Learning to Think Like a Historian

art-classI recently was a contributor to a Education Week Teacher’s “Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo” column Teaching History By Encouraging Curiosity Note: you can also listen to our 10 minute podcast on the subject at BAM radio or iTunes

The column prompt was “What are some stories (testimonials) of the process teachers experienced when moving from the ‘stereotypical history teacher who only gives multiple choice tests on the dates of battles and offers their students a steady diet of mind dumbing worksheets and lectures.’”

I thought I cross post my response below for readers who do not have access to content behind the Ed Week paywall.

What do historians do? Research, interpret, and evaluate sources, apply historic perspective, pose questions. … they share the fruits of their research with others, take positions and defend them.

Let me share my evolution as history teacher. In 1971, I began teaching history much the same way it was taught to me. I did all the reading and assimilation of material, then worked hard to craft the interesting lecture. I delivered the information with great gusto and loads of clever asides. Then I gave the objective unit test to see if the students got it. I was doing all the work; learning far more than my students; preparing and delivering “five shows daily.” And so I trudged through history – Plato to NATO.

Then one day I had a revelation. I walked into the art classroom next door to borrow some supplies and looked at the interaction of the art teacher and his students. I realized that if Tom taught art the way I taught history, then his student would be sitting in rows watching him paint. And so my journey began. Just as Tom was teaching his students how to think and behave like artists, I needed to figure out how to get my students to be the historian.

Here’s a few key ideas I considered when making the transition to student as historian. Note: For more, see my Slideshare The Student as Historian

Teach how historians think and behave:

What do historians do? Research, interpret, and evaluate sources, apply historic perspective, pose questions. More importantly they share the fruits of their research with others, take positions and defend them. Make these skills the basis of your class and you’re on your way to meeting Common Core standards. Build in opportunities for students to peer review each other’s work and reflect on their progress as learners. See my Taxonomy of Reflection for prompts.

Stop teaching facts and let students explore essential questions:

Look at a contemporary issue in the news and use it as catalyst for understanding its historic roots. Why teach the Federalist vs. Anti-Federalists debates? Better to frame the lesson around the essential question “How Powerful Should the National Government Be?” It’s timeless and extends the issues raised by the rise of the Tea Party back to the debate over the ratification of the constitution. Download my free Great Debates in American History

Use history as a platform for teaching across the curriculum:

Why not teach some graphing skills using historic census data? A great chance to design an infographic. Historians rely on key literacy skills like summarizing and comparing. Frame tasks for the students that allow them to develop their own summaries and comparisons, share them with their peers and defend their thinking. Those are more Common Core skills.

Choose the right primary and secondary sources for students to work with:

Visualize the famous “Golden Spike” photo taken to mark the completion of a transcontinental railroad line in 1869. What can a student learn by looking at the image? Not much, because the important information is not in the image. It’s in the background knowledge a student must already possess to interpret it. Unfortunately, this type of photograph dominates our textbooks. It’s iconic – it refers to something else that we want students to know. More

Instead use historic sources that are less reliant on background knowledge. Allow students to make their own judgments about source material and share what’s important to them (instead of just repeating the details the teacher highlights). It’s a great chance for them to put those summarizing and comparison skills to use.

If you have access to Ed Week, I urge you to read the article. It also features a great response from Diana Laufenberg, who notes:

Now, I’ve never had a class start with, “Miss… I just have to know about the War of 1812, can you please tell me more?” The majority of students don’t come to class naturally curious about the stories of history. However, when you take the time to pull the students from their own experiences, allow them to make connections to history, float back to modern day to again find further connections and go back into history with all that information – meaning starts to develop in a way that is not achieved otherwise.

And interesting interesting observations from Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, including

When I first stepped away from the basic, bubble-assessment curriculum and into a more inquiry-based approach, I was surprised by my students’ reactions. I had assumed the students would eat up the rich lessons, yet their first reaction was one of discomfort. When my good, little memorizers didn’t easily earn a perfect score on an assessment, they were frustrated and shut down. After much reflecting, I realized they were out of their comfort zone and not used to being asked to think critically. Answers didn’t come easily, and since often their self-image of being smart is wrapped up with things coming easily, the students felt attacked. Slowly, the students began to thrive and rise to the challenge.

Here’s some interesting comments from Part II of Larry’s series Teaching History By Not Giving ‘The Answers’

First from Bruce Lesh, who writes:

Colleagues looked at me funny as students began to ask questions and engage in debates about historical evidence. My peers–who have been trained (as I was) to lecture, assign readings from the books, break things up with Hollywood movies, and test with quickly graded multiple-choice questions–wondered why I was challenging “what has always worked.”

…Students had become accustomed to history being taught in a certain manner. In their effort to learn to “do school,” they expected to come into the history classroom and be regaled with stories of the past distributed through lectures, films, and textbooks, and they had mastered the skill set necessary to “do history.”

And this response from PJ Caposey, who notes:

When working with teachers I focus on …  trying to change from the ‘status quo’ to what is best for kids. One [element is the] Google test. If it can be answered via a simple Google search – then very little instructional time should be spent on it and it should not be assessed. CCSS is a game-changer, so too can be the ‘Google Test.’

Image credit: Flickr / Classroom scene, [Strabane technical school, Northern Ireland]
Date: c.1930

Text to Text: A Strategy for Common Core Close Reading

The-Scarlet-Letter-1917The NY Times Learning Network has just launched a new series of lesson plans called “Text to Text.” It’s a simple approach that pairs two written texts that “speak to each other.” I think it’s a Common Core close reading strategy that could be easily replicated by teachers across the curriculum – great way to blend nonfiction with fiction and incorporate a variety of media with written text.

Each lesson includes a key question, extension activities and additional resources to expand the basic lesson. Here’s two graphic organizers to help student organize their “Text to Text” thinking. (free PFD downloads)
Comparing Two or More Texts
Double-Entry Chart for Close Reading

The NY TImes plans to continue the series at the Learning Network – tagged Text to Text
To date they have created three sample lessons:

“The Scarlet Letter” and “Sexism and the Single Murderess”
Key Question: To what extent is there still a sexual double standard, and how does that double standard play out in contemporary culture?
It pairs a passage from “The Scarlet Letter” with a recent Op-Ed article that, together, invite discussion on societal attitudes toward female sexuality.

“Where Do Your Genes Come From?” and “DNA Double Take”
Key Question: How are recent advances in science changing our understanding of the genome, and how might this affect fields like forensic science or genetic counseling?
It matches a Times article with often-taught scientific, historic, cultural or literary material. This edition is about new findings in genetics.

“Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg”
Key Question | Is Snowden a Hero, a Traitor or Something Else?
It pairs two Times articles that capture parallel moments in history: Daniel Ellsberg’s surrender to the police in 1971 after leaking the Pentagon Papers, and Edward Snowden’s public admission in June that he leaked classified documents about United States surveillance programs.

Image credit: 1917 Film version of ”The Scarlet Letter” – publicity still (cropped)
L. to R Stuart Holmes, Kittens Reichert & Mary Martin Date

Teaching Big History

Big historyI just registered with the Big History Project – an online course that weaves scientific and historical disciplines across 13.7 billion years into a single, cohesive, science-based origin story. I always was a big picture guy. Here’s a link to the course guide and more about about the Common Core aligned program from the projects FAQ

What is big history?
Big history weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines across 13.7 billion years into a single, cohesive story. The course highlights common themes and patterns that can help us better understand people, civilizations, and the world we live in. The concept arose from a desire to go beyond specialized and self-contained fields of study to grasp history as a whole. Big history explores how we are connected to everything around us. It provides a foundation for thinking about the future and the changes that are reshaping our world.

What is the Big History Project?
The Big History Project LLC (BHP) is an organization focused on bringing big history to life for high school students…. BHP is sponsored by Bill Gates, separately from his work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more on the Big History approach watch “David Christian: The history of our world in 18 minutes”

How is the course delivered?
All of the content is available online. A completely web-based model ensures the content is up-to-date, relieves schools of the need for costly textbooks, and also helps teachers engage students by providing approachable, media-rich materials that can be used in different ways. Pilot participants and anyone who requests a username and password is able to access the course. Students and teachers are issued a personal login to gain access to a specialized site that houses all courseware and content. It is up to each individual teacher to determine optimal approach to using the site. For example, in-class time may focus on group projects or discussion, with students absorbing online content for homework, or the site may be used as a core element of the in-class experience.

How is my school supported and what does it cost? 
Our goal is to ensure that big history is taught effectively with no cost to schools. We provide, free of
charge:

  • All content and courseware
  • Free PD/teacher training program
  • Access to core project team for support, assistance and feedback
  • A teacher and school subsidy to cover any direct expense and provide support for teachers

Most importantly, a spirit of partnership imbues everything we do. Our singular goal is to get big history in the hands of educators and students, we promise to listen and collaborate accordingly.  In return, we expect schools to collaborate and communicate with us to improve the program. Specifically, this means: incorporating BHP courseware, content and assessments into the lesson plan, participating in professional development activities, and regularly updating the project team about what is happening in the classroom.

How is the course organized?
Big history is broken down into 2 sections and a total of 10 units spanning 13.7 billion years. Within each unit there are between 20 – 30 specific content modules covering specific issues, topics, projects and assessments.
Section 1: Formations and early life: Theories and evidence of origins of the Universe, planet formation, elements, and life.
Unit 1: What is big history?
Unit 2: The Big Bang?
Unit 3: Stars & Elements
Unit 4: Our Solar System & Earth
Unit 5: Life

Section 2: Humans: The development of humans, civilizations, and key milestones in our progress.
Unit 6: Early Humans
Unit 7: Agriculture & Civilization
Unit 8: Expansion and Interconnection
Unit 9: Acceleration
Unit 10: The Future

Work, Duty, Glamour: How They Sold War Work To Housewives

Ive found the job where I fit best

Rosie the Riveter is an American icon that symbolizes the hardworking and self-sacrificing women who left the household and filled the war jobs that turned America into WWII’s “Arsenal of Democracy.” Most people’s visualization of Rosie is based on J. Howard Miller’s poster “We Can Do It!” Lacking copyright protection, it’s everywhere from history textbooks to coffee mugs. (I confess to using it for my cover below) But it’s a much bigger story than Rosie. The era is rich with public domain films, posters, pamphlets and cartoons that provide the contemporary reader with insights into the gender, race and class stereotypes of the period.

recruiting rosie cover

I’ve been exploring Homefront America WWII in three media-rich, multi-touch iBooks – Why We Fight, Workers Win the War, and now Recruiting Rosie: The Sales Pitch That Won a War. (All are free at iTunes.)

The Homefront series use WWII-era media to document the US government’s propaganda efforts. “Recruiting Rosie” focusses on how Washington’s media campaign targeted women – first coaxed them out of their homes to fill the jobs left vacant by men going off to war – then reversed course four years later to convince women to give up their factory jobs to returning servicemen and return to the roles of wife and mother in the home.

While there was great diversity in the women who did war work, the media campaign almost exclusively featured white women.

Women have always been employed in the workplace, especially minority and lower-income women. They needed little encouragement to move to higher paying war jobs. But the demand for wartime labor was so great that the US government launched a propaganda campaign to recruit previously unemployed middle class women into the workplace.

I'm proud... my husband wants me to do my part2

There was little reference to women working to make money – not traditionally an acceptable role for married middle class woman. Instead, propaganda was filled with themes of patriotism, sacrifice and duty that depicted war work and military service as fashionable and glamorous.

The documents in “Recruiting Rosie” explore the many facets of the campaign to mobilize women in WWII. For example, an often neglected part of the story is the extensive effort that was put into convincing factory owners and male co-workers that women could make efficient employees. As a foreman at an aircraft factory noted, “I honestly don’t believe any of us expected them [the women workers] to last the day.”

“Women scare me … at least they do in a factory.”

“Supervising Women Workers” a 1944 film designed to train plant managers opens with a male foreman telling his boss “women scare me … at least they do in a factory.” His boss replies “women are not naturally familiar with mechanical principles or machines .. you have to separate every job into simple operating steps.”

women want to get it over-4

A 1943 article called “Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees” includes:

Tip #1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they’re less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

Tip #3. General experience indicates that “husky” girls — those who are just a little on the heavy side — are more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

WWII-era middle class couples needed to be convinced that it was acceptable and safe for women to take jobs outside the house and work in a factory. A well-coordinated sales campaign churned out films, new stories and posters that lauded former housewives who readily mastered new industrial tasks.

It's Your War TooWomen were also needed to fill the ranks of many service jobs on the homefront, as well as enlist in the military to replace men who were being moved to the war front. The glamour of travel and the chance to meet men reoccur as dominant themes. “Its Your War Too” a recruitment film for the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) spends much of the film proving that WACs are fun, feminine, and glamorous – they get to wear makeup, choose their own hairstyles, and travel the world – always with handsome male officers as escorts.

Free Bomber Trip to Berlin

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Firing Line

WWII required an enormous commitment of American resources and labor. Here at home, millions of families were called upon to make personal sacrifices and work harder to provide the resources needed to fight the war. Women were told to give up all luxuries and devote their energies to help win the war. “Recruiting Rosie” documents it all from asking women to volunteer on farms to a 1942 Minnie Mouse cartoon explaining how to recycle used cooking fats for armaments.

victory girl

With women stretched between the demands of the workplace and home, childcare emerged as critical issue. “Recruiting Rosie” includes a section detailing the growing fears that without parental supervision, WWII would spawn a generation of juvenile delinquents. As one report noted, “Mothers in large numbers are engaged in full-time employment and are therefore absent from the home the greater part of the day. Home life is greatly changed for many children today, and lack of consistent guidance and supervision from their parents gives them opportunities for activities that may lead to unacceptable behavior.”

“How well a man fights depends a little on how well you’ve done your part in the USO and how nearly ideal an American girl you are.”

“Recruiting Rosie” features a 1943 film that depicts youngsters smoking, kids hanging out in shady bars listening to the jukebox, and young women taking up with soldiers as “Victory Girls.” “How well a man fights depends a little on how well you’ve done your part in the USO and how nearly ideal an American girl you are.” Changing sexual roles and mores of the era are explored in variety of documents from soldier-crazy “khaki-wacky” girls to a 1943 etiquette guide for teenage girls serving as junior hostesses for troops relaxing at USOs which states, “How well a man fights depends a little on how well you’ve done your part in the USO and how nearly ideal an American girl you are.”

last chance marriage

War production demanded large-scale migrations to industrial centers. With a shutdown of non-military construction, housing was limited and expensive. The wartime challenges to families are well detailed in “Recruiting Rosie.” Men and women were torn between putting marriage off or hastily “tying the knot.”

This dynamic is captured in the 1944 US War Department pamphlet “Can War Marriages be made to Work?” (illustration at left)

Front_Cover

“Recruiting Rosie” concludes with the dramatic about-face as the war came to a close. The focus shifted to fears of unemployment for returning servicemen. A 1944 pamphlet entitled “Do You Want Your Wife to Work After the War?” opens with:

Will wives be only too glad to give up their strenuous jobs in war plants to return to the job of being homemakers? … If they must or prefer to stay at home again what will be done to make the tasks of homemaking more attractive? If a woman wants to keep on working after the war what will her husband’s attitude be? If there are no longer jobs enough for everyone should a married woman be allowed to work? Does she have as much right as her husband to try to find the work she wants?

The collection is designed to allow the student to “be the historian” as thought-provoking questions guide them through the archives while building their critical thinking / Common Core skills. The book also provides web access to the public domain content so they can remix the historic documents into their own projects.

how to interpret a poster

Document analysis guides are provided in the book. “Stop and Think” prompts accompany the documents and guide student in close reading to reflect on essential questions:

  1. How did WWII impact women and the American family? What opportunities and challenges did the war create for women?
  2. How did the US government craft its propaganda campaign to shape the attitudes of women, their husbands and employers?
  3. How do the documents and their WWII-era depictions of women reflect the historic time period?

How to Teach Structured Academic Controversy

deliberation

I was recently introduced to Deliberating in a Democracy in the Americas (DDA), a valuable online resource for teachers interested in helping their students develop skills in discussing controversial topics. It uses the Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) model, developed by David and Roger Johnson of the University of Minnesota to provide structure and focus to classroom discussions. Not all issues can be easily debated as pro / con positions. SAC provides students with a framework for addressing complex issues in a productive manner that builds their skills in reading, analyzing, listening, and discussion. It shifts the goal from “winning” the argument to active listening to opposing viewpoints and distilling areas of agreement. It’s a prime skill for civic participation and in alignment with Common Core close reading skills

DDA-steps

The DDA site has all the material teachers will need to support discussion in 15 interesting deliberation questions including:

  • Should our democracy allow schools to punish students for off-campus cyberbullying?
  • In our democracy, should violent juvenile offenders be punished as adults?
  • Should all citizens in our democracy participate in one year of mandatory national service?
  • Should our democracy permit the cultivation of genetically modified foods?

The site includes well-documented background readings in English and Spanish with audio versions of each. And it provides links to additional online resources and a glossary of important terms for each question. It also includes a poll on the website where students can vote and see how other students have voted.

Link to a pdf that demonstrates how SAC aligns with Common Core Standards.
How to teach Structured Academic Controversy in the history classroom.

DDA details the SAC process as follows:

  1. Introduction. Teachers review the meaning of deliberation, the reasons for deliberating, and the rules for deliberation.
  2. Careful Reading of the Text. Students read the text individually, in small groups of 4 or as a whole class in order to reach a common understanding of the reading. If students do not understand the reading, the deliberation will not be successful. As a whole class or in their small groups, students agree on at least three interesting facts and/or ideas.
  3. Clarification. After checking for understanding of the terms and content, the teacher makes sure students understand the deliberation question.
  4. Presentation of Positions. Students work in small groups of 4 divided into pairs (A & B). Each pair is assigned a position. The position of the A’s is to find at least two compelling reasons to say YES to the deliberation question. The position of the B’s is to find at least two compelling reasons to say NO to the deliberation question. A’s teach B’s at least two reasons to say YES to the deliberation question. B’s teach A’s at least two reasons to say NO to the deliberation question. (Handout #2)
  5. Reversal of Positions. The pairs reverse positions. The B pair now adopts the position to say YES to the deliberation question; the A pair adopts the position to say NO to the deliberation question. The A’s & B’s should select the best reason they heard from the other pair and add at least one additional compelling reason from the reading to support their new position.
  6. Free Discussion. Students drop their assigned roles and deliberate the question in their small groups. Each student reaches a personal decision based on evidence and logic.
  7. Whole Class Debrief. The teacher leads the whole class in a discussion to gain a deeper understanding of the question, democracy, and deliberation. What were the most compelling reasons for each side? What were the areas of agreement? What questions do you still have? Where can you get more information? What is your position? (Poll the class on the deliberation question.) In what ways, if any, did your position change? Is there an alternative policy that might address the problem more effectively? What, if anything, might you or your class do to address this problem?
  8. Student Reflection. Students complete the reflection form either at the end of class or for homework.

Hat tip to Marilyn Cover at the Classroom Law Project for introducing me to DDA and SAC.

Image credit / flickr jaycross

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