4th graders can tackle and understand difficult primary documents and it motivates them to talk about history. I have more confidence using questions as a starting point for lessons.
I’m back at my desk today after spending most of November in schools with 4th and 5th grade teachers and their students. Teachers used the Lesson Study cycle and protocol to guide their inquiry into teaching and learning history. I was duly impressed by many things, including:
- The teachers’ commitment to engaging students in meaningful historical inquiry. They’re definitely fighting against the tide: many are working in a context where attention to the social studies is getting squeezed out of the curriculum, where the lip service to the importance of teaching history is at odds with mandated times and texts that fill every minute between school bells. These teachers helped their students think deeply about first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans, Columbus’ intent, the starving time in Jamestown, the Roanoke settlement, and why Jefferson sent the Corps of Discovery west – in a manner far more evocative than was hinted at in their basal readers.
This is the best experience I’ve had! On day two of the summer institute, I was overwhelmed and ready to quit. I’m thankful that I stuck it out: I never would have done any of this, just read the textbook and answered the questions. Now I’m more comfortable to go beyond: This is huge!
- The teachers’ eagerness to entice students with primary documents. Many of these teachers hadn’t previously worked with primary sources, but all were curious about doing so and thrilled with the results. They were surprised by what happened when students willingly struggled to make sense of a mysterious and elusive past through nuanced artifacts.
As one who has only used primary sources for the CBA, I was quite excited to see how engaged the students were in researching primary documents. I can see how having the students use primary sources can help the students become engaged in a history lesson. They also will be able to form their own opinions based on evidence they gather, rather than just rehashing what they read. With this process, students have a better chance of becoming critical thinkers that question rather than follow blindly. I will definitely use primary sources with my class.
- The teachers’ attendance to embedding lessons with necessary scaffolding. Primary sources offer authentic literacy challenges, and these elementary teachers took seriously their students’ needs when anticipating and evaluating the lessons.
This lesson study experience helped me to see the larger view of teaching social studies. I see a clear reason for learning social studies and a connection that can be made to students’ lives today. I’m going to build connections across the curriculum through reading strategies.
- The teachers’ openness to working with each other. In a profession where isolation is the norm, Lesson Study demands a high degree of intimacy and vulnerability. I found it in spades, qualities of real professional learning teams.
Collaboration is so important for addressing needs, relevance, and skills. This process has inspired me to teach history in an engaging way.
Furthermore, this month reinforced my belief in the Lesson Study approach. In the reflection guide we asked teachers to complete, they overwhelmingly affirmed the following three statements:
- The LS process caused teachers to pay close attention to student learning of historical content and thinking skills;
- The lesson debrief process was engaging and helped teachers reflect on and improve the lesson; and
- As a result of the LS process, teachers are likely to teach the targeted content/skills differently.
The next round comes in the spring, following our Gilder Lehrman Institute coordinated trip to Plymouth, Salem and Boston with John Demos , Frank Cogliano, and Gloria Sesso. I’m looking forward to it!