What Is Artifacts & Fiction?
Artifacts & Fiction is a video-based professional development workshop designed to help new and experienced teachers teach American literature in its historical and cultural context. Through videos, hands-on activities, and print and Web-based resources, Artifacts & Fiction will guide you through the process of expanding your classroom practices as you pair cultural and historical artifacts with works of literature. This approach can heighten your students' analytic skills and help them develop a deeper understanding of course material. The workshop is geared primarily to high school teachers, although middle school teachers or college instructors might find they can adapt the approach to their classrooms.
The video component of the workshop features nine English teachers who come together to learn methods of pairing artifacts from the disciplines of art, religion, politics, and history with the American literature they are currently teaching in their classes. Each of the eight hour-long videos in the workshop presents the teachers working with a guest university professor in a class focused on using artifacts from a particular discipline. At the end of each class, the teachers work together in the computer lab to develop their own lesson plans using artifacts from the featured discipline. Each video then follows one of the teachers into the high school classroom, where she or he applies this new teaching approach. Afterward, the teacher reflects on what aspects of the lesson were successful-and what could be improved in future classes.
The Workshop Sessions
The session guides provide specific information on the activities for each workshop session. Before watching an Artifacts & Fiction video, you should read the Introduction for that session. You should consider the session's Close Reading Questions and read the assigned excerpt from the literature discussed in the onscreen class. You may also want to view the listed episode of American Passages, an Annenberg Media series on American literary movements, which will provide important information for understanding the works of literature covered in that workshop session. (Viewing the appropriate American Passages video is required if you are taking the workshop for credit and recommended if you are not.) For information on purchasing, recording off-air, see http://www.learner.org. To view the videos online from the Web site see http://www.learner.org/resources/browse.html
As you watch the Artifacts & Fiction video, you will follow the teachers' learning process, examining the same artifacts they discuss in the onscreen class. The guide directs you to stop the video at designated intervals, so that you can engage in activities to review and assess the steps the onscreen teachers take as they prepare lesson plans using the featured type of artifacts. At the end of each two-hour workshop session, you will be prepared to create a lesson plan pairing the same type of artifact with a work of literature you are currently teaching.
What Are Artifacts, and How Do We "Read" Them?
In this workshop, the term "artifact" is used to mean some item (such as a painting, a map, a song, or a newspaper advertisement) that documents a particular historical era or cultural practice. Artifacts & Fiction pairs the reading of artifacts with the reading of literature; this pairing is a way to enhance critical thinking skills while providing a source for historical and cultural contexts of American literature. When approaching an artifact, it is useful to think of how we teach our students to read literature with a level of sophistication-so that they not only understand what a text says (the literal plot of "what happened") but also appreciate the importance of how a text depicts what happened (the use of rhyme scheme, diction, character development, etc.).
The analysis of artifacts involves a similar process of close reading, with attention to the details of how things are represented. The way a figure is posed in a portrait (wearing a particular style of clothing, pictured with specific household objects, etc.) may reveal cultural values shared by the painter and the subject. The use of rhythm and repetition in a song may indicate what information or beliefs are being emphasized, particularly if the original singers and audience for the song came from a culture that privileged the oral transmission of information. For a literature teacher, reading a poem, story, or other literary text may seem more familiar than "reading" a painting, song, or other artifact. The workshop will help you develop skills for selecting and analyzing artifacts so that you can share this approach with your students.
Why Use Artifacts in a Literature Class?
Bringing artifacts into the literature classroom serves several valuable purposes. A carefully chosen artifact can provide information about the historical period or cultural context in which a work of literature was produced or set. As students explore a political artifact, for example, they discover information about past politics, such as how the governing class felt about newly arrived immigrants. Examining artifacts allows students to explore this background for themselves and then apply it to literature, rather than relying solely on a teacher's lecture for information about the literature. The use of artifacts is a particularly effective approach for engaging students, who find that literature comes alive when they can connect it to what actual people did, made, or thought-something you'll see happen in the video classroom footage. Introducing artifacts into your classroom can also serve as a foundation for teaching more multicultural literature because exploring artifacts helps students approach unfamiliar texts with a better understanding of cultures that differ from their own.
The analysis of literature is similar to the analysis of artifacts because both require students to ask thoughtful questions, explore their own explanatory hypotheses, and draw insightful conclusions. Although the analysis of artifacts is a new activity for many students, when they are taught to do it, they develop close reading skills that enhance their ability to analyze familiar literary forms as well. This approach is especially relevant in schools where literature courses are paired with other disciplines, such as social studies. Even if your school does not pair classes explicitly, students should find the approach helps them make connections between what they read for their English classes and what they study in other courses and disciplines. Indeed, the approach can be particularly engaging for students who feel stronger in visual arts, music, or other fields than they do in English.
What Types of Artifacts Can Be Paired With Literature?
The workshop sessions focus on eight types of artifacts, explored through the disciplines in which they are studied.
Workshop 1: Visual Arts
This session introduces the pairing of visual art objects with American literature by examining how two paintings by the early American portraitist John Singleton Copley can help teachers and students better understand the literary project of self-representation in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography.
Workshop 2: Political History
In this session, teachers use political artifacts-items such as laws and "Wanted" posters that relate directly to the political process, and items such as newspapers that reflect political views and movements-to explore the political contexts reflected in John Rollin Ridge's nineteenth-century fictionalized story of the outlaw Joaquin Murieta and Yoshiko Uchida's Picture Bride, a novel about early twentieth-century Japanese immigrants to the United States.
Workshop 3: Social History
This session pairs the social history artifacts of a bill of sale for a slave and an illustration of a slave auction with Frederick Douglass's slave narrative. It also pairs World War I recruitment posters with Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. These pairings demonstrate how social history artifacts, which document the experiences of ordinary people, allow teachers and students to analyze the choices made by literary characters.
Workshop 4: Oral Histories
During this session, teachers learn to use oral history artifacts-recordings of spoken and sung works-to better understand written literature. Mexican American corridos and folktales provide cultural contexts for a poem and essay by Gloria Anzaldúa and for Cormac McCarthy's young adult novel All the Pretty Horses. Both authors' works depict the oral transmission of information and values in bilingual Mexican American communities.
Workshop 5: Domestic Architecture
Teachers in this session use photographs of houses from different eras and cultures as domestic architecture artifacts. They explore how cultural values are reflected in domestic spaces as they consider the thematic significance of literal and metaphoric homes in the poetry of Lucy Tapahonso, Simon Ortiz, and Emily Dickinson.
Workshop 6: Cultural Geography
This session introduces the use of cultural geography artifacts, such as photographs and maps of specific neighborhoods, to understand how the spaces represented in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street and Kate Chopin's The Awakening reflect the characters' racial and class positions.
Workshop 7: Ritual Artifacts
In this session, teachers explore how individuals use secular and religious rituals to create a sense of order and meaning for their worlds. Examining Puritan gravestones as ritual artifacts provides a way to better understand the beliefs expressed in Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.
Workshop 8: Ceremonial Artifacts
This session invites teachers to consider how ceremonial artifacts function in the expression and transmission of religious beliefs by pairing Native American baskets with Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony and two traditional Native American tales.
You can learn more about each type of artifact by reading the Introduction for its corresponding session and exploring the Discipline Tutorial before you watch the workshop video.
As you proceed through the workshop, you should consider what artifacts will best supplement the literature you teach. If your literature class is paired with a history class, or if you have a helpful colleague who is particularly knowledgeable in a field such as art, those might be good disciplines for you to work with first. If there is a type of artifact not covered in the workshop that you feel would be useful for your students, you can adapt the steps for teaching with artifacts provided here. Artifacts & Fiction isn't intended to show you how to teach only the literature or artifacts featured in the videos. Rather, it provides you with a range of tools you can use on your own to expand your teaching practices and thereby enrich your students' engagement with literature.
In the videos, you will see teachers who, like you, are learning to use artifacts for the first time. Some express doubts about their abilities to introduce students to unfamiliar objects such as a Puritan gravestone or a Native American basket. After using their new lesson plans, the teachers in the videos reflect on which aspects of their own classes went well and which didn't; this reflection is an important step in refining their teaching strategies. The workshop activities will give you opportunities to consider your responses to the teachers' classes, learning from their successes and challenges as you prepare lessons to use with your own students.
How Do I Find Artifacts To Use With My Students?
The Artifacts & Fiction and American Passages Web sites contain components that can help you pair individual literary texts with artifacts. On the Artifacts & Fiction site you can use the Artifact & Literature Pair Finder to view suggestions of specific artifacts to use with particular works of literature. As you develop lesson plans, you can consult the American Passages Web site. At that site, you will find an archive of 3000 artifacts that you can search by time period, type of artifact, relevant literary movement, geographical region, ethnic group, or keyword. Once you search the archive and select artifacts relevant to the literature your students are reading, you can use the Build a Slideshow feature to assemble the selected images or sound files with your own captions. This slideshow can be saved for viewing online by you and your students, or it can be downloaded to a disk to show on a computer without Internet access.
Although the American Passages archive contains over 3,000 catalogued artifacts, it is only one possible resource you might use. Once you become more comfortable with the use of artifacts, you may find that searching the books in your school or public library can be a good source for visual images, the texts of particular laws, or other relevant artifacts. If you are looking for material on the Internet, remember that the accuracy and quality of Web sites varies greatly. One excellent resource is the Library of Congress Web site, where you will find the American Memory Project, a searchable archive providing vast local, regional, and national artifacts related to American history and culture. The site also contains an Online Gallery of Exhibitions curated by the Library of Congress, which includes more in-depth explanations of particular artifacts. In general, government, museum, and university Web sites are good sources for accurate archives (although student-created Web pages on university sites may be less rigorously researched). These sites can be found using standard Internet search engines (you might choose to limit your search to sites ending in ".edu" to find university archives).
When you are searching within a particular archive, you will find more items if you repeat the search several times with variations in the keywords. For example, "car," "auto," "automobile," "motor car," and "horseless carriage" may each yield different results, even within the same archive (using a specific manufacturer or model name might bring up additional items). When you search for older materials, be aware that you might need to employ language we consider arcane or even offensive: "colored," "negro," "Afro-American," or "African," as well as "black" or "African American," for example; even "Chinaman" or "Chinee" along with "Chinese American" or "Asian American." As you will see in several of the Artifacts & Fiction videos, students learn a great deal from artifacts that depict racist attitudes, so it can be valuable to find items that might be catalogued in archives according to racist terms.
If you are interested in developing more advanced activities for your students, you can have them locate their own artifacts. You can guide their search by directing them to a particular archive. For example, in Workshop 6: Cultural Geography, teacher Michaela Miller has her students search archives at the American Memory Project and the New Orleans Public Library Web site for artifacts relevant to Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening. Students can also use the Artifacts & Fiction and American Passages Web resources described above for their own searches. Your school librarian may be able to help you find other Web sites or books relevant to particular authors, literary movements, or cultural groups. You can also send students to the library with a directed assignment, such as finding a newspaper article on a particular historical event depicted in the literature they are reading.
However you and your students find relevant artifacts, remember that the most important step is using that material to deepen students' thinking about literature. Once you have selected useful artifacts, schedule ample class time for students to analyze and discuss them; students also need time to explore how the artifacts help them understand the literature they have read. As you watch the Artifacts & Fiction videos, you will have opportunities to observe and assess how the guest professors and onscreen teachers guide students through this process, a useful step in planning approaches to use in your own classes.
Other Workshop Resources
The guide Appendix includes several rubrics you can use on your own and with your students. These include a six-step process for selecting appropriate artifacts, close reading tips for effective reading of literature, and the Glossary, which explains relevant terms used in the workshop.
Another resource is the CAATS acronym (Creator, Assumptions, Audience, Time, and Significance), a method for analyzing artifacts. This tool and its use is explained in the Workshop Sessions.
Materials in This Web Site
- 8 Workshop Session Guides.
- Eight Discipline Tutorials, which use artifacts and narrative to explain more about each discipline and how it can be used to understand literature more deeply.
- The Artifact & Literature Pair Finder, a tool that pairs selected texts with historical objects, developing a deeper understanding of the text's context.
- A Behind the Scenes section with information about the teachers and interdisciplinary experts featured in the videos, the lesson plans and handouts used in the high school classrooms, the complete transcripts of the classes shown in the videos, teacher journals, and transcripts of the teacher reflective interviews.
Lesson Planning Tools
Artifacts & Fiction is intended to provide you with new tools for developing your own lesson plans, whether you are using the type of artifacts featured in the videos or others that are appropriate to the literature you're teaching. There's no limit to the number or types of artifacts that might be used with a particular literary text.
For example, in Workshop 3: Social History, you'll see teachers learn to analyze a bill of sale for a slave to expand their understanding of Frederick Douglass's slave narrative. If you are teaching that slave narrative, however, you might choose some of the other types of artifacts featured in the workshop.
Douglass's text could also be paired with cultural geography artifacts that provide evidence about antebellum life in the area of Maryland, including the Baltimore wharves where Douglass was enslaved. This pairing might help students understand how the lives of urban slaves differed from those of slaves on plantations, and why Douglass's experience in Baltimore helped him in his eventual escape from slavery.
Or the text could be paired with political history documents, such as laws that prohibited the education of slaves or that governed the treatment of slaves by non-owners like Covey, a major figure in Douglass's narrative. You might also compare the written narrative to the oral history artifacts of slavery, such as slave songs or the oral testimony of former slaves recorded by Work Projects Administration interviewers in the 1930s.
A formal portrait of Douglass could be used as a relevant visual art artifact, allowing a comparison between how Douglass represents himself in writing and how he was visually represented to his nineteenth-century audience.
Ritual objects could be used to help students understand the way Douglass invokes Christianity (as when he compares his escape from slavery to the resurrection of Christ portrayed in the New Testament), and the reasons he critiques it (as a method the hypocritical slaveholders used to assert their own superiority over slaves). Sermons originally delivered to slaves and to slave owners would thus be important to consider.
As this list of possibilities indicates, bringing artifacts into your classroom can provide manifold approaches for enriching your students' analyses of American literature and expanding their understanding of the historical and cultural contexts in which that literature was produced or set. In the videos, you will see some teachers bring the same artifacts and literature they studied in the onscreen class into their own classrooms. Other teachers branch out, using different artifacts and texts. You might find it easier to begin by incorporating one of the videos' lesson plans into your classroom, waiting to develop your own pairings until you feel more comfortable with this teaching method-or you might feel ready to create your own pairings right away. Whatever approach you choose, Artifacts & Fiction will help you discover new ways to enhance your own lesson plans for any literature you might teach in your classes.
- Before each workshop session, consult the appropriate Session Guide to find out what artifact to download from the online archive on the American Passages Web site. Print out or photocopy enough copies for all your workshop participants. The archive selections are also available for download on the Artifacts & Fiction Web site, delineated by appropriate session.
- Make sure participants know what reading to complete before attending the session (a general overview of this material is described above under the heading The Workshop Sessions).
- Read through the entire guide chapter prior to the workshop session, noting when you will need to stop the video for workshop activities.
- During the workshop session, moderate group discussions in response to the questions posed throughout the guide. Discussions of teaching strategies are dynamic and will be shaped by the interests and experiences of your participants. Be sure to keep track of the time allotted for particular activities, so that you can cover all the necessary material for the session.
- Vary which participants work together in the small group activities from one session to another, so that everyone has an opportunity to work with the multiple points of view of all the other participants.
- Artifacts & Fiction videos 1-8.
- American Passages videos "Native Voices," "Exploring Borderlands," "Utopian Promise," "Spirit of Nationalism," "Masculine Heroes," "Slavery and Freedom," and "Search for Identity" (required for participants taking the workshop for credit, and recommended for all others). These videos are available for viewing online at http://www.learner.org/resources/browse.html or can be ordered through www.learner.org.
- Equipment to view homework and workshop session video assignments (e.g. vhs deck and monitor).
- The Artifacts & Fiction Session Guides.
- Internet access to the Artifacts & Fiction and American Passages Web sites (http://www.learner.org/workshops/artifacts and http://www.learner.org/amerpass).
- Literature readings described in the appropriate Artifacts & Fiction guide chapter.
What are Artifacts
How to Find Artifacts
Other Workshop Resources
Lesson Planning Tools