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November/December 2001
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Folklore: A Tapestry of Life
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress

[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart that follows.]

This summer I had the opportunity to attend a workshop presented by Paddy Bowman from the National Network for Folk Arts in Education. Paddy is a leading authority on folklife and culture. The title of the workshop was "Finding the Invisible: Folklore in Sense of Place." Her inspiration to learn about one's sense of place in the community through traditions, music, food, and crafts was the catalyst for this article. Sometimes everyday life becomes invisible until you begin to analyze and categorize your experiences. You have to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch daily life in such a way that you begin to feel a sense of person in the place where you live. Connecting students with community can open doorways to the cultural legacies of many diverse groups of people. It will certainly enlighten minds.

Folklore

American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress
In 1976, the U.S. Congress created the American Folklife Center to preserve and present American folklife. The Center has 11 collections online as part of the American Memory project. They range from fiddle tunes of the old frontier to Omaha Indian music to the landscapes of Southern West Virginia to blues and gospel songs from the Fort Valley Music Festivals in Georgia. These collections are a rich combination of sound recordings, photographs, field notes, artifacts, and manuscripts that serve as living histories for a new generation.

Be sure to read Folklife and Fieldwork: A Layman's Introduction to Field Techniques before venturing into ethnographic studies with your students. It is an essential guide for preparing and conducting research. In addition to the field guide, there are finding aids to the folk archives with many states represented, information about the local legacies project, and A Teacher's Guide to Folklife Resources for K-12 Classrooms that provides an annotated list of books related to folklore and addresses for state and community-based programs.

American Folklore Society
The purpose of the American Folklore Society, founded in 1888, is to stimulate interest and research in folklore. The Web site is mainly a resource with information about the organization.

Citylore
Citylore's mission is to foster New York and America's cultural heritage. Projects supported are the People's Poetry Gathering, a biennial poetry festival [http://www.peoplespoetry.org]; Place Matters, an initiative that celebrates places and traditions in New York communities [http://www.placematters.org]; and CARTS: Cultural Arts Resources for Teachers and Students, a cultural resource center for K-12 education [http://www.carts.org]. The site also honors grassroots contributions to New York's cultural life through the annual People's Hall of Fame Awards.

Montana Heritage Project
The Montana Heritage Project demonstrates how students have preserved cultural heritage through authentic research and serves as a model for other schools to follow. Browse the site to find articles, examples of forms for fieldwork, worksheets, rubrics, and descriptions of school projects. One of the most helpful tools is the step-by-step process for writing an "essay of place" developed by Michael Umphrey. The steps include choosing a place to write about, listening to your place, exploring the history of your place, exploring nature at your place, exploring the folklife of your place, reflecting on your writings, and transforming your reflections into a story. This is a great short-term or long-term project that will engage students in thinking about the sense of place in a local community.

New York Folklore Society
What are folklore, folklife, and folk arts? Find a variety of interesting definitions gathered from several perspectives. Print out a fieldwork data sheet to use with students when gathering data. Peruse samples from publications such as Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore or New York Folklore. Visit the online gallery for ideas about how to display artifacts and write descriptions.

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
One of the most popular features on this Web site is the virtual festival. Attend a luau or an African naming ceremony. Learn about border people in the American Southwest. Experience the sights and sounds of traditional folklife through dance, food, images, and poetry. Next visit Creativity and Existence: Maroon Cultures in the Americas, an online exhibit that focuses on the history and culture of Maroon communities in Suriname, French Guiana, and Jamaica, and also the Seminole Maroon communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Maroons were those individuals who escaped from slavery. In this exhibit, you will learn about the history of the Maroon people, their contemporary counterparts, and crafts. After visiting the exhibit, explore the remainder of the site for information about projects and publications that the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has to offer.
 
Seasonal Rounds
At Paddy Bowman's "Finding the Invisible: Folklore in Sense of Place" workshop, a seasonal round worksheet was distributed. A seasonal round is a circular calendar. Each person filled in his or her important dates using colored markers. While the teachers were working, folk music was playing in the background. At the conclusion of the activity, participants shared their calendars with a partner and the group. From each person's stories, others were able to see the similarities and differences in their daily lives. This was a fabulous activity to begin the workshop. The Seasonal Round worksheet is available at http://www.crt.state.la.us/FOLKLIFE/edu_unit9w_seas_round_blan.html.

Seasonal Round Activities on Coal River
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cmnshtml/season1.html
In this example, the cycle shows the role of the forest in community life. Gathering plants for commercial and domestic use was a year-round job. Hunting, fishing, planting, and harvesting were other tasks that were essential to daily life. This seasonal round tells the story visually and through sound recordings. By clicking on the words, you can hear the stories about molasses making, the art of digging ginseng, or hunting for squirrels through the experiences of the people living in the area.

Lessons

Family Folklore
Folklore is a family affair. Have your students become family folklorists by recording traditions, taking pictures, and collecting ephemera. Instructions, equipment, suggested questions, interview techniques, and tips on storing photographs and artifacts are presented in a conversational style.

Louisiana Voices: An Educator's Guide to Exploring Our Communities and Traditions
What a gem! Choose from in-depth units or individual topics about material culture, story-swapping, seasonal rounds, childhood games, and much more. Activities include making a cake quilt, playing folklore bingo, taking family pictures, and examining folk toys. Rubrics, worksheets, and teacher tools are exceptionally well done and easy to download or print. Since the guide is in the public domain, you will be able to adapt it to your own curriculum as long as you give attribution to the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the authors. Check the site for complete details.

My History Is America's History
My History Is America's History is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) designed to help you explore your family history, discover your family's place in American history, and make your own contribution to history. The online guidebook is full of things you can do to save America's history. In the chapter "Fun for the Family," there are projects on making a family quilt, history museum, cookbook, and Web album that encourage students to become family historians. You can also download a copy or order your own copy. The guidebooks are free (plus $3.75 postage and handling) as long as the limited supply lasts. For orders by mail, make checks payable to "Superintendent of Documents"; write to My History, Pueblo, Colorado 81009. For orders by phone call this toll-free number: 888/878-3256.

Story Arts Online
The ancient art of storytelling is an excellent way to enhance student listening and speaking skills. Heather Forest, an accomplished storyteller, masterfully walks you through the storytelling process. She provides numerous plots, lesson suggestions, and rubrics that you can use immediately with your students. Listen to Heather tell stories in the Story Arts theatre. Plan an initial listening exercise around a wonderful tale like "The Turnip," a Russian folktale. Rounding out the material on the site is the section "Exploring Cultural Roots Through Storytelling" that contains interview questions about people to remember, life events, and objects. There are also ideas for remembering your own life story.

Invisible to Visible
Folklore and folklife are not always obvious in our day-to-day living, but they are a part of who we are as individuals and as a community. Think about ways you can introduce folklore into your curriculum through writing, games, storytelling, interviews with parents and grandparents, ethnographic units of study, and studying primary sources and exhibits on the Web. Then watch your students grow as they learn about who they are in the place they live.


Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.

WEB SITE LISTINGS

Folklore

American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress
http://lcweb.loc.gov/folklife/

American Folklore Society
http://www.afsnet.org/

CARTS: Cultural Arts and Resources for Teachers and Students
http://www.carts.org/

Citylore
http://www.citylore.org/

Folklife and Fieldwork Guide
http://lcweb.loc.gov/folklife/fieldwk.html

Montana Heritage Project
http://www.edheritage.org/

New York Folklore Society
http://www.nyfolklore.org/index.html

People's Poetry Gathering
http://www.peoplespoetry.org

Place Matters
http://www.placematters.org

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
http://www.folklife.si.edu/

A Teacher's Guide to Folklife Resources for K-12 Classrooms
http://lcweb.loc.gov/folklife/teachers.html
 

Lessons

Family Folklore
http://educate.si.edu/migrations/seek2/family.html

Louisiana Voices: An Educator's Guide to Exploring Our Communities and Traditions
http://www.crt.state.la.us/FOLKLIFE/edu_home.html

My History Is America's History
http://www.myhistory.org/

Story Arts Online
http://www.storyarts.org/
 

Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educatorís Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; ljoseph@iwaynet.net.
 

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