be displayed in the school. Hucko and Clarke were concerned with developing communication skills and with defining teaching techniques to help students transfer Navajo thoughts into English writing. Their goal was not so much to create writer/photographers as it was to develop in the students respect for their community and pride in their work.

Activities

Project activities followed this outline:
  1. Preparation: Students as a class brainstormed a list of possible jobs in the community to explore. Working in teams of two (writer and photographer), students chose their interview assignments-e.g., preacher, principal, basketball coach, postmaster, etc. In each case, students conducted a first interview with their parents to make them comfortable with the process and to help them learn more clearly what work their parents were involved in. Interview appointments were scheduled and deadlines for copy and photos assigned.
  2. Skill Sessions: Hucko, a professional photographer, instructed students in using a light meter and flash and in taking "people" pictures. Interviewing skills-writing letters of introduction, meeting people confidently and getting to know them, and developing a questioning strategy-were discussed. Clarke emphasized inquiry and organization techniques as students planned their assignments.
  3. Getting the Information: Before each interview appointment, the class brainstormed questions. Writers prepared transcripts of the tape-recorded interviews and began their first story drafts while photographers began making photo selections.
  4. Follow-Through: After Clarke corrected the first drafts of the stories, students entered them in the school's personal computer. Student teams met with Hucko to select and print the final photos. Finally, the printed articles and photos were mounted on 14" x 22" mount boards and displayed in the school hallway.

Materials, Resources, and Expenses

The most indispensable human resources were the community members who were willing to be interviewed and photographed. The students used 35 mm cameras and black-and-white film. The cameras and darkroom were provided through the school's established photography program so the only cost was for film, chemicals, and photographic paper.

Outcomes and Adaptability

Foremost among the outcomes was the fact that the students saw the job through. The class response to the project was dynamic.

When comparing student prewrites with final stories, the latter were far superior in terms of clarity, continuity, and detail. "Indeed, the act of photographing focused the student's attention on the subject matter which led to more detailed writing!" Language usage improved noticeably and their photography showed style and imagination as well as technical skill.

Scheduling difficulties were avoided because of the flexibility of the all class schedule; "when an activity did not get finished one day, we merely tackled it the next." Having two teachers involved in the project made it feasible for pairs of students to conduct interviews and develop photos during school time under the supervision of one teacher while the other worked with the remaining students in the classroom.

Hucko and Clarke believe such a community search project is valid for all communities and can be adapted to any situation. However, they suggest it would be more replicable in an Anglo/English community because of the lack of a language barrier between teacher, student, and parents.

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