Documenting your visits

Neighboring Faith Communities Resources
Material to supplement a curriculum for grades 6-8
by Dan Harper, v. 0.5
Copyright (c) 2012-2019 Dan Harper
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A. How to document your visits
B. Documentation as group and individual assessment

You may find it is enough simply to go on field trips. But to deepen the experience further, for both teens and teachers, you can document your field trips. Documentation of your field trips might include photographs, artifacts such as orders of service, narrative accounts, etc. This chapter will get you started in documenting your visits.

The ideas for documentation in this chapter are based on the work of Robert Coles, in his book Doing Documentary Work (New York and Oxford: New York Public Library and Oxford University Press, 1986).



A. How to document your visits

To document your visits, you assemble a variety of materials that record what you observed and experienced. When doing documentary work:
— You should be as accurate as possible
— You should be sympathetic to your subject matter
— You can also express your own thoughts and feelings (while maintaining accuracy and sympathy)
— You should be sensitive to ethical issues

Here are some documentary techniques that you might want to try:

1. Photographing buildings: With your cell phone, take a photo of the exterior of the building of every faith community. Since some faith communities have concerns about security, take your photo from a street or sidewalk (a public right-of-way). If there are people in your photograph, it’s best to try to make sure their features are not recognizable. Print out the photographs.

2. Other photographs: If you would like to take photographs inside the building, be sure to ask your contact from the faith community for explicit permission. We strongly suggest you do NOT take photos during the service, since you will want to concentrate on the experience itself, not taking photos. But you might want to take photos after the service, such as photos of works of art, ritual implements, the interior of the building, etc. Again, be sure you have explicit permission to take these photos. Alternatively, you may find good photos on the Web site or social media site of the faith community which you could download (or make a screenshot of) and print.

As an alternative to taking your own photos, you can also search the faith community’s Web site or social media site for photos or videos.

3. Artifacts from the service: If there is an order of service, that’s a great way to document what happened in the service, so hang on to it when the service is over. Many faith communities have literature racks, where you might find the community’s newsletter, pamphlets about their religious tradition, a pamphlet about the building or art in the building, etc.

4. Narrative accounts: If there are people in your group who like to write, ask them to write a short paragraph describing what they saw, heard, and felt during the service.

5. Email interview with your contact at the faith community: After your visit, conduct an email interview with your contact at the faith community. Ask them to answer these three standard questions, taken from Project Interfaith (a nonprofit that is unfortunately no longer in existence), then print out the replies:
(1) What is your religious or spiritual identity? [i.e., Hindu, born-again Christian, UU, etc.]
(2) What is a stereotype that impacts you based on your religious or spiritual identity?
(3) How welcoming do you find our community [i.e., the city or town in which you live] to be?

Once you have collected some documentary materials from your visit, assemble the materials in a folder. We strongly suggest that you assemble physical objects — printed photos, printed text, etc. — as this will avoid the possibility that a faith community will feel you have invaded their privacy by posting materials on the Web.

Be sure to include an introductory page for each folder, giving the date of the visit, the location of the faith community, and the names of those who participated on the field trip (both adults and teens).

Then every so often — at the end of each term, at the end of the school year — you can look through the folders and review each visit you have made.



B. Documentation as group and individual assessment

Documentation can serve as a way to assess the learning of the group, and the learning of individuals.

Assembling documentation is similar to creating a portfolio, a familiar form of assessment. In this case, each folder serves as a way to assess the learning that happened for the group that went on each field trip.

Reviewing the folders is an important part of the assessment. When you review the folders, you can ask the group:
— How much did we notice on this field trip?
— How aware were we of the material dimensions of the faith community? building, art objects, ritual implements, furniture, etc.
— How aware were we of the emotional dimensions of this faith community? not only how we felt, but how the members of that community felt
— How aware were we of the social dimensions of this faith community? e.g., who was more important or had more status, how people interacted with each other, etc.

Individual assessment can take place when you review the folders in two ways: First, when you review the folders, the teens will become aware of how many trips they went on, and how many trips they missed. Second, while listening to what others noticed, the teens will become aware of how well they observed.