Category Archives: In the Classroom

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Guest Post: A teacher’s journey

This guest post is written by Amy Johnson, a fourth and fifth grade teacher in Longview Public Schools.  In it, Amy describes the how Teaching American History Grant support influenced her teaching and has improved her district.

Roanoke & Jamestown Storyline, Winter 2012

Sadly, our Teaching American History grant is coming to an end…but the impact and inspiration this  project has had on me and numerous others will keep the work alive. Reflecting on the opportunities during the past three years as a collaborator, a teacher and a learner I am forever grateful to have been a part of such a program.  The professionalism, the high level of collaboration, and the friendships made with fellow educators have forever changed me.

Reynolds Memorial, Gettysburg National Park, Spring 2010

Starting out three years ago, little did I know what a huge impact the TAH grant, with a group of middle school teachers, would have on me professionally and personally.  Experiencing, Causes of Conflict: The American Civil War, in 2009-2010 was just the beginning of the journey for me.  Lesson study, with a group of fellow teachers as collaborators, introduced me to lesson design and analysis for the very first time.  Again, little did I know the process would become a passion.  Because of this project and the collaborative spirit, brilliant pieces of student work emerged…evidence of student learning beyond what I thought possible.  I became a learner in this process and was moved by the experiences during my first year because I saw results and excitement in my students.

North Bridge, Concord Massachusetts, 2011

As the TAH grant moved into  2010-2011, Causes of Conflict: The American Revolution, once again I found myself immersed in lesson study and design.   In a group of fellow elementary teachers I was confident, taking risks to create even more engaging opportunities for my students.  It was at this point I realized how much I became a learner too…I was learning about the birth of our nation in Boston.  As an American it was a personal experience.  This experience excited me and I couldn’t wait to bring back to my students. I was living a moment in history and I was able to give it life in my classroom. Again, it paid off.  Because I lived it…student engagement and evidence of student learning skyrocketed.  And, then something special and unique happened.  We became a close cohort group of teachers who could collaborate in an atmosphere of trust.  As a group we found ourselves naturally collaborating and creating engaging lessons for our students.  It was exhilarating and had such power professionally.  I am changed.

As this chapter closes I know with confidence the work started seven years ago continues.

Teaching with Primary Sources Workshop, March 2012

Amy moved from a recipient of  professional development recipient to a pd leader when she organized a Library of Congress TPS workshop for her district earlier this month.  Her students and her district are lucky to have her! Teaching American History grants made a real difference for thousands of teachers and their students and will be missed.

Teaching With Primary Sources Lesson: Propaganda

Mexico unido ante la agresion 1942, S. Balmori

In previous posts (here and here), I’ve described the work high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts did in a professional development cycle funded and guided by the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region affiliate.  This blog post is one of five describing specific lessons created by teacher teams and explored through demonstration lessons using this protocol.

For this lesson, the teacher team collected World War II propaganda images and arranged them by nations (United States, Great Britain, Mexico, Italy, Russia, Japan, France and Germany.)  During the demonstration lesson, held March 1, 2011, at Evergreen High School, students used the images to consider two interrelated questions:  How do countries use propaganda to manipulate people? and How do these posters reflect national priorities in a time of war? The debrief conversation focused on the way in which this served both to develop important media literacy skills as well as an introduction to central nations involved in the World War II.
Artifacts from the lesson are posted here:

The group found that asking the students to separate their observations, inferences, and questions about the images was especially valuable.  Teacher observations of student conversations and student work analysis led the team to discuss some valuable questions:  What is the optimal point in the unit sequence for this lesson?  Should this lesson be used to catalyze study of the conflict or to demonstrate student understanding at the end of the unit?  In what ways should contemporary connections be developed into this study?

The lesson study team was composed of Steve Doyle, Tyson Bjorge, Tulani Freeman, Kinsey Murray, and Greg Ross.  They join me in encouraging you to use the comments section below to discuss the lesson.

What do you see in the lesson and the student work?

How did you adapt it for use in your classroom?

How did your students respond?

Teaching With Primary Sources Lesson: What is the role of the government, the community, and the individual in times of hardship?

In previous posts (here and here), I’ve described the work high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts did in a professional development cycle funded and guided by the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region affiliate.  This blog post is one of five describing specific lessons created by teacher teams and explored through demonstration lessons using this protocol.
What is the role of government, community, and individuals in times of hardship?  This enduring question was the focus of a demonstration lesson taught to AP US History students at Evergreen High School on February 24, 2012.  Student groups examined document sets arranged around several themes related to the Hoover administration:  The Great Crash; Farmers, the Dust Bowl, and Exodusters; Jim Crow atrocities; The Bonus Army; and the response of Hoover’s administration.  Student groups huddled around laptops as the eagerly investigated images, sound files, and films, generating observations, inferences, and generalizations.

Lesson Materials:

I watched the students who worked with the Jim Crow collection.  As they moved from one source to the next, they made connections between items.  Their visceral reactions to the images led them to take a deeper look at the texts.  As they moved through the pieces, they began to get angry:  How could this have occurred over such a long period of time?  Why weren’t government forces intervening?

The debrief discussion was filled with interesting questions:  Does it matter what order students view a document set?  What group-roles need to be assigned by the teacher, and which best develop organically?  What kind of support would lead non-AP students to the same deft interpretation of the sources as the students we observed?

The lesson study team was composed of John Harvey, Mike Dillman, Jon Lauderbaugh, and Tim Trevarthen.  They join me in encouraging you to use the comments section below to discuss the lesson.

What do you see here?

How did you adapt it for use in your classroom?

How did your students respond?

Teaching With Primary Sources Lesson: 1918 Influenza Epidemic

In previous posts (here and here), I’ve described the work high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts did in a professional development cycle funded and guided by the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region affiliate.  This blog post is one of five describing specific lessons created by teacher teams and explored through demonstration lessons using this protocol.

This lesson, using the 1918 influenza epidemic as a starting point from which to understand dimensions of the 1920s, was taught to two US History classes in demonstration lessons at Columbia River High School on February 10, 2012.  Students gathered in the school computer lab to explore the document set, organized into a Prezi.  Based on observations of the first class, the group revised the question tool for the second class.  The format, inquiry model, and reflection tool seemed to serve the students well.

Artifacts from the lesson are posted here:

My favorite moment of observation came when the student I was watching opened the Prezi and saw a photo of a room overflowing with patients on cots.  He grabbed his teacher and asked where the photo came from. The teacher explained that because the influenza was a major event of the day, many photos were taken and remain available. The student looked at the teacher incredulously: You mean these photos are real? Sure, said his teacher. The student’s jaw dropped: Even the baseball game we saw yesterday?

The exchange made clear how difficult it is to whittle away at our students’ misconceptions: Despite the fact that the student had been exposed to primary sources for months, it took until this moment for it to finally sink in that these were real artifacts allowing time travel to an unfamiliar past. I felt lucky to have witnessed the breakthrough!

The lesson study team was composed of David Douglas, Luke Glassett, Tara Rethwill, and Lindsey Siler.  They join me in encouraging you to use the comments section below to discuss the lesson.

What do you see here in the lesson and the student work?

How did you adapt it for use in your classroom?

How did your students respond?

Teaching With Primary Sources Leadership Team: Recap

In my last post, I described the work I was doing with high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver districts funded by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region division.  I thought the project went great – and so did the teachers.  Breeze through a few representative quotes to get a feel for the participants’ enthusiasm:

I learned that the kids are able and willing to think for themselves – that they’re willing to jump in and give it a shot.  It’s all about getting kids to think… not just compliance.

We just went through the same inquiry process looking at the student work as [the students] went through with the documents.

This was not like a learning walk.  I worked on a lesson related to my work, and I’ll use it.  This is the way professional development should be.

It was great to work with other teachers who have such expertise.  This shows what teachers from different schools can do with each other to benefit kids.

We’re all after the same thing: Seeing kids being able to connect with the material and make their own meaning is the big payoff.

We lit the fuse, and the kids took care of the rest.  The collaboration was valuable…  Hearing others’ observations reinforces the idea that I can relinquish some control and that the questions are as important as the answers.

The conversations and questions that we had today make me hold off on retirement.

I wonder: How far can this go?

I think there were several fundamental reasons why the project was so successful:

  1. The folks from the Library of Congress Western Region office were fantastic.  They were able to introduce the Library of Congress archive in a way that both demonstrated its immensity and its usefulness. They emphasized the role primary sources play in catalyzing student inquiry and meaning making. They were flexible in adapting their approach to our needs.
  2. We used a lesson study approach. This helped teachers explore the immediate application of the approaches in the classroom. It guided collaboration in an authentic and accountable fashion.
  3. The teachers displayed true professionalism. Throwing a bunch of strangers together, providing them with new resources, and asking them to play with each other required a willingness to be public learners and not let vulnerability shut down the process. They met the challenge head on.

If you’d like to read more about the project, I’ve posted the final report here.

Click here to learn more about the grant program.

In the next several posts, I’ll share the lessons teacher-teams developed through this process. Sharing these does not mean to suggest that any are “Super-Lessons”  (if any such thing exists.) I think that they are interesting as artifacts of a powerful professional development process – and they’ll probably get you thinking about great ways to guide student inquiry in your classroom. If the lessons are kept alive by your testing and tweaking, if the comments section is used to share what changes folks made and how their students responded, then the process continues. Here’s hoping!

Another round of Lesson Study!

It’s been a provocative season of demonstration lessons with 4th and 5th grade teachers!  Using the lesson study process, teacher groups planned a lesson, then gathered to watch the lesson be taught and studied how students interacted with the material.  In the past week plus, I’ve been at five schools where young learners took on a variety of historical challenges, including:

  • analyzing correspondence between John and Abigail Adams to consider what the American Revolution meant for women;
  • interpreting images to hear multiple perspectives on British efforts to manage the American colonies;
  • using primary images and texts related to different events to evaluate their role in leading to the American Revolution;
  • evaluating competing narratives to determine who was at fault for the Boston Massacre; and
  • identifying who lived at Fort Vancouver and how each cultural group contributed to its success.
The impact of the lessons on student learning varied from session to session, but the impact on teacher learning seemed consistently strong.  Here are a few representative snippets of participating teachers’ conversation and writing:
Observing other 5th grade students grapple with challenging text/images impacts my universal understanding of how students learn. To be given highly engaging historical documents and to work collaboratively with their peers stretches their thinking and informs me about my own expectations for student learning. It’s easy to feel isolated at times in regards to teaching history. Being a member of the lesson study team broadens my own perspective and fosters a need and a desire to dig deeper personally into historical thinking, teaching, and learning.

I saw a way to involve my Intensive Reading students in a more active way rather than just being passive learners.
I saw that I did not have to teach history the way I was taught as a student… Planning lessons with a group & revise them has heightened my teaching abilities and my students will benefit greatly.
 As we begin to revise the lesson, we are generating more thoughtfully developed ideas and questions.
I was surprised by how each of the teammates helped support one another.
We can’t work in a vacuum. Self-reflection is important, but our teaching will improve much more drastically by peer review and debriefing.
It takes me from direct instruction to guided, researched, and discovery learning. It makes me feel that history is really alive!
I’ve used different strategies before to make history more exciting – but never to make it more real!
At first, we were concerned about who would be the demonstration teacher. Then, there came a point in our planning where we realized that any of us would do it – because the only thing we’d be worried about would be to stay accountable to each other.
I’ve learned that students will rise to the occasion if you ask them to.
I’ve learned that there is so much about the past that I don’t know, but that I can tell the students ‘as you’re learning, I’m learning too.’
 It’s led me to see that history is more than recall.
This has reminded me that I need to be open to my students as people.  It’s made me a better kidwatcher.
One historical question should lead to another. That’s really happening for me now – and it didn’t before this year.
I’m looking forward to meeting with teachers June 29 & 30 to study what students did with the revised lessons.  I should note that this work was made possible by a Teaching American History grant from the US Department of Education.  That program, along with many others (including the National Writing Project), is described as wasteful and inefficient by House Bill 1891 and targeted for closure. You can read more about HB 1891 here.
Teachers:  Please add your input to the comments section!