A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

The Multicultural Heroes Project

The Multicultural Heroes project is a long-term, multidisciplinary, technology-supported project in which bilingual fifth-grade students at Frank Paul Elementary School in Salinas, California, are developing and producing a set of materials (videotapes and written texts) focusing on minority leaders-"Multicultural Heroes," both locally and at the state and national level.

Students with teacher viewing videotape
of the interview process at Frank Paul

The first stage of the project was to learn about the interview process. Students conducted a library search and engaged in critical reading of interviews of famous people, analyzing the components of the interviews and noting general areas that they would want to be sure to include in their interviews (e.g, family background, major influences, obstacles faced). They drew upon the Oral History Society of Monterey County as a resource, studying their guidelines and adapting them to suit the needs of the project. They examined the difference between open versus closed-ended questions and explored methods for getting subjects to provide more detailed information with appropriate follow up questions. A group of students developed an interview outline, which individual and pairs of students used to generate specific sets of questions.

One key theme that emerged through this process was a series of questions focusing on the issue of discrimination and how individuals have dealt with this obstacle within their own lives. Once the interview questions were developed, specific techniques for conducting interviews were practiced (e.g., maintaining eye contact, how to hold the mic) in small groups, with students and teacher providing encouragement, feedback, and suggestions.

Students conduct their interviews in teams of three, with one student serving as interviewer, another as camera operator and a third as recorder. Each team reviews and critiques their videotaped interview, engaging in discussions about ways to improve their techniques and additional questions that should have been asked. Sitting at the computer together, the team of students transcribes and summarizes their interviews, using both the videotape and the recorder's notes. While entering the text onto the computer for later editing and formatting, the individual students within the team focus on different aspects of the task (e.g., typing, spelling, remembering and repeating what was said on the videotape).

Teacher, Cliff Gilkey guiding
students interviewing each other

As we observed the class, students were engaged in a range of small-group activities, focusing on various aspects of the project--creating a large mural featuring famous minority leaders, telephoning local leaders to schedule interviews, transcribing videotapes, and practicing interviewing skills. Teacher Cliff Gilkey moved from group to group, checking on progress, monitoring students' practice, and giving them questions to explore. With a group at the videomonitor, Gilkey helped the students look for ways to improve their interviewing technique. "What could you have asked when she mentioned that she had dropped out of school? What will the listener want to know?" Moving on to another group, Gilkey sat on the floor as students practiced opening an interview with a pretend "mike" and camera. Simply introducing themselves and asking their initial questions is something that brought on waves of self consciousness in these fifth graders. Gilkey had them work on eye contact and discuss the need for being able to ask one's initial questions without looking down at the prompt sheet. Coaching, as practiced by Cliff Gilkey, does not mean fading into the background. He provides the structure that challenges his students and actively supports their performances and reflections.

Muticultural Heroes' mural

The Multicultural Heroes project brings several areas of the curriculum together: social studies (e.g., researching past and present minority leaders, learning about community resources and cultural organizations, studying the impact of discrimination and learning how individuals dealt with its effects within their own lives), writing (e.g., writing and editing interviews, letters, and narrative texts with a clear sense of purpose and a strong eye towards audience), reading (e.g., critical reading of previous literature on minority leaders, critical reading of their own writing), graphic arts (e.g., designing and creating a mural which will serve as a backdrop during in-classroom interviews, engaging in the graphic design aspects of desktop publishing), oral language skills (e.g., developing phone skills, interview skills, oral persuasion and negotiation skills, drawing from other resources, such as the Oral History Society of Monterey County, to study previous approaches) and math (e.g, budgeting and managing the cost of producing, marketing and distributing the tapes).

Technology plays a supportive role within the Multicultural Heroes project. Telephones, computers, video equipment, scanners, and laser disc players are used as tools to accomplish a range of specific tasks within the context of the broader project. While the technology is not a central focus in and of itself, many aspects of this project would not have been possible without its use (e.g., conducting telephone interviews, videotape production, creating written products of professional quality).