Friday, August 20, 2021

Day 2: Skills and Thinking Historically

Today's post is the second in a series of posts on how I train my students in historical thinking at the start of the school year. A "Boot Camp" so to say. A way to prepare them for the skills I'm going to ask of them all year. Here is a list of the series of posts. (Click the link to read the other days)

  1. Day 1: Discussion Expectations - Employability Skills - Historical Thinking
  2. Day 2: Skills for Thinking Historically 
  3. Day 3: Stations - Sourcing Strengths and Limitations
  4. Day 4: Follow-up, Reflection and Modifications

I'm going to be honest from the start here. I wasn't originally planning on this being a 3-day thing. It was only going to be two. But then (as happens often) I had to adjust because of things outside of my control. The 2nd day of school was picture day, and picture day at a large high school means interruptions during class for students to leave for pictures. 

I could get mad and frustrated with every "please excuse the interruption" that comes over the intercom or I can be smart about what I plan for picture day so we're not bothered. That means I need something that is pretty relaxed and easy for students to pick up where they left off as they come and go. 

I decided to really make good on my comment from the first day... 

This class is NOT sit and GET,  in here you have to SHOW UP and DO. 

So I made them "show up and do." 

I reminded my classes of the last activity we did as we left yesterday. The "Orphans of the Abyss" and how they were already practicing the techniques of historical thinking. I also compared it to the Scientific Method and that this is just the way historians are going to attempt to answer questions about the past. Today we're going to explore that method.

I display the instruction sheet on the wall and go through the requirements. Today they're going to work with their team in order to research and create a poster over the major components of Historical Thinking

  • Primary Sources and examples
  • Secondary Sources and examples
  • Sourcing a document
  • Contextualization
  • Corroboration
  • Close Reading 
  • The Importance of History

One thing I've learned over time, if you're going to have students research new information and then make something with it...make them do the research first and have it checked by you BEFORE starting on the poster. There's nothing worse than telling a student that the information on their entire poster is wrong. That check-in allows for you to elaborate, clarify, simplify, or correct as they go. Real-time feedback is so much more powerful! 

Of course that means you won't be sitting at your desk much... 

Step 1 is research. I give them the handouts from SHEG (Stanford History Education Group) which can be found on their website (here) or in my folder linked at the bottom of this post. Students are instructed to use both the handouts and Google to help them fill out the research chart posted here. (They save the "Self Reflection" part for the very end). 


Here's what is awesome about this simple assignment. They learn really fast what "contextualize" means. If they just Google "what is the definition of source" (and they will Google that exact phrase) Google doesn't give them the correct definition for this particular setting! I explain that they have to give Google some more key words in order to get the correct meaning of the word in CONTEXT with historical thinking skills. The Google results PLUS the handouts from SHEG make it easier for them to piece together a description. 

We also work on simplifying definitions. The definition "to identify the origins of a source" is nice and short so kids like it. But have them try to actually EXPLAIN what that means... they struggle. So we talk about breaking it down and really understanding what that means. Usually they come up with something similar to this

Looking at a source and where it came from by asking who wrote it and why.

Usually once I help a group one time, they figure out the process pretty quickly and move through the research at a quicker pace. I sign-off on their chart (remember...they have to check in with me before starting their poster) and then the work on the poster can begin. 

Here's the secret. I could care less about the poster. It's mostly for them. They LOVE working on the poster. Especially on the second day of class. They break it up, share responsibility (mostly...sometimes I need to help groups delegate tasks), and get rolling. Students are interacting with the words, definitions, finding pictures, and getting to know each other. While I'm walking around passing out compliments to those doing a good job, asking kids about their summer, and just building relationships. It's like one big collaborative work session that's low pressure and relaxed. We help troubleshoot printing issues, locate supplies, and dish out design tips. All the while kids are coming and going for school pictures without missing a beat. I really don't care about the poster, how it ends up looking, or if they even finish (I don't tell them that outright). There's so much more that is happening on this day than historical thinking. It really is a preview because I know tomorrow we're going to apply what they learned and dig a little deeper.


What started out as a pull-it-outta-my-ass assignment to make picture day go more smoothly ended up as a very meaningful and productive lesson. I think I'll keep it around! 

For the full resources on all 3 days of my Historical Thinking Boot Camp click HERE 

Feel free to use all materials by making a copy. Please don't claim them as your own or put them up on TPT. Thank you for that professional curtesy. 

1 comment:

  1. Fellow history teacher here who stumbled across you on Twitter and then made it to your blog. I also use the materials from SHEG and love how you have organized them. Thanks for sharing your work! I did make copies of some of your Google docs as ideas to use with my students. You get the credit and I never use TPT. Thanks. Hope your school year is off to a great start!

    ReplyDelete