Summer Project: Assignment Reboot

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This past semester a kind of remote-learning fatigue seemed to set in amongst my students. Coupled with my own remote-teaching fatigue, final projects were less ambitious than in previous years and took me much longer to grade. I’ve decided that summer is a good time for a reboot of the semester-long research project to re-energize my instruction and help students to focus on the quality of each individual part of their research project. 


I’m teaching a six-week intensive Black History course this summer and instead of assigning the research project at the start and then waiting to see the results at the end of the session, I’m breaking the assignment into four parts that will be submitted separately. The goal of the project is for students to research an aspect of Black History that we will not cover in detail as a class but relates directly to the larger themes and content. Together the four parts will comprise a research project, but students will be graded on each individual section as it is completed rather than on one document at the course’s end. 


Here is my work-in-progress plan for what will be submitted in each part of the project during the six-week course:


Part One (due Week Two)

  • Topic with thesis statement and defined parameters.
    • Example: a study of the life/work of Martin Luther King, Jr., would be too broad for this project but a study of the significance of MLK’s work in Montgomery in 1955 or Birmingham in 1963 would work well.
  • Draft Works Cited: three secondary sources in MLA format.
    • Sources will be articles retrieved from College Library’s databases; students will receive support from a reference librarian.


Part Two (due Week Three)

  • In 2-3 detailed paragraphs, explain the who/what/where/when/how of the topic.
  • Use in-text citations (MLA format) to identify sources used.


Part Three (due Week Four)

  • Three annotated primary sources providing examples to support information presented in Part Two and illustrate key aspects of the topic. 
    • Examples: images of subject/events, newspaper/magazine articles from period, segments of speeches/letters/writings from period. Each source should have a 1-2 sentence annotation to explain its relevance to the topic.
    • Primary sources may come from academic databases or from the general web. 
    • Sources must be cited in MLA format.


Part Four (due Week Five)

  • Two paragraph conclusion that addresses historical significance
    • Where does the topic fit within the wider framework of our course?
    • What was the long-term impact of the topic on the history of the era we are studying?
  • Final version of Works Cited page


It is my hope that by deconstructing this research assignment my students will experience the value of producing quality components that together create a well thought-out project. I would love to hear from anyone who has tried this kind of piece-by-piece assignment and whether they were satisfied with the results. Any pitfalls I need to be prepared for?  Suggestions welcome! 

About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.