*This blog was written as part of "The Pedagogy Project" by HASTAC scholars.
My all-time favorite writing project to assign in composition courses is what I call a personal ethnography. (My anthropology friends, however, tell me it’s really more of an autoethnography.) I like assigning it for two reasons:
1) Students dig it
2) I never tire of reading what students produce
I assign the personal ethnography in first- and second-year writing classes. The thrust of the assignment is this: Students are responsible for investigating what writing looks like in their major (or in a major/field that intrigues them), for conducting primary research into their field via a professional interview and field observations, and for synthesizing and reflecting on these experiences. While I give students lots of guidance and examples to go on, (it can admittedly be an awkward essay for students to compose, especially in the beginning), I'm all about getting out of students' way so they can use the writing process to craft their essays in a way that's genuine to them. I also encourage students to compose their ethnographies using media and modes that are applicable to their project goals.
The greatest strength of this assignment is that students are intrinsically motivated to work on it. They care about their subject matter (themselves/their majors), they enjoy forming personal connections with like-minded peers and professionals, and they see its relevance to their lives and college careers. Moreover, this project exposes students to primary research methods and reflective writing practices, while also cultivating a deeper understanding of the writing process.
If you’re interested in learning more about this assignment, check out the assignment handout
(Feel free to borrow and adapt this assignment. Also, if you have suggestions on how to improve the assignment, or have done something similar in your classrooms, please let me know.)