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Project Proposal - Dakota Attitude

My father-in-law was born and raised in North Dakota, a fact that he is incredibly proud of even though, to a West Coaster like me, that sounds like a death sentence rather than a point of pride. Especially when you consider how flat the state is and how the biting winter winds are, it kind of boggles the mind that anyone is tough enough to survive there. But then again, he is as tough as they come, so maybe there is something to those biting winds...

One of the books that he owns is entitled, "Dakota Attitude", a volume of well over 500 pages that was clearly published by a small, regional publishing house and has won honors from a book society that you'd probably be hard pressed to find evidence of anywhere outside of the Dakotas. The book, which I keep finding myself picking up and thumbing through, is actually an incredible literary project consisting of one man’s effort to document stories from every single town in North Dakota, of which there are over 400. Over the course of nearly 10 years, the book's author traveled across the state, meeting with people and interviewing them. The stories run the gambit and include everything from pictorials of everyday rural life to epic retellings from Dakota-born World War II veterans that could easily be given to a Hollywood studio and made into a summer blockbuster.

It occurred to me while reading through this massive work that this project would be an amazing project for students or their teachers to undertake for many different reasons;

  • It is the kind of project that once developed, could be repeated over and over again for many years, making it an "Evergreen Project" or one that can be reused and contributed to multiple times without revision.

  • There is also an infinite amount of voice and choice available to honor student lived experience since students could literally pick any town on a map or lift up any kind of human interest story that they themselves are passionate about retelling.

  • The project connects to over three dozen ELA standards with potential for including history and science as well. It could easily be retooled to serve a large swath of grade levels and contexts.

  • It fits into many different formats, easily being revised for multimedia video, podcasts, or National History Day- like events.

Seriously, the mind boggles.

And more to the point of our blog, it could be reworked to focus on public land. The project could focus on the perspectives of community's surrounding a national park and people could discuss their feelings and perspectives about growing up next to a world renowned park. The project might focus on lifting up and re-telling stories of the communities or people that have interacted with the land or lived on it prior to it being inherited by the state. Basically any collection of stories around a specific place or theme would fit well into this formula, such as the Mesa Verde Voices podcast.

So how might this project be structured? If I was to facilitate it in an ELA classroom, this is more or less the flow that I would follow;

1.Project Trailhead - Folkloric Survey.

Get a collection of stories about local people or local history from your community and have students read them. You can have a discussion afterwards or ask students to find examples of their own local stories that they think describe about what life is like in their community. It wouldn’t be hard to do this, requiring little more than a simple call to a local historical society to get you everything you might need. You could also choose a location students know about or are interested in and have them read stories on their own.

2.Brainstorming Proposals -

Students should then think about what kind of story they are going to lift up for the literary collection that you are producing. If you’re going the Dakota Attitude route, they need to pick a place and find a story that they can tell about that place. This is also a fantastic time to integrate lessons on discreet skills such as reading comprehension or informational writing.

3. Interviews and Drafting

Students need to find sources for their story, with an emphasis on interviewing for information. You could definitely accomplish this with newspaper clippings or books, but there is a lot of value in talking to a person who is connected to the story and the place. Students should conduct their interviews and use those to put together their first draft.

4.Writers Workshop and Revision

Just like any other piece of writing, revision and workshopping will play heavily into it. Students need to revise their work to strengthen it with the help of peer feedback and teacher feedback. This is another great opportunity to embed lessons about literacy for the development of skills and addressing content standards.

5. Production

With the written portion refined and perfected, students can publish their final piece. Formatting it for the web, for self publishing through Amazon Books, or some other multimedia format would all be acceptable.

Evergreen projects like this one are incredibly valuable because of the time they save, and because of the flexibility they offer. Check back at this website in the future as we may be starting regional projects like this in an area near you.


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