In the Classroom: A Sequence of Writing Projects

Derrick Bell

Derrick Bell

Patricia Williams

Patricia Williams

The materials here are from a first-year writing class that uses a set of sequenced writing assignments to explore the notion of community cultural wealth and counter-storytelling, both of which are constructs borrowed from Critical Race Theory.  Students read a range of narratives in the class that we examine as counter-storytelling rather than as storytelling.  We use scholars such as Derrick Bell and Patricia Williams as a frame for understanding counter-storytelling as theory.  From there we read many other authors who interrogate issues of race, dominance, and power as counter-storytellers and we also look closely at Tara Yosso’s work about community cultural wealth.

The sequence of assignments below represents how the semester unfolds.

Part I of the Sequence: This is an essay where two students who feel they share a cultural capital collaborate to examine that capital in the texts of four other writers/performers.  For an example, see the following essay: Reynolds, Ericka (first-year undergraduate student) and Carmen Kynard.   “We Write a Timeless Message Across the Sky”: Tracing Congregational Cultural Capital From Stolen Word to Spoken Word.” Enculturation (spring 2011).

Tara Yosso

Tara Yosso

Part II of the Sequence: This is an essay where students take on counter-storyelling in individual essays based on their own lives.  Students are given five choices for a narrative about “cultural capital” that Tara Yosso has outlined. For many years, majority scholars have written about the kinds of “social” and “cultural” “capital” that white, wealthy, suburban, Christian, heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon, English monolingual students have and argue that these forms of “capital” should be taught to groups who fall outside of the aforementioned categories in order for them to succeed.  Critical Race Theory scholars in education have come back by saying, nope, it ain’t so: “non-dominant groups” have their own “capital” and THAT should be the basis of how children are also taught, understood, and heard.  We take on that idea with this project.  Please Click Here for a sample of the Cultural Capital Narrative Project.

Part III of the Sequence: This is a multimedia project that is similar to Part II but pushes students to define new terms for cultural capital and to do so via visuals, sound, and words.

Part IV of the Sequence: We have read many texts now in the course and have written many texts ourselves.  Students are asked here to go back to Tara Yosso’s essay, “Who’s Culture Has Capital: A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth,” the key text that the course is built around, and reflect on what they think now and why.  They will, at this point, need to decide for themselves the direction this reflection should take but it will need to incorporate multiple perspectives.  It will be made public for everyone in the class.

Part V of the Sequence: This is the final research project of the semester that incorporates an ethnographic component.Please Click Here for the Final Research Project.

Sankofa Symbol

Sankofa Symbol

The course ends with a final portfolio.  The subtext for writing as a practice and process in my courses is always Sankofa.  For the portfolio, I remind students about the meaning of Sankofa. Visually and symbolically, Sankofa is represented as the mythic bird that flies forward but is constantly looking backward with an egg in her mouth, where the egg symbolizes the future. In the Akan language, the concept is expressed as: “se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki,” which translates to “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.”  Sankofa means that you need to reach back into what and who you “usedta be,” take the best of what your past has to teach you, and use all that to achieve your full potential in the future. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or have been stripped of, we can reclaim, revive, preserve, and (re)present.  So in the portfolio, I want students to think about: what is it like to look back on yourself, your writing, and your work and why?  How would you describe yourself as a writer this semester and why?  How and why are all of the writing projects in the portfolio related/connected?  What’s the story of your learning, reading, and writing?  What is the cultural, counter-narrative that your writing does and tells? What is YOUR SANKOFA?