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Voices From the Gaps
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Using the Voices From the Gaps Project in the Multicultural Literature Classroom

This document is designed to assist instructors at the high school and college levels in using VG/Voices from the Gaps as an assignment option in the classroom. In this scenario, students would, as a graded assignment, generate a body of biographical, bibliographical, translation, and archival information about a particular woman artist or writer of color, as well as visual and aural texts related to her life and works. This information would then be presented, credited to the student(s), on a page published on the VG site. It is our strong belief, sustained by experience, that students who are involved in this kind of real-world, collaborative project take a greater stake in their work. Contents:

  1. Objectives/Rationale
  2. Student Workgroups
  3. Stages in the Project
  4. Drafts/Revisions
  5. Submitting to VG
  6. Evaluating the curricular effectiveness of using Voices in your classroom

1. Objectives/Rationale

This assignment proceeds from two assumptions, both of which are necessarily present in the multicultural classroom. The first assumption is that identity--race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. --is a significant category of analysis in studying the works of any artist or writer. An understanding or appreciation of creative work is enriched by an understanding of the subject position of the artist. The second assumption is that the process by which an artist comes to voice is not transparent but rather is affected by many biographical, social, and historical factors. By focusing in depth on a single woman artist or writer of color, students are better able to appreciate the complexities of the process and product of art. While many instructors use VG as a required assignment, others choose to offer it as one option among many. If you choose the latter route, we recommend that you bear in mind the work required to research and write a page for VG when arranging other assignments.

2. Student Workgroups

a. Groups v. Individuals

The work required to generate a completed author page for the VG project is significant. Working in collaborative groups of 2-5 members may enable students to spread the work out. You may find that there are students who would rather work alone, regardless of the workload. If you choose to allow this option, you may guide these students toward artists who aren't as much work-- that is, artists who are neither so prolific nor so obscure that finding or gaining a command over their life and works is overwhelming.

b. Dividing up the Workload Within the Group

We have found it to be useful for the instructor to help guide the students as they divide up the workload. It is natural for students to want to work on aspects of the project in which they feel most competent; on the other hand, it may be more pedagogically useful for students to gain experience in those aspects of the project in which they have less expertise. So, for example, one student who is comfortable and familiar with the Web might wish to focus on the annotated links portion of the project. Another, who is at home with research and writing, may wish to work on the biography. You may find it worthwhile to guide students toward aspects of research and writing that will challenge them or to encourage them to work together and teach one another. You may also find it useful to assist students in determining an equitable distribution of tasks, where each is responsible for some content-oriented as well as some format- or technically-oriented work.

c. Holding Group Members Accountable

Very rarely do individuals working in collaborative workgroups end up doing the same amount of work. Occasionally, one group member will drop the ball entirely and the other members will have to work that much harder to complete the project. As the instructor, you will have clarified with your students at the beginning of the project their responsibility to their fellow group members, but students don't always behave in the ideal manner we expect from them. Hence, at the end of the project, you may wish to find a way to gauge how seriously each group member took her/his responsibility. One tool we have found useful is a feedback sheet required of every student at the end of the project. In a page or two, the student is asked to evaluate her/his and the other group members' contributions to the project. Students do not grade each other on this form; rather, they describe very specifically the exact work they and their fellow group members contributed to the completion of the project. By looking at the consistencies in a group's responses you should be able to determine fairly clearly who did what and, if necessary, to adjust the students' grades accordingly.

3. Stages in the Project

If you have not already done so, we recommend that you read the introduction to our project and that you view two or three artist pages that have already been completed. We also recommend that you require this of your students as they embark on the project. The following are a series of recommended steps toward completion of the research project.

a. Finding Research Sources

Depending on which artist a student or group chooses to focus on, information may be easier or harder to find. You may want to coordinate with your local reference librarian to determine the available resources for your students. We list below a number of resources we have found useful, along with their assigned Library of Congress call number, where applicable:

b. Writing the Biography

By the time a student or group of students has perused the various primary and secondary sources that they have located about their artist, they will have become, in effect, experts on that artist. This expertise should be reflected in the biography that they create. These biographies are quite short, usually from four to seven paragraphs in length, and require that the students distill from the information they've absorbed what they take to be the most significant aspects of the artist's life, particularly as that life relates to/is reflected in her works. We require that the biography touch on four aspects of the artist's life and works:

c. Compiling the Selected Bibliography

d. Finding and Annotating Links

The student(s) are required to search on the Web for links to pages which contain significant information about the artist (i.e. , that don't merely refer to the artist in passing). For artists for whom there are scads of websites, we recommend that the student pick the ten which seem to be the most significant and to provide the fullest information. There may also be artists for whom there are not yet any pages developed. We simply ask that the student indicate this is the case. For each page the student(s) find, they are required to write a 1-2 sentence annotation that will appear below the link, indicating to the user what s/he will find if s/he clicks on that link.

e. Miscellanea

We also request that students indicate other miscellaneous pieces of information, such as significant dates in an artist's professional life (dates of publication, awards, etc. ), the artist's place of birth, information on where we might find good pictures or bookcovers to scan onto the artist's page, a significant quotation from the artist's works, and more. Students should review '''How to Contribute an Artist Page'''.

4. Drafts/Revisions

We heartily recommend that you have your students hand in a draft of the completed assignment which you will comment on and they will then revise. We do this for two reasons: first, this process better enables students to generate a completed project that is of the quality required for publication on the VG website; second, and in our self-interest, the better the copy we receive from your students, the less editing we will have to do on our end.

5. Submitting to VG

Once your students have done what you consider to be an exemplary job on their artist projects, we invite them to submit their completed work to our site. At this time we require that students submit their work via email. Occasionally we receive submissions with significant gaps in information. Should this be the case we will contact you and/or your student and give them the option of further revision. Otherwise, when we are done editing the page and linking it to our site, we will contact you both.

6. Evaluating the curricular effectiveness of using Voices in your classroom

If you do choose to use the VG project in your classroom, we would be very grateful to hear about your experience. We would like to gather enough instructor feedback both to help us to improve our support to you and to analyze the value of this project in the classroom. We would also appreciate it if you could send us any handouts you generated for the assignment. We would also welcome any feedback from your students on how useful they found the project.