Unit VIII The Worlds
of Work and Play
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
Students are introduced to the concept of occupational folklife and learn about occupations in their community and the state. They collect examples of occupational folklife such as special terms, equipment, or gestures, as well as stories, jokes, and customs. They differentiate between the skills learned in a setting such as school or formal job training and skills learned traditionally on the job, through word of mouth and observation.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students learn to read clues about occupational folklife through observation, interviews, and fieldwork research. They research types of occupations in their communities and other regions of the state.
2. Students collect and define special language, gestures, equipment, and clothing of occupations.
3. Students compare traditionally made goods with commercially made goods and differentiate between work skills learned in formal settings, such as school or job training, and knowledge gained traditionally on the job by observation and imitation.
4. Students improve their fieldwork research skills, such as interviewing, designing surveys, observing and documenting activities, listening, mapping, and planning a final presentation.
5. Students augment their occupational folklife research with work songs and use artwork by Louisiana self-taught painters to learn how to infer and analyze visual information.
2-5 class periods
American Memory, Library of Congress
Child Labor in America Lesson, American Memory, Library of Congress
Documenting Maritime Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip, American Memory, Library of Congress
Pedagogy of Place, Montana Heritage Project
Photograph of Isleño Muskrat Trapper, American Memory, Library of Congress
Borders and Identity Occupational Folklife Lesson, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Tool Chests: Symbol and Servant, National Museum of American History
Background Information for the Teacher
Michael Umphrey, director of the Montana Heritage Project, writes in the essay Pedagogy of Place, "Though occupational culture is only one facet of community, it is a point of entry into a living community, which is where we need to go to provide a living education, to satisfy our students' hunger for the real." Montana teachers in that project have learned how expansively students can apply the skills and life lessons they learn while studying occupational folklife. Think first about your own profession, how much you've learned over time on the job from colleagues and students. How is your classroom arranged and decorated? Compare it with the teachers' lounge. How would an outsider know this is a teacher's space? What was your worst teaching experience? Your best? Do you know any jokes about teachers or principals?
Concepts about utility, aesthetics, and indigenous teachers explored in Unit VII Lesson 2 relate to the world of work. Consider combining activities from both of these lessons. Think of a story to tell students about something you've learned on the job. Give some thought to the kinds of occupations that may be special to your community, such as shrimping on the Gulf Coast, cropdusting in the Delta, cutting timber in the Piney Woods, or driving a streetcar in New Orleans. Consider how signage, use of space, landscape, and soundscape are indicators of occupations. Look in the Yellow Pages for types of jobs. Identify someone with an interesting job who would be willing to visit your classroom. Eighth graders can undertake fieldwork on job sites, so contact some employers or workers who would be willing to let students observe and interview. Students will identify others. Print out any webpages that you plan to use and prepare a letter to go home with students explaining the unit (see Letter to Parents and Caregivers in Unit II). Review some of the Louisiana Folklife Articles on occupations listed in Technology Connections above. If using Venn diagrams, Venn Diagrams shows how to use them for comparisons.
4th Grade Activities
1. Send a letter home with students letting parents and caregivers know that they will be studying work and occupations--and adult play and recreation if you are using this whole unit (see Letter to Parents and Caregivers).
2. Begin a discussion about occupational folklife by telling students a story or two about things you've learned on the job, tricks that make your job easier. Ask them to look around and find clues in your workspace, the classroom, that would tell an outsider what your job is. How are seats arranged, bulletin boards decorated, spaces set apart for activities or research? What hangs on the walls or is written on the board? What stays the same all year? What changes?
3. Ask students to QuickWrite. This kind of writing lets students use the act of writing itself to discover what they already know. (This activity is a variation from Using Whole Language Strategies, see Unit VIII Resources.) Writing clarifies thinking. It surfaces internal discoveries to provide insight into their own thinking. This activity works only if students write without planning and without looking back. Make sure they have pens or pencils and paper ready. Ask them to choose an occupation they know something about, for example, the job of a family member or neighbor, and think about the things that are done in that job and the clues that are in the workspace that tell about the occupation, especially the use of space, landscape, sounds, signage. Then give them these instructions:
4. As homework, students should interview family members or neighbors about their workspaces, using insights gained from the QuickWrite and questions that surfaced in the group discussions afterward. Students might draw a map of the space described. If they have omitted important questions, take time to add to the list. For instance, they will want to ask:
See Unit II for more guidance on fieldwork.
5. Next class, share results of workspace interviews in groups or as a class, discussing similarities and differences. List findings on the board or ask students to print out or draw Venn diagrams. List the kinds of jobs students heard about. Add jobs that they know exist in your community. Discuss whether any are specific to Louisiana or your region of the state. Or, consider jobs associated with men or women. Today women work construction and men are nurses. What jobs do students associate with gender? Can they identify exceptions to these conventional roles? Make a master job list with two columns, one for generic jobs such as teacher, doctor, or musician; another for regionally specific jobs such as zydeco musician, cotton farmer, or oilfield worker.
6. Every job happens within a space, and every job has special terms, equipment, customs, and gestures. Ask students to choose an occupation and research one or all these occupational folklife genres through the library and Internet as well as fieldwork and interviews. Or, invite one or more workers to class. School custodians, secretaries, and kitchen staff are frequently good interviewees whose knowledge of school culture and sense of service to the school are often overlooked. Plan with students how to collect occupational folklife from their interviewees. Use the Occupational Folklife Worksheet as a starting point to brainstorm appropriate questions. What else do they want to know about a job? (See 8th Grade Activities and Occupational Fieldwork Survey for more detailed fieldwork ideas.)
7. Ask students to create an Occupational Glossary Worksheet incorporating what they have learned about the occupations they studied.
8. Find traditionally made occupational crafts such as traps, nets, decoys, boats, and houses in the online Creole State Exhibit and Louisiana Folklife Photo Gallery. Compare these crafts and tools with some commercially made equipment or tools and list differences and similarities. Try to find handmade tools or crafts to bring to the classroom for students to handle.
9. Self-taught artists such as Clementine Hunter and Sarah Albritton of Louisiana often depict work scenes that provide many visual clues about occupational folklife if students are taught how to infer and analyze the information in artwork. To help students develop these skills, follow the directions below. Then have them use the I Spy Worksheet as a vehicle for practicing them.
10. Use the pictures to inspire students to draw or paint a picture of people at work in your community. (See Albritton and Lawrence books and a folk art lesson by Patricia Moore in Unit VIII Resources.) Before creating their own artwork, students may study Jacob Lawrence's paintings in The Great Migration, which tells the story of African Americans leaving the South to find work in the big cities of the North.
4th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. How would you know that a folklorist was at work? Look at the photos of Louisiana folklorists Susan Roach and Nick Spitzer doing fieldwork and read the Sample Fieldnotes by Maida Owens for clues. How many other clues can you list? Draw a picture of yourself as a folklore fieldworker.
2. What can you learn about occupational folklife from reading children's literature, looking at picture books, or viewing artwork that features occupations and people at work? Can you identify insider terms, special equipment, or gestures?
3. Use the student activities for the song "John Henry" on the Local Learning Network's Folk Artist Residency with National Heritage Fellow John Cephas. The work ethic and theme of human versus machine keep this song and story relevant today. (See 8th Grade Explorations and Extensions below for a worksong activity.)
4. Vendors' cries, auctioneers' verbal virtuosity, and carnival barkers' enticements are examples of oral occupational culture to look for in children's literature, recordings, and artwork as well as in the community. For example, New Orleans street car drivers alert passengers to each stop. Sanitation workers often call out to the truck driver when it's time to move forward or compact the trash. Try to think of examples of oral occupational culture and to interview family members and other adults in the community to see if they remember any. Compose a song including the examples you identify. (See Words and Music Teachers Guide in B>Unit VIII Resources.)
5. Use the Job Education Worksheet in an interview with a worker to record what the interviewee learned in a formal school or job training setting versus what was learned on the job in a traditional context by observation or word of mouth.
6. Interview a fine artist or your school's visual arts specialist about how they learned their art forms. If you've also interviewed or talked with a traditional craftsperson or self-taught artist, print out or draw a Venn diagram to compare the learning experiences. Talk with them to see who they teach. What is the occupational life of an artist, art teacher, or craftsperson like? Fine artists and traditional craftspeople often have day jobs, for example.
Background Information for the 8th Grade Teacher
Eighth graders can tackle a more sophisticated occupational folklife collection than 4th graders. They will also be able to interpret more. For example, they can analyze how occupational terms and stories reflect a cultural insider's views, values, and behavior. They can understand how humor eases the tension of dangerous or high-stress jobs. And they can look at the larger context of a job such as time, season, folk group, place, gender and age, economic class, lines of authority, or spatial relations. For a focus on careers in music, see Unit VI Lesson 5 Music Is Business.
8th Grade Activities
1. Follow Steps 1 and 2 of the 4th Grade Activities to introduce the concept of occupational folklife and let parents and other caregivers know about the lesson.
2. Brainstorm jobs and occupations in your community and ask students, working individually or in teams, to choose an occupation for a folklife collection project. If they bog down, bring in the Yellow Pages and look for interesting headings or log onto the Creole State Exhibit and Louisiana Folklife Photo Gallery and look for traditional occupations that intrigue them. They should choose an occupational folklife article to read from Louisiana Folklife Articles list in Technology Connections above or choose excerpts to print out for them. If these are written above your students' reading ability, refer to Adaptation Strategies for ways to adapt and modify them to levels that students can understand. In developing a research and fieldwork plan for occupations on which they choose to focus, students should consider a wider array of genres and issues than 4th graders, such as the following list below, also included on the Occupational Fieldwork Survey, which students can tailor to fit their survey needs and interests.
3. Help students plan their fieldwork (see Unit II) and discuss what they might like to do with results. Their ideas may change as fieldwork progresses. Access, print, and duplicate the Occupational Fieldwork Checklist and review it with students. This sheet provides reminders of the important steps in fieldwork, as well as a means for them to assess their own and their peers' work. They will need to do the following:
4. Before discussing end products, print and duplicate copies of the Occupational Fieldwork Research Rubric and review the Task and the Performance Indicators with students. Explain that this document provides a clear description of what is expected of them in the preparation of their end product. If you plan to use it for grading purposes, tell them so. End products could include individual portfolios or presentations, a class video or radio program, a classroom visit or residency by a worker or craftsperson, essays, a community occupation map, a reader's theater with a dialogue between workers, even a school work and occupational folklife fair. Collaborate with students to determine what will work best for your class. Use images from the Occupational Crafts section of the Creole State Exhibit and the Louisiana Folklife Photo Gallery. Students may download songs from the John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip to accompany their presentations.
5. As students prepare their presentations, schedule regular check-up days for them to review the Occupational Fieldwork Checklist and the Occupational Fieldwork Research Rubric and adjust their projects and end products if needed. At the end of the project, use the rubric as a summative assessment.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Use the American Memory collections of photos, oral histories, public documents, and music at the Library of Congress to research occupational history and folklife. An American Memory lesson exemplifies ways to use these collections: Child Labor in America. The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip features work songs as well as songs about work--and lack of work. Studs Terkel's book, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression also relays stories about lack of work during the Great Depression (see Unit VIII Resources).
2. Work songs remain traditional in only a few occupations today, but a folklorist recently heard a house-moving crew in Evangeline Parish use the rhythm of a song to time workers' efforts. Older African American work songs such as field calls were recorded in Louisiana by early folklorists such as John Lomax. In 1980, folklorists recorded Clifford Blake of Natchitoches "calling the cotton press," a job he held from 1927 to 1967 at a factory where cotton lint was packed into concrete-like blocks on a large, dangerous press. Mr. Blake's calls guided and protected the workers. Find a photograph of cotton press caller John Warner of Rayville and background information in "Willing to Take a Risk": Working in the Delta. As in the older African American menhaden fishing chanties of the East Coast or railroad track lining "gandy dancing" found around the country, Mr. Blake sang out a line and workers would respond. The lead singer's talent improved production, so managers gave them certain leeway. Songs might be playful or sacred; others might mask criticism. One song sequence that Mr. Blake recalled refers to an African American folk hero named Shine who figures in many toasts and tales. You might practice, then recite this chant to the class. Next, read the lead, Mr. Blake's part, and the class could respond as a chorus with his co-worker's part. This is how the worksong would have sounded when a crew was running the cotton press.
In other parts of the nation work songs are also part of coal mining traditions, commercial fishing, and labor organizing. See Unit VIII Resources for recordings of work songs, including Mr. Blake's. Hear Mr. Blake talk in 1980 about calling the cotton press.
3. Examine the bilingual Borders and Identity Occupational Folklife Lesson, by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage on occupational folklife among tourism workers and traditional artists on the U.S.-Mexico border.
4. Use computer software to publish a booklet of jokes and humorous stories that students collect. Many professions have joke cycles and humorous ways of relieving tedium and expressing community, such as posting cartoons in public spaces like the break room. Include examples such as these as well. You might interview people to learn why they think these jokes are told or why workers find certain cartoons appropriate. And you might also include pranks, practical jokes, and job initiation rites in your collections.
5. Read literature such as Studs Terkel's Working (see Unit VIII Resources) or any of the Louisiana Folklife Articles listed in Technology Connections above concerning cropdusting, oilfield lore, river traditions, shrimping, and ranching. Report back on your findings and work with peers to evaluate your research. Give a short oral summary or demonstration of occupational gestures or language.
6. Investigate how women's work in Louisiana has changed over time through library and Internet research and through interviewing women in your community. Alternatively, interview women who have worked in what are considered men's jobs, such as picking cotton, cooking on oil rigs, making instruments, or owning businesses.