While at the Museums, students were instructed to take detailed notes about the visual materials, including any information available on the "lobby cards" (information typically provided by the Museum on a small plaque next to the object). They then were expected to discuss their ideas with their partner(s), focusing on what the materials seemed to have in common. A typical set of primary sources for a group of 2 or 3 students might include: Rachel Weeping
, a painting by Charles Willson Peale; On the Essential Equality of the Sexes
, an essay by Charles Brockden Brown; and Life is a Toil
, a traditional American folksong. From this, each student was expected to design a specific "guiding question" and, after collaborating with peer partners, develop that question into a well-organized thesis and essay. "And they did a great job!" says Char Weigel. "Their analysis of the art was a huge piece of the paper, along with the sources they had to draw upon and integrate."
The assignment requires preparation—not only with research and writing skills, but with the skills needed to design and develop a thesis. And although their essays are developed individually, the peer conversations are vital to the project. "They take the skills they have developed in class through discussion and our seminar format, and put them to use in their writing," notes Michael. "They work with a partner, but they are on their own to use the tools that we have been teaching." Char agrees: "[They must] get the best out of working in a group, coming up with a creative individual thesis, and then really prove it through their analysis."
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