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Learning outcomes

Students will develop:

  • respect for the cultural distinctiveness of North Carolina’s various regions
  • enhanced analytical skills that will enable them to approach new primary sources more critically
  • and a heightened awareness of the challenges inherent in studying and understanding people who are different from one’s self in some way.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2 to 3 days

Materials/resources

  • Printed copies of Chapter 13 of Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart.
  • Printed copies of additional primary sources at the teacher’s discretion.
  • Teachers may also wish to create a worksheet to help students record details from their primary sources.

Technology resources

Internet access and computers for students to work singly or in groups of 3 to 4.

Pre-activities

Social Studies

Ideally, students should have studied the antebellum period, the turn of the twentieth century, and the Great Depression on at least a basic level. In that case, this activity could be used to enhance students’ understanding of those three periods, draw comparisons, and look ahead toward possibly conducting their own oral history interviews on a later topic such as World War II, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement or a more recent set of events.

English Language Arts:

Students need to understand the idea of dialogue in literature, and will have been introduced to the concepts of simile, metaphor, and idiomatic expression.

Activities

  1. Launch a discussion with students about whether it is easier or harder to understand someone from a culture different from their own.
  2. Assign students to work on either slavery in North Carolina, the mountains at the turn of the twentieth century, or North Carolina and the Great Depression. Teachers could choose to just use one of these three topics, to do each topic in succession (either separately, with each set of resources explored during the week when the relevant topic is discussed in class, or together after all three topics have been covered as a way of reviewing, drawing connections, and bringing it all together), or to divide students into groups and have various groups work on the topics independently (ie. two or three groups of students might work on slavery, two or three on the mountains, and two or three on the Depression).
  3. Ask students, in groups, to read selected portions of their chosen sources (slave narratives from North Carolina, a few selected paragraphs from the chapter from Our Southern Highlands, or WPA interviews from the Great Depression in North Carolia). Provide students with worksheets for taking notes on factual details they learn from the interviews, details that reveal the way of life at the time and place of the interview, and observations about the way people talk.
  4. After students have read some of the language of the people who were interviewed, ask them what assumptions they might make about those people. Students may well comment that the people were either stupid or uneducated. Ask, “How do you know?” or “Give me an example.”
  5. Ask students, “What did you notice about people’s language?” Write down their descriptive words on the blackboard. Then, read the following excerpt from Our Southern Highlanders to students:
  6. “One day I handed a volume of John Fox’s stories to a neighbor and asked him to read it, being curious to learn how those vivid pictures of mountain life would impress one who was born and bred in the same atmosphere. He scanned a few lines of the dialogue, then suddenly stared at me in amazement.

    “‘What’s the matter with it?’ I asked, wondering what he could have found to startle him at the very beginning of a story.

    “‘Why, that feller don’t know hoes to spell!’

    “Gravely I explained that dialect must be spelled as it is pronounced, so far as possible, or the life and savor of it would be lost. But it was of no use. My friend was outraged. ‘That tale–teller then is jest makin’ fun of the mountain people by misspellin’ our talk. You educated folks don’t spell your own words the way you say them.’

    A most palpable hit; and it gave me a new point of view. To the mountaineers themselves their speech is natural and proper, of course, and when they see it bared to the spotlight, all eyes drawn toward it by an orthography that is as odd to them as it is to us, they are stirred to wrath.”

    Why was the mountaineer “stirred to wrath” to see his people’s language treated in this way? Why did the transcribers write down mountain peoples spelling in this way? Do the transcribers just not know how to spell? Are they trying to make the mountain people look stupid? (If so, why?) Are they trying to capture the flavor of the spoken word?

  7. At this point, ask students to pause and select three sentences from one of their sources that are written in dialect. Have them rewrite the sentences in “proper English.” Ask volunteers to read their original sentences and the revised versions aloud. How are the two different? What impression does the original version give of the speaker in contrast to the revised “corrected” version? If the corrected version tends to make people sound smarter, why NOT always “fix” the grammar and spelling? What is “lost” when you don’t try to capture the flavor of the spoken word?
  8. What would happen if we took someone whose words are usually transcribed in proper English and transcribed them the way these people’s words were transcribed? As an example, you could play an excerpt from one of these two inaugural addresses, repeatedly asking students to write down what the speaker says as they heard it — in other words, write down what the speakers — words sound like, not how they are supposed to be spelled (FDR and George W. Bush are chosen because they are both Presidents with regional accents and to provide some balance between North/South and Democrat/Republican). Ask students whether these transcriptions make the presidents look intelligent or not.
  9. Compare the students’ transcriptions of the first several sentences of the speeches with the written transcriptions and ask them how the two differ and what different impressions they would have of these two speakers if they read the two different versions.
  10. Open up a discussion of the challenges of studying, interviewing, and writing about people who are different from one’s self in terms of location, economic level, educational level, race, gender, or other traits. (One interesting exercise would be to ask students to think about things that they would tell their friends, but not a complete stranger. Then ask them to think about a complete stranger coming up to them and asking them questions — you know you will never see this person again and they are leaving your area probably never to return. Would you feel more free to talk to that person than, say, your best friend or a parent? Why or why not? The idea here is to get students to see that there are things they would tell “insiders” that they would not tell an “outsider,” but there are also things they might feel free telling an “outsider” but not an “insider” because of fears that “inside” information would circulate through the “insider” group and get back to the wrong people.)
  11. Ask students to brainstorm:
    • How can researchers study and write about people from groups other than their own with respect?
    • What do they need to think about?
    • How can they make sure they get the person’s story straight and tell it to others honestly and with dignity?
    • What role might the subjects of the research have in that process?
  12. As a final project, students could interview someone they know about a historical event — perhaps one that is upcoming in their social studies curriculum — or, for an English Language Arts class, they could interview a family member about a favorite memory and turn that into a narrative story. Encourage students to write up their interview in two to three pages using at least ten direct quotations from the interviewee. They should decide whether to write up those quotations in dialect form, or in “proper” English. They should append a one-paragraph discussion to their paper explaining why they decided to write up the quotations in the way that they did — both what advantage they saw to doing it this way, and what they might possibly have lost by not taking the alternative route.
  13. In a concluding discussion, students could talk about how people from different regions of the country or even different parts of North Carolina speak differently, using examples of pronunciations, regional phrases, and rhythms of speech that they hear every day. Ask students how these distinctive patterns of speech influence the way people are perceived, and whether they think everyone in the country should speak in the same way, or whether this distinctiveness is important and interesting. Do accents or particular ways of speaking get treated badly on television or in the media? What assumptions do people make when they hear someone speak with an accent? How can we, as researchers and thoughtful human beings, avoid negative making incorrect assumptions about people based on the ways they speak?

Assessment

Assessment should take into account students’ work with their primary sources, their transcriptions, their own interviews, and their reflections on the ways in which dialect influences how people think about others.

Supplemental information

Comments

Teachers could expand this project by talking about dialect and the assumptions that researchers might make about people based on their speech as they approach primary sources on various topics throughout the year. This could also be a good pre-activity to help students get ready for a lesson plan or unit in which they conduct their own oral history interviews or work extensively with resources that include dialect.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Informational Text

        • Grade 8
          • 8.RIT.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
          • 8.RIT.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
        • Speaking & Listening

          • 8.SL.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. 8.SL.1.1 Come to discussions...

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.C.1 Understand how different cultures influenced North Carolina and the United States. 8.C.1.1 Explain how exploration and colonization influenced Africa, Europe and the Americas (e.g. Columbian exchange, slavery and the decline of the American Indian populations)....
        • 8.G.1 Understand the geographic factors that influenced North Carolina and the United States. 8.G.1.1 Explain how location and place have presented opportunities and challenges for the movement of people, goods, and ideas in North Carolina and the United States....

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 1: The learner will use language to express individual perspectives through analysis of personal, social, cultural, and historical issues.
    • Objective 1.01: Narrate a personal account which:
      • creates a coherent, organizing structure appropriate to purpose, audience, and context.
      • establishes a point of view and sharpens focus.
      • uses remembered feelings.
      • selects details that best illuminate the topic.
      • connects events to self/society.
    • Objective 1.03: Interact in group activities and/or seminars in which the student:
      • shares personal reactions to questions raised.
      • gives reasons and cites examples from text in support of expressed opinions.
      • clarifies, illustrates, or expands on a response when asked to do so, and asks classmates for similar expansion.
    • Objective 1.04: Reflect on learning experiences by:
      • evaluating how personal perspectives are influenced by society, cultural differences, and historical issues.
      • appraising changes in self throughout the learning process.
      • evaluating personal circumstances and background that shape interaction with text.
  • Goal 2: The learner will use and evaluate information from a variety of sources.
    • Objective 2.01: Analyze and evaluate informational materials that are read, heard, and/or viewed by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard and/or viewed.
      • recognizing the characteristics of informational materials.
      • summarizing information.
      • determining the importance of information.
      • making connections to related topics/information.
      • drawing inferences.
      • generating questions.
      • extending ideas.
  • Goal 4: The learner will continue to refine critical thinking skills and create criteria to evaluate print and non-print materials.
    • Objective 4.01: Analyze the purpose of the author or creator and the impact of that purpose by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • evaluating any bias, apparent or hidden messages, emotional factors, and/or propaganda techniques.
      • evaluating the underlying assumptions of the author/creator.
      • evaluate the effects of the author's craft on the reader/viewer/listener.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 3: The learner will identify key events and evaluate the impact of reform and expansion in North Carolina during the first half of the 19th century.
    • Objective 3.04: Describe the development of the institution of slavery in the State and nation, and assess its impact on the economic, social, and political conditions.
  • Goal 5: The learner will evaluate the impact of political, economic, social, and technological changes on life in North Carolina from 1870 to 1930.
    • Objective 5.01: Identify the role played by the agriculture, textile, tobacco, and furniture industries in North Carolina, and analyze their importance in the economic development of the state.
    • Objective 5.04: Identify technological advances, and evaluate their influence on the quality of life in North Carolina.
  • Goal 6: The learner will analyze the immediate and long-term effects of the Great Depression and World War II on North Carolina.
    • Objective 6.01: Identify the causes and effects of the Great Depression and analyze the impact of New Deal policies on Depression Era life in North Carolina.