Category Archives: Pedagogy

Teaching Inspo: Fieldwork and In-Person Testimonies

Hi all,

I recently came across this segment from PBS News Hour about Polaris Charter Academy, a largely low-income charter school committed to social justice. If you’re looking for examples of innovative social studies lesson plans, this video is definitely worth a watch. The way the school’s teachers tie together fieldwork, primary source document analysis, and first-person testimonies in a unit about the Civil Rights Movement is really inspiring. I loved that the project culminated with an actual trip to Birmingham for fieldwork, and I was also struck by how, before that trip, the teachers arranged for people who lived through Jim Crow segregation to come into the classroom and give their first-hand accounts. Inviting people who experienced the era first-hand to speak about their lives is not something I had ever really thought about doing, but listening to the students’ reactions, I can’t help but think this kind of an interaction would be an incredibly powerful teaching tool.

After watching the video, I also began to reflect on my own experience with field trips and guest speakers. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a single experience that left a lasting impression on me. We did make the requisite trip to Jamestown in 4th grade, but I don’t really remember much about it — it was certainly not an educational experience like the one described in the PBS News Hour segment. How about you? Did you take social studies field trips or do field work as a K-12 student? Did you hear a speaker that made a lasting impact? How do you feel about making use of fieldwork and/or classroom speakers in your social studies teaching today?

Teaching Columbus: Mythbusting

Hi all,

During our last class I was chatting with Bethany and Emily about the challenge of teaching  problematic historical figures to the younger grades. Bethany pointed out that the SOL for grade 2 specifically asks teachers to “describe the contributions” of Christopher Columbus. The first time I encountered the Columbus section of the The People’s History of the United States, I had to literally put the book down and walk away. It was that upsetting. Knowing what I know about Columbus, I was more than surprised to see him included on the agenda for second grade.

So how do you teach terrible history to young children? Do we sugarcoat figures like Columbus and hope to bust the myth later, when they’re old enough to learn about slavery, genocide, and caging women and children in pens? Or do we give them the tools to think critically about the towering historical figures that our country still celebrates?

In search of an answer, I went to Google and found some great resources that might help us begin to bust the myth of Columbus at an early age. Teaching History has a great post on different approaches to teaching Columbus from K-12. I especially liked the recommendation for the book Discovering Christopher Columbus: How History is Invented. The book includes primary source documents appropriate for young learners (as early as second grade, I would say); I firmly believe that primary source work can help teach students to think critically about original documentation, to consider multiple and differing perspectives (including colonized cultures), and moreover, to understand that history is itself constructed. I think books that work with primary sources are a good, age-appropriate start to teaching students how to think critically about the past (the lesson that history is a construct is huge, I think) and are a good way to start grappling with problematic figures like Columbus.

Anyhow, this is all just my two cents. How would you teach Columbus or other figures like him, especially to young children (K-2)? Should we remove Columbus from the SOLs, or should we be forced to reckon with a fuller account of our history?

Helpful Teaching Practices: The Civil Rights Movement

Civil Rights Movement Timeline - Timeline & Events - HISTORY

In class, we discussed Rosa Parks. The Kohl excerpt (compiled from review of over 20 history textbooks) oversimplifies history while also painting Rosa in an overly emotional light using words such as “tired,” “angry,” and “stubborn.” Important figures including Ann Robinson are not addressed at all, and Rosa’s refusal to stand is inaccurately painted as the beginning of the movement. Thankfully, we used critical thinking skills and interaction with primary sources to poke holes in Kohl’s narrative. We can engage students with primary sources; carefully chosen documents (which can be adapted as needed) paint a significantly more accurate picture of the truth than many textbooks/secondary sources.

After this week’s class’s discussion and as I formulate my Bibliography, go over curriculum frameworks, and read my literature circle novel, I worry about how to approach difficult discussions. Specifically, as teachers, how can we both be honest about history but sensitive to the ages of our students? Also, how do we navigate today’s political climate while still being honest about history and honoring our students first? With a governor who bans Critical Race Theory, I worry about walking the line between educating children, telling the truth, fighting injustice, and losing my job.

I found this resource, which discusses five essential practices for teaching the civil rights movement, really helpful. The practices include educating for empowerment, knowing how to talk about race, capturing the unseen, resisting telling a simple story, and connecting to the present. This resource even makes some suggestions that Dr. Stohr implemented during her model lesson such as encouraging critical thinking when encountering Kohl’s excerpt.

How have you addressed these delicate topics with students or your own children? Did you find this resource helpful? What aspects of this resource could you implement in your classroom? As I mentioned in a previous comment, I also read Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey, which gives great tips on approaching race conscious teaching. Are there any additional resources you all recommend?

Are we all biased?

Talking About Race: Bias

“If you are human, you are biased.” Howard J. Ross

Who writes the textbooks?  Who edits the trade books? Who are the “fact checkers” for educational materials that teachers use to teach history?  How do we know who we can trust for accurate information? What role do teachers play in educating students on understanding the importance of considering the source of their information? Ultimately, what role does bias play in history education?

As discussed in class and in the assigned homework, teachers are charged with the task of  not only teaching history, but more importantly creating critical thinkers. History is not merely a stagnant time-line or document for students to memorize. Instead,  history is a dynamic, living reflection of research, interpretation, and human experience, all of which are influenced by bias. In the classroom, students should be tasked with fact checking and considering the source of their information.  What bias might exist? From what perspective is the information derived? How does bias affect perspective?

Take a look below at the article, “BIAS” from The National Museum of African American History and Culture in connection with the Smithsonian Institute and think about how bias affects each and every one of us.  More importantly, think about how we, as educators, need to recognize our own biases and overcome them to become the positive influence we all strive to be in our students’ lives.

https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/bias

In the TEDx Talk below, Jerry Kang explains what the Harvard University Project Implicit Study reveals about human nature and society.

Single Point Rubrics

In commenting on blogs this week, I mentioned single point rubrics to a number of folks who commented that analytic rubrics with lots of categories and criteria seemed confusing. I like single point rubrics because they focus students only on the expected performance for grade-level.

Today, one of the bloggers I follow wrote about using single point rubrics in her class. I thought you might be interested, as she refers to the article I shared in several of my comments.

Using the Single Point Rubric for Better Assessment Conversations