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LIFE HISTORY ASSIGNMENT
You will interview an elder (75 years +) about his or her life. The person can either be a wellknown grandparent, or someone you met for the first time. You will ask about the person’s
infancy, childhood, adolescence, and early/ middle adulthood. You will ask about family, loves,
health, hopes, dreams, disappointments, and lifestyle choices. You will then write a paper that
will: summarize the person’s life, apply the literature/theory, and reflect on your own emotions
and insights about the assignment.
This assignment will help you appreciate the many factors that make up the many parts of a
person’s lifecourse. You will develop interviewing skills as well as practice applying theory in
action.
Both the Multidimentional Approach and the Life Course Perspective require that we view
clients in the context of environment and time. Therefore, before you interview your elder, you
must review the history, culture and/or social-political environment of the times.
PRE-INTERVIEW PREPARATION
Prior to meeting with your interviewee you need to familiarize yourself on the elder’s
environment (geographic location, cultural traditions, customs) and time (historical events). For
instance, if your elder was influenced as child by the Great Depression, then research this
historical time in America. If your elder is a Korean War veteran, then learn about this war. If
your elder is a Mexican immigrant from the Bracero Program, then find out about policies of the
Bracero Program. If your elder experienced the death of a child, familiarize yourself with the
research and literature on this topic. If your elder has a disability of some kind, what kind of
background information might you need to know? The purpose of preparing in this way is so that
you can ask sensitive and meaningful questions.
The more background information you have, the better your questions will be and consequently,
the richer your interview will be, for you and your interviewee. This interview might take up to
3 hours. If this is the case, you need to decide if you should meet more than once.
Note: For help with your questions, refer to the accompanying sheet called “Life History Questions.” Do not ask all of these
questions. And when you are with your elder, do not drill him or her with question after question. Part of the lesson of this
assignment is to ask relevant, thoughtful questions in a manner that is considerate of the elder. Some questions on this sheet will
not be appropriate. Be sensitive to the emotional nuances of the interview and to the needs of the interviewee. Use the skills you
have learned in Social Work 140A to increase the effectiveness of the interview.
Social Work 125B
Professor Weber
Life History Assignment
Page 1
GUIDELINES FOR THE PAPER
1. ORGANIZATION OF PAPER: Divide your paper into four sections:
I. PRE-INTERVIEW PREPARTION, II. THE INTERVIEW PROCESS, etc. Use a
title/cover page, insert page numbers, use 12 point font and use 1” margins.
2. PAGE LENGTH: Maximum page length, including your cover sheet and reference page,
is 10 pages. Do not go beyond this. Most papers are 7 to 10 pages.
3. USE APA CITATION FORMAT: You can find information on how to do this at
www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/DocAPA.html
4. NUMBER OF SOURCES: Have at least five different sources on your final
“References” page. You must use the required books for the class.
Your other sources should be from academic sources. If you need help with this, go to
the library (i.e., that big tall building in the center of campus ☺) and find the Social Work
reference librarian, Bill Christy. He will help you find sources that are “refereed” and/or
written by scholars in the field. Beware of getting information directly from the internet.
Either Mr. Christy or I can explain this if you are unsure what this means.
5. NUMBER OF CITATIONS IN THE PAPER: Have at least six citations in the paper.
6. REWRITES: After the due date, there will be no re-writes of this paper.
7. LATE PENALTY: .5 points per day.
8. GRADING CRIERIA: This paper is worth 80 points. The grading criteria are outlined on
the grading rubric (found on Sac CT).
PART OR ASPECT OF PAPER
Pre-Interview Preparation
The Interview Process
Three Relevant Theories
Self-Reflection
Use of the Literature and APA
Clarity of Writing
Total
POINTS
10
20
25
10
10
05
80
Continued…
Social Work 125B
Professor Weber
Life History Assignment
Page 2
CONTENT AND HEADINGS FOR THE PAPER
I. PRE-INTERVIEW PREPARATION: TWO RELEVANT THINGS
Your elder grew up in a certain environment at a certain time. A good social worker knows
about the environment and times of a client. Therefore, before you meet with your elder, you
must do research about the location the elder is from, and about what was happening in history.
Write two relevant things that occurred, or are significant about the elder’s life. This could focus
on the any part of the elder’s life (historic event, cultural tradition or current disability). You
have to do research for this. Cite all sources for this preparation.
II. THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
Discuss the process of the interview. How many times did you meet? How did your elder
respond to the interview? Was s/he excited about the interview, or was s/he hesitant? How did
your elder react to your questions and your interest in him/her? What were the significant areas
of discussion for the elder? Did s/he talk more about the childhood versus the adolescent years?
Were there particular joys or traumas that were discussed?
III. THREE RELEVANT THEORIES
What three theories can you apply to this elder and his/her life experience? Was the elder
oppressed due to gender and, therefore, feminist theory might be relevant? Define the theory and
explain how the theory applies to your elder’s life. You can use any theory listed in the
Hutchison (2012) book (such as the eight theoretical perspectives in chapter 2, or the
gerontological theories in chapter 16). As well, check out the different theories/ideas in Solie
(2004), such as the three different legacies. Remember to define/explain the theory prior to
applying it to your elder.
IV. SELF-REFLECTION
Your entire education journey should be about increasing your level of critical consciousness and
self-reflection. This portion of the paper will ask you to talk about those aspects of discovery
with this assignment. How was this project for you? Did you have any hesitations? If so, what
were the hesitations and where did these come from? Was it a particularly joyful assignment?
Why? Did you go into it with some pre-conceived notions about “late adulthood” that stayed the
same or did these notions change? How does it make you feel about your own elder years?
What I am looking for is some of your own personal insights. I am looking for something that
goes beyond the superficial.
Social Work 125B
Professor Weber
Life History Assignment
Page 3
Life Interview Questions – Childhood
Life Events – Childhood
What year were you born? On what date? What day of the week was it? Did your parents tell you anything
about the day you were born?
Where were you born?
Why were you given the first (and middle) name(s) that you have?
What’s your first, most vivid memory?
What was the apartment or house like that you grew up in? How many bedrooms did it have? Bathrooms?
What was your bedroom like?
Can you describe the neighborhood you grew up in?
Tell me about your parents. Where were they born? When were they born? What memories do you have of
them?
Who was more strict: your mother or your father? Do you have a vivid memory of something you did that
you were disciplined for?
Did your parents have a good marriage?
How did your family earn money? How did your family compare to others in the neighborhood – richer,
poorer, the same?
What kinds of things did your family spend money on?
How many brothers and sisters do you have? When were they born? What memories do you have of each
of them from when you were growing up?
Did you have grandparents? Where were they born? When were they born? What do you remember about
them? When did they die?
Did you have any pets?
What were you like as a child? What did you like to eat? What did you do for fun? What were your favorite
toys or games? Did you ever have a secret place or a favorite hiding spot?
What did you wear?
Did you get an allowance? How much? Did you spend it right away, or save it? What did you buy?
What responsibilities did you have at home when you were young?
What kind of school did you go to? Were you a good student? What was your favorite subject? Least
favorite? Who were your friends? Who was your favorite teacher and why?
Did you have any heroes or role models when you were a child?
How did you spend your summer holidays? What were your favorite summer activities?
Where did your family go on vacations?
How did your family celebrate holidays (e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Easter, Memorial Day)? Did
lots of relatives get together? What traditions did you have year after year? What food was served?
What was the best gift you remember receiving as a child?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What big world events do you remember from the time you were growing up?
What inventions do you most remember?
What’s different about growing up today from when you were growing up?
When you were a teenager, what did you do for fun? Did you have a favorite spot to “hang out”? What
time did you have to be home at night? Did you ever get into any trouble?
Were there any phrases that were popular when you were a teenager? What did you like to wear? How did
your parents feel about the way you talked and what you wore?
When did you learn how to drive? Who taught you? What was your first car like?
What was your graduation from high school like?
What dreams and goals did you have for your life when you graduated?
© SV Bosak, Legacy Project, www.legacyproject.org
Life Interview Questions – Adulthood, Identity
Life Events – Adulthood
Did you go to university or college? How did you decide what you wanted to study?
Did you serve in the military? What did you do and what kind of experience was it?
How did you decide what you wanted to do with your life? How do you feel about that choice?
What was your first job? What did you like or not like about it?
What job did you do most of your life? What did you like most about it? Least?
How did you meet your spouse? What did you like about him/her?
How and when did you get engaged?
When did you get married? How old were you? Where did you get married? What was your wedding like?
What was the first big purchase you made with your spouse?
What makes your spouse special or unique?
How many children do you have? When were they born? How did you decide what to name each?
What’s your favorite story about each of your children?
What is something funny or embarrassing one of your children said at an early age that you’ll never forget?
What’s the most memorable family vacation you took?
What do you remember about holiday celebrations? Is there one holiday memory that stands out for you?
How did you feel about raising your children? What was the best part? The hardest part?
What makes you proud of your children?
How is my father/mother like me? Unlike me?
What do you remember about me when I was born? What about when I was younger than I am now?
What the best thing about being a parent? A grandparent?
Identity
Do you know the meaning of your family name? Are there stories about the origins of your family name?
Have you ever had any nicknames as a child or as an adult? Where did they come from?
How are you like your mother? Unlike her? How are you like your father? Unlike him?
What was most important to your parents?
Do you feel you’re like any of your grandparents? In what ways?
How are your children like you? Unlike you?
What do you think are your three best qualities? Your three worst?
Which do you think you have the most of: talent, intelligence, education, or persistence? How has it helped
you in your life?
Do you have any special sayings or expressions?
What’s your favorite book and why? What’s your favorite movie and why?
Who are three people in history you admire most and why?
What have been the three biggest news events during your lifetime and why?
If you could travel into the future, would you rather see something that specifically relates to you, or
something that relates to the future of the country in general? Why?
If you could have three wishes, what would they be?
If you won $1 million tomorrow, what would you do with the money?
What’s the highest honor or award you’ve ever received?
What’s the most memorable phone call you’ve ever received?
What’s the best compliment you ever received?
What kinds of things bring you the most pleasure now? When you were a younger adult? A child?
What things frighten you now? What frightened you when you were a younger adult? A child?
What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted but still don’t have?
Do you feel differently about yourself now from how you felt when you were younger? How?
What do you think has stayed the same about you throughout life? What do you think has changed?
© SV Bosak, Legacy Project, www.legacyproject.org
Life Interview Questions – The Present, Aging, Life Lessons and Legacies
The Present
Do you have any hobbies or special interests? Do you enjoy any particular sports?
What’s your typical day like now? How is it different from your daily routines in the past?
Is the present better or worse than when you were younger?
What do you do for fun?
Who do you trust and depend on?
What things are most important to you now? Why?
How have your dreams and goals changed through your life?
What do you see? (Hold a mirror up to the person)
Aging
What do you remember about your 20s? 30s? 40s? 50s? 60s? What events stand out in your mind? How
was each age different from the one before it?
There are some ages we don’t look forward to. What birthday were you least enthusiastic about? Why?
If you could go back to any age, which age would it be and why?
How do you feel now about growing old? What’s the hardest thing about growing older? The best thing?
What were your parents like when they got older?
Did you have any expectations at points in your life about what growing older would be like for you?
How should a person prepare for old age? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Do you think about the future and make plans? What are your concerns for the future?
If you live another 20-30 years, what will you do? Do you want to live another 20-30 years?
What do you look forward to now?
Life Lessons and Legacies
What’s your most cherished family tradition? Why is it important?
What have you liked best about your life so far? What’s your happiest or proudest moment?
What do you feel have been the important successes in your life? The frustrations?
What’s the most difficult thing that ever happened to you? How did you deal with it?
What do you think the turning points have been in your life? What were you like then?
Are there times of your life that you remember more vividly than others? Why?
What have been the most influential experiences in your life?
Describe a person or situation from your childhood that had a profound effect on the way you look at life.
If you were writing the story of your life, how would you divide it into chapters?
What, if anything, would you have done differently in your life?
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were young?
What have you thrown away in your life that you wish you hadn’t? What have you held on to that’s
important and why is it important? What “junk” have you held on to and why?
Over time, how have you changed the way you look at life/people?
What advice did your grandparents or parents give you that you remember best?
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice for living? If a young person came to you
asking what’s the most important thing for living a good life, what would you say?
How do you define a “good life” or a “successful life”?
Do you think a person needs to first overcome serious setbacks or challenges to be truly successful?
In what way is it important to know your limitations in your life or career?
If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be and why?
What do you see as your place or purpose in life? How did you come to that conclusion?
What would you like your children and grandchildren to remember about you?
If you could write a message to each of your children and grandchildren and put it in a time capsule for
them to read 20 years from now, what would you write to each?
© SV Bosak, Legacy Project, www.legacyproject.org
Levels of Achievement
Criteria
Deficient: D
Fair: C
Good: B
Very Good: AExcellent: A
6.5 Points
7.5 Points
8.5 Points
9 Points
10 Points
Student inadequately
Student describes some aspects of Student adequately describes the
Student thoughtfully describes the Student thoroughly & thoughtfully
Pre-Interview
describes the elder. There is the elder’s life. The discussion is elder through
elder through researching/discussing describes the elder through
Preparation
no research done on aspects not in-depth but the information is researching/discussing two relevant two relevant aspects about the
researching/discussing two relevant
of the elder’s life.
there.
aspects of the elder’s life.
elder’s life.
aspects about the elder’s life.
13 Points
15 Points
Student discusses some
Student discusses some aspects of
20 Points
17 Points
18 Points
aspects of the interview
the interview process. Other
Student thoroughly and thoughtfully
The Interview
Student did an adequate job of
Student thoughtfully discussed
process. Other aspects were aspects were left out but reader
discussed all aspects of the actual
discussing the actual interview.
aspects of the actual interview.
left out but reader could still could still get a sense of the
interview.
get a sense of the interview. interview.
16.25 Points
Did an inadequate job of
25 Points
18.75 Points
21.25 Points
22.5 Points
describing and/or discussing
Thoroughly & thoughtfully
Three Theories
Did a reasonable job of discussing Did a good job of describing/
Thoughtfully described/discussed
theory. Reader unable to
described/discussed three or more
theory.
discussing theories.
theory three or more theories.
understand concepts or
theories.
application of theory.
6.5 Points
Did an inadequate job of
7.5 Points
10 Points
8.5 Points
9 Points
reflecting on how the
Did a fair job of reflecting on how
Thoroughly & thoughtfully
Adequately reflected on how the
Thoughtfully reflected on how the
assignment related or
the assignment related or impacted
reflected on how the assignment
assignment related or impacted self. assignment related or impacted self.
Reflections
impacted self. Did not
self. Discussed at least one aspect
related or impacted self. Discussed
Discussed some aspects (preDiscussed many aspects (prediscuss aspects (pre(pre-conceived notions, emotions,
all aspects (pre-conceived notions,
conceived notions, emotions, ideas conceived notions, emotions, ideas
conceived notions, emotions, ideas about own aging process,
emotions, ideas about own aging
about own aging process, etc.).
about own aging process, etc.).
ideas about own aging
etc.).
process, etc.).
process, etc.).
7.5 Points
8.5 Points
9 Points
10 Points
6.5 Points
Makes some use of the literature. Makes good use of the literature.
Makes very good use of the
Makes excellent use of the
Inadequately makes use of
Cites at least three sources and
Cites at least four relevant sources literature. Cites five or more
literature. Cites five or more
Use of Literature and the literature. There are
includes them in the text. Had at and adequately integrates them into relevant sources, effective …
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