How can we help our students access this historical content in a way which considers reading obstacles they may face? How do we help them think historically? Over a series of sessions, University of Portland professors Rich Christen and Peter Thacker helped teachers identify successful teaching and learning strategies.
First, teachers need to identify the historical topics, themes, and skills they want their students to learn or develop. A team which included Rich and Peter as well as me, Rick Dills (our evaluator from Portland State University’s Center for Student Success), and participating teachers developed this list of targets in consideration of Washington State’s Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) and Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs). Our list focuses on the Grades 4 & 5 History and Social Studies Skills GLEs and the elementary Causes of Conflict CBA.
Next, students need questions to guide their inquiry. These questions need to be fundamental to understanding the historical content. Teacher-participants brainstormed this list of characteristics of a good historical question Wednesday and this set of questions during Tuesday’s program. These lists are partial at best, given their places early in the institute and the format through which they were collected (using polleverywhere, an application which generated its own conversation about technology in the classroom).
The next step is to identify primary sources which will help students shed light on the historical questions. Once teachers (or students) identify these sources, they’ll need tools with which to unpack them. Rich and Peter presented and explored these eight strategies to be used at different stages of confronting difficult texts (before, during, and after reading.) They also referred to and encouraged utilization of the constructing timelines and predict and infer strategies developed by the Bringing History Home project.
Teacher-participants applied the strategies to specific sources in order to explore each strategy’s assets and liabilities before using them with students. They asked the question “Why did the colonists rebel?” using the following documents:
- The able doctor; or America swallowing the bitter draught
- The Bostonians paying the exciseman, or tarring and feathering
- The Declaration of Independence (in this case, a version abridged to model ways teachers might prepare sources for younger students)
- Benjamin Franklin’s 1766 appearance before the House of Commons regarding repeal of the Stamp Act
After this application to individual sources, teachers then synthesized multiple documents (the above as well as others supplied by the visiting historians) to answering the question using this scaffolding tool.
Throughout, we discussed the value of developing student work collections (also called portfolios) throughout the year. These collections would be composed of student work tied to the learning targets, demonstrating student growth that would be helpful for guiding conversations between teachers, parents, students – and project directors and evaluators. An assignment log helps organize this collection. At the beginning of the year, we ask participating teachers to use this pre-assessment tool, which could then be implemented at the end of the year to compare skills and content knowledge. (Note: We encouraged participants to print the pre-assessment on 11 x 17 paper, so students would answer questions about the image while looking at the image. To do this, the document would be revised like this and printed two-sided on 11×17 paper, then folded. If project participants would like me to print this for your classes, let me know.)
There’s a lot here! What did I leave out?