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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor
Sample Assignments

Group Presentation of Native American Tales
Lois Leveen, April 26, 2001

Description of assignment:
At each class meeting, a group of 4 students would present a Native American tale to the class. Other students would not have read the tale, and the group presenting could offer the presentation any way they wished: some read the story, some acted it out, one group used puppets and another made a video. Once the tale was presented, the group led a brief class discussion about it.

Description of the course in which the assignment was used:
The course was a 60 student lecture for English majors at UCLA; it fulfilled a pre-1900 requirement and focused only on US fiction. Because the students did not have discussion sections for the course, this was the sole opportunity in which any given student would HAVE to speak about the texts in class. For many students, this was the only class presentation they ever gave in college.

Course coverage:
19th Century (Survey)

What pedagogical goals do you think this assignment achieves:
In trying to teach 'US Fiction to 1900' as a multicultural course, I had to bend the rules a bit, for example by including these tales, many of which are not 'fiction' in the strictest sense, or no more 'fiction' than the Bible. Throughout the term, I tried to invoke the Native American tales as a means of interrogate the cultural function and form of 'fiction' as it is traditionally defined. I have mixed feelings about this assignment. On the one hand, the oral presentation emphasizes that these tales were created to be performed rather than read. The regular inclusion of presentations meant that Native American literature was infused throughout the course, not just relegated to one or two or even five days of coverage. I was happy to have every student in the class present and to encourage group work. I didn't want students to have to present on the same material on which I lectured, because I didn't want them to feel like they had to anticipate what I would say or feel that I was there to correct their presentations. On the other hand, I have misgivings about treating Native American literature so differently from other literature in terms of the structure of the course. I included questions about the presentations on exams, to underscore that this material and the presentations of it were not less significant than the other texts on which I lectured, but I still had concerns about 'segregating' these texts by having the material covered in such a different way. Most students responded very positively to the presentations, both as presenters and as audience. Many of my Latino students identified with the Native American literature. One student complained about the tales, feeling that they made the Native American culture seem too 'weird'; if I use this assignment again, I would try to address that concern more directly in class discussions over the course of the term.

Assignment type:
Group Work

Relevant URLs:
None listed.

Interracial Encounters
Native American literature

Related authors and groups:
Native American Oral Narrative