nstructions: The object of this assignment for you is to work on your total communication skills set (verbal and non-verbal) by talking to family members, accumulating the information requested, and writing a paper on the communication process you experienced (as discussed in detail below). It would be best if your interviews could be conducted face to face. Your paper should deal with and discuss (as honestly as possible) the following items:
The specifics of the positives and negatives of the communication processes you undertook
What you’ve learned about your individual communications ability in terms of listening and speaking skills, body language used, verbal and non-verbal communications along with feedback given by both interviewer/interviewee (and any improvements you noticed)
What you learned from the overall experience. The purpose of this assignment is NOT to explain your family history to me but rather to give me a clear understanding of how you put into practice all the communication elements and procedures you learned about in class and read about in the textbook.
Your paper will be graded on the processes and observations of communication skills (yours and your interviewees) which you followed (see above 1-3) although you can certainly make note of the content of some family history and stories (keep it minimal) if you feel it would help explain or give the paper more dimension. The more involved and retrospective the paper is regarding your communication process, the better I will be able to judge what you’ve learned. The paper should be a minimum of ten (10) pages long, double-spaced and stapled or neatly-bound. There is no maximum length. The paper will be due in hard-copy-form ONLY by the start of our last scheduled class prior to Final Exams.
Assignment: I’d like you to speak to the most senior members of your family (usually a grandparent but it can be anyone who would be considered an elder in the family). You can talk with up to three individuals. Feel free to have multiple meetings as necessary. Ask your family member to give a retelling of the family history as they know it. Listen to the stories as if you were a stranger instead of family and try to gently jog their memory by asking questions to clarify what happened (try for as many details as possible). For example: what do they remember about growing up, living conditions, friends and family, family stories they remember being handed down from their grandparents, etc.? Topical areas might include asking them to remember times of hardship, times of fun, their education, employment, other family members, dating, living conditions, money issues, war/politics/religion, anything that will jog their memory and take them back so that you can learn about their lives and the lives of your ancestors.
Listen and ask questions. For example, say your great-great-grandparents migrated from the south and settled in Vermont. Why did they leave and why did they end up where they did? What does your interviewee wish they knew about their ancestors that they were never told? What have you learned through this dialogue that you didn’t expect to find out?
As for the process, which is really what your paper is supposed to about, I want you to pay attention to and write about the verbal and non-verbal communication skills of all the participants (including yourself). This includes but is not limited to body language, appearance, comfort levels, eye contact, and listening and reaction skills. What successes or failures did you have in this process? How hard was it to get the individual to talk freely? It might be important to also explain to me your relationship to the individual you are interviewing. Perhaps there is a factor which might make them uncomfortable discussing this topic with you. Does it (or did it) impede your ability to perform the interviews or get the information? As you go through this interview process, you may find yourself wanting to discover the answers to the “lost mysteries” of your family. If you find you need to ask other members of your family to fill in gaps, you may do so. However, do not interview more than three people for this assignment.
Be objective and honest about the process of communication in its entirety. Did you find that your outward appearance (clothing, jewelry, mannerisms) helped the interviewee or yourself to feel more relaxed and at ease? Was time a factor and, if so, in what way? How did location, noise, outside interference, time of day, etc. help or hinder the interview process? Could you identify any “filters” or “feedback” moments which were particularly frustrating, annoying, or required patience in order for the message or content to be sent or understood clearly? Identify and explain the positives and negatives you came across in terms of the communication process as you pulled together the material for the paper.
You also have the option of being creative with this: recording and editing the interviews (this will allow me to hear your skills at interviewing), contacting distant governments for information, or perhaps videotaping the interview and writing about the documentary process as well. If you are doing multiple interviews over the course of time, I strongly recommend keeping a journal and making entries into it as quickly as possible so you don’t forget any of the information. This will help you as you compose your finished paper.