Category Archives: Reading History Workshop Series

A parent writes about teacher professional development

Learning and socializing on the beach (Spree2010)

Today’s guest post comes from Tony Liberatore.  Tony is a high school teacher at Columbia River High School in Vancouver.  He writes:

As a TAH grant teacher (twice) I had some great experiences; James Madison’s Montpelier, standing at Dr. King’s pulpit, marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, and working with amazing educators; however my favorite experience is when my 5th grade daughter had a TAH teacher this past school year. As a self-proclaimed history geek I have always struggled on how to “pass on” my love of history to my kids and I have had mixed results. This school year something clicked with my oldest and her teacher Mrs. P. We had dinner time discussions about Jefferson on how a person who wrote those beautiful words “all men are created equal” could still own other human beings? On a spring walk we talked about the Bill of Rights and when my daughter wrote a CBA the topic was school uniforms and the 1st Amendment (I had to hold back and actually let her do the work).

When I ponder my daughter’s experiences it encapsulates the purpose of TAH grants; professional teachers who take the purpose of social studies education seriously, providing students with genuine historical inquiry, and training in best history teaching practices (the list is long). I’m frustrated that the TAH grants have not been funded but proud to have been involved in many aspects of the grant. Most importantly I’m a better student of history and so is my daughter. Thanks Mrs. P.



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!

Why do you love studying history?

Why is studying the past valuable?  Not why should we teach it, or why should the students in your classes learn it, but why do you love it?  That’s the question that we asked the elementary teachers we’ve been working with this year at the start of last week’s workshop.  The question arose, in part, as a result of Rich and I noticing that many of the teachers seemed to always be looking for ways specific experiences on our trip might be transformed into specific lessons – rather than developing a foundational appreciation for the discipline that, in turn, would deepen an approach to history.  If our yearlong study only left folks feeling more prepared to teach young people, it might not lead to inspiration for young people (and their teachers) to learn about the past.

After participants had some time to collect their thoughts individually, they assembled lists in their lesson study groups.  So, what did they say?

Sense of patriotism
Sense of belonging
Connection to our past/present
National pride
Connecting to the people of the past
Feeling-learning about our history thru their voices
Sense of where we come from
Learning from past why? where? how?
Facts not fiction about our history as a nation

Makes things you have read about “real” by going on location
Origin of common phrases
Better appreciation of the contrast between now and then
Past lays foundation for the present and future
Less biased
Amazed by the ingenuity of the historical figures
Inspiration of life long learning
Helps make the past more concrete
Historical fiction or biographies give a story/context to attach new information

Stories (esp. w/ personal application)
Know the past to connect to a better future
Cyclical nature of it
Escape to a different time
Brings events and people to life
Back stories of secondary personalities
Length of certain civilizations

Emotional!  It’s real connection to past
Important to preserve our freedoms
Learning about motivations of people-character.  Human nature.
It’s a great true story.  We can visualize it.
It goes beyond timelines!  Historical questioning.
Building loyalty to our country.

Putting faces to the facts
Sense of story
Past is things- History is the story.
Putting the puzzle pieces together
History is on-going
Multi-perspectives, different points of view
Concrete at first- then as you learn more it becomes fluid(different levels of complexity)
In road to teaching citizenship(builds loyalty to country)
Sense of self - roots?
Knowing the outcome – then going back and learning what led to that outcome.
Voices echoing forward
Power of an individual

Touching artifacts
Connecting w/real people/events
Knowing the outcome & going back  to see how they got there
Connecting the dots of the present with the past
Questioning intent/outcomes
Stories of people overcoming adversity
Stories of the common people

I think that it’s a pretty interesting list, both for what it features and what doesn’t appear.  Many of their entries were on my list, many weren’t, and some of my entries didn’t make it to their lists.  I’m struck by the extent to which these teachers see the study of history as playing a role in developing heritage/patriotism/citizenship – clearly an intended consequence of the Teaching American History program (funding struggles for which you can read about here), but one which I hadn’t expected.

What’s on your list?  Why do you love studying history? What value does the study of history offer?

Teacher Professional Development: The Gift that Keeps Giving

from Tempered Radical - Bill Ferriter

It’s always a pleasure to run into former students and find out that the work you did together continues in delightful and surprising ways.  When I taught middle school, for example, I was never sold on the school’s approach to teaching a foreign language.  How were students supposed to learn Spanish in 50 minute doses three times a week?  As it turns out, something important was going on:  One of the most common characteristics when I run into those kids today is that they’ve continued their language studies – the other common characteristics being that they’re brilliant, wildly idealistic, and unusually good looking 🙂

While I’m sold on the professional development I’ve been doing through Teaching American History grants over the last five years, I do wonder about their continued impact.  Plans for sustainability are always called for in the proposals – but they’re awfully difficult to commit to convincingly.  What a thrill it was, then, to be invited to Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, where three former TAH participants teach.  There, I was treated to a Lesson Study Demonstration Lesson, work they were inspired to continue following their experience int the TAH project.  Lesson Study brings them together to discuss alignment between meaningful student learning targets and powerful teaching strategies, important work that investigates teaching, learning, and assessment through collegial interaction.

When they invited me to observe their Lesson Study, I was impressed to hear that it was happening.  But once we got talking, I was thrilled to learn of a range of tools they’ve brought to Bay from our TAH work together that has enhanced a professional learning culture amongst their staff and students.  In addition to Lesson Study, teachers there are:

  • Working together as teams to plan
  • Maintaining student work portfolios
  • Doing repeated, aligned assessments to see growth over time
  • Examining student work collaboratively and discussing whether it’s sufficient to assess learning

While they say this came from TAH program inspiration, I know that it’s taken tremendous courage and conviction on their part to push this kind of cultural change.  It makes you wonder:  What else is going on?  While the work we’ve done has always benefited from excellent evaluation processes during its duration, it sure would be nice to be able to do some longer term studies…

November’s Batch

Time for another review of opportunities that have passed my desk over the last month that you might have missed:

National History Day Judge Recruitment: Want to support middle and high school students’ enthusiastic historical inquiry?  The Southwest Washington History Day Competition will be held February 26 in Vancouver and we need judges!  If you’ve done it before, you know how wonderful it is to talk to kids about their research and applaud their projects; if you haven’t, you’ve been missing out and it’s time to turn that around.  Register to judge here.  No prior experience necessary; let me know if you have questions.

Lesson Study: I posted twice on Lesson Study this month – once on Peter Pappas’ always worthwhile blog Copy/Paste; a second time here.  Add your voice to the conversation!

Summer Institutes:  Both Gilder Lehrman and NEH have posted their 2011 summer professional development seminars.  These are unbelievable no- or low-cost opportunities to study historical themes with top scholars in interesting locales:

Spring Institute: The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is running an institute for teachers March 3-5 (Deadline January 28)

Scholarships: The Colonial Dames have posted another opportunity for Grade 5-12 teachers in Washington State to advance their instructional capacity with $1000 grants.  Apply here by March 4.

Other odds and ends related to our work:

Civil War

American Revolution

Civil Rights Movement

Education Reform

If there is something I missed that you want others to know about, add it to the comments section!

It’s Elementary! Lesson Study with 4th & 5th Grade Teachers

I can't find the attribution for this - but it's too perfect to avoid posting!

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!

Lesson Study Planning Fall 2010

I very much enjoyed yesterday’s workshop with elementary teachers planning their fall demonstration lessons.  The importance of this work seems to resonate through so many of the voices I’ve been hearing lately, whether in Jill Lepore’s writing on the Tea Party, the lessons of the Virginia’s textbook debacle (both of which I wrote about earlier this week), or Melissa Manon’s assertion that

Learning to use history to think critically makes history interesting, shows students (including life-long learners) that history is worth learning, and encourages us to value our past and find use for it in the present.

This is the kind of professional development that I hear called for repeatedly – collaborative, content rich, and collegial.  Most importantly, it’s focus lies on the classroom and student learning.

We began the day with Rich Christen reminding teachers where we’ve been thus far.

Slides: Where have we been? Where do we want to go?

Next, I took teachers through a review of the Lesson Study Cycle and a criteria based review of student work samples they brought to the session.

Slides: What is Lesson Study?

Organizer: Work sample analysis

Teachers then brainstormed a list of attributes of a “good” demonstration lesson.  From their list, we modified a sheet that we’ll use as part of our debriefing sessions to guide reflection and gather project data.

2010-11 Lesson Study Review Sheet

Teachers spent the rest of the day planning their lessons.  I’ll be spending a big part of November in the schools as a part of this process.  We’ll use this protocol each time.

It will be a great month, full of learning!