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. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Day 1: Historical Thinking Boot Camp - High School Edition

I taught for 13 years at the middle school level. One of the best things I ended up adding to the start of my year was a "Historical Thinking Boot Camp" which spent some dedicated time with my 7th graders going through all the skills needed to think historically. I wrote a blog post that can be see HERE detailing it. And to this day it is one of my most popular blogs. 

But like all good needs an update. This update really was for me. 3 years ago I made the jump to high school.  It only took 4 semesters and teaching in a pandemic for me to finally work out a version of the boot camp for my US History classes to try out. 

I am dividing this into 4 different blog posts in order to be able to go into details for each day and then provide a reflection and any modifications I may do the next time in the final post. 

  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 provide resources to my lessons and activities for free at the conclusion of this post, all I ask is that if you use it you don't claim it as your own and it doesn't end up on TPT*** 

For reference we run a 4x4 block schedule (85ish minute class periods). I see my classes each day for a semester and then start over with a new group of kids in January. While my middle school version of the boot camp took 5-7 days, I don't have the luxury of that much time at the HS level with our schedule. So this is designed to be completed in 3ish days, which includes the first day of school "stuff". 

Day 1: (First day of the semester)

I try to come out like a freight train full of energy and do my best to get kids engaged at the "get-go". One of my favorite phrases I say to my classes is... 

And I mean it. Almost as soon as I say that we talk about what good discussions look like. I explain (and model) my expectations for good quality discussions. What I, as the teacher walking around the room, expect to SEE and HEAR. We talk about body language and how that can convey a persons attitude and level of participation. My basic expectations for discussions in class...

I make it clear that these are the expectations whenever we have a discussion, and I go through those expectations EVERY TIME for the first two weeks. After that I simply have to say "remember our discussion expectations of what I should SEE and HEAR".

Now we practice. 4 short discussion questions to demonstrate those expectations. This also gives me a chance to walk around become a part of the conversations. I get to know what they wish teachers did in class, what they hate that teachers do, and the skills they wish school would teach them. These are great and powerful conversations. On day one. 

Now Jill, what does this have to do with Historical Thinking? 
Everything we do to start the year is training my students to "take it to the next level." This lesson is providing students the training they need with questions that are low-pressure and tend to be of interest to many kids (and rarely are they asked about it). This sets the tone so that when we have discussion topics that are more controversial and/or difficult topics, we have already established the norms for civil discourse. I find that when I am crystal clear about my expectations, they tend to be met.

The discussion (specifically that last two slides) leads perfectly into Activity #2: Employability skills. 

I went into detail on this activity with a blog post you can check out by clicking here. To summarize students identify employability skills that THEY want to leave high school having practiced and get better at. Students work together in the class to select 5 skills they want me to incorporate in the daily lessons, activities, and projects. I post them in the classroom as a daily reminder to us all. 

Activity #3: An Introduction to Historical Thinking
I have been a part of a professional learning community for 10 years or so made up of amazing Kansas Social Studies teachers around our state. A couple of years ago there was a presenter to talked about "untold stories" of history. This was the first time I was introduced to the photo of the "Orphans of the Abyss."

 I explain that when studying the past, historians ask a series of questions in order to examine the evidence they have. So we're going to practice. I tell them to discuss what they see in the photo on the next slide. 

And let me tell you...the conversation is amazing. The details students pull out from the photo, their reasoning...they are thinking like historians and they don't even realize it. They THINK they're just pointing out details in a photo. I love this moment so much. I walk around and nudge them for more information "What does that tell you?" or "Why do you think that is?"

We discuss their observations as a class and I go on to explain that historians are limited to the evidence they have. The more evidence that they can corroborate the more accurate their inferences are. Every now and then new evidence from past events comes up, and provides a more clear picture of what really happened. 

Then I show the next slide (which has a slight addition to the photo). 

Ohhhs and Ahhhhs fill the room. It sounds corny but I'm serious. We talk about what inferences they made that were correct and which ones were wrong.

And then I tell the story of the "Orphans of the Abyss" (Click here for the amazing story

There are always mouths open with surprise, and this moment always hits within the last 5 minutes of class. I end with this... 

History is MORE than dates and events in a textbook or vocabulary presented in a lecture. History is the story or REAL people who lived and experienced events of a nation and a world. History is ever changing and history is found in the stories. In my class we will study the stories from the people who lived during extraordinary times. We will compare their stories from multiple perspectives and ask questions in order to gain larger answers. 

And tomorrow we will find out just how we're going to "think like historians." 

Day 2 and Day 3 posts are coming soon! 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

More than Content: Teaching Employability Skills and Making Student OWN it!

I believe it is my job to teach MORE than my content. It is my job to help students practice the skills that will be necessary in the work place. I tell all of my classes on the first day of school that I will try, as much as possible to treat them as someone in the "adult working world". 

Side note: I've always hated the phrase "real world" when talking to teens. I HATED it when I was in high school and someone told me to "wait for the real world..." Like my world wasn't real. So I make it a point to refer to the "working world" or "adult world". 

What does that look like? 

  • I allow for natural consequences to take place. If I provide time to work during class and a student makes the choice to work on another class than mine or play Pacman on their Chromebook, the consequence of that is homework or a lower grade due to a poor quality assignment. I will redirect them. I will tell them how their actions are being perceived by me. I will not get into an argument with a kid on whether or not they're on task. I don't have time for that. And teachers never win those anyway... 
  • Student feedback on the activities, lessons, projects, and organization of class is expected, asked for regularly, and taken seriously. Real-time changes and additions are made based on student feedback.
  • They will have a voice and choice in the classroom on the types of projects/activities they do and the rubrics that score them. 
  • Group projects will come with contracts where duties are outlined, consequences are spelled out, and being "fired" is a real option. 
  • Activities, lessons, and projects will be aligned with the employability skills that the class wants to focus on. 
This blog post is going to focus on that last bullet. "Activities, lessons, and projects will be aligned with the employability skills that the class wants to focus on." This is probably one of the best things I've added to my classroom in the last year, and I totally stole and adapted the idea from another amazing educator I had the privilege to work with. Follower her on Twitter @cadyjackson

This is an activity that I do on the first day of class. It follows the same general procedure as the Capturing Kid Hearts Social Contract. But instead of creating a contract in which we are all going to socially abide by... we're going to identify the employability skills that are most needed by students today. order to learn and apply the skills that they choose, they will naturally have to abide by the typical social contract aptitudes of respect, responsibility, empathy, etc... By creating an Employability Skills Contract this makes that process more relevant and provides automatic buy-in from the students who took ownership of the list.

I start out by handing out a paper copy of the employability skills chart that was created by our Kansas Department of Education in collaboration with various employers across the state. The list is massive and very overwhelming to students at first. (Find the list here) I direct them to focus on the "Competency" column. While the entire chart does provide good information and can initiate great conversation, I'm also bound by time. The "Competency" column gets us right to the one or two word skills that matter. 

I do a reverse of "I do - We do - You do" scaffolding strategy. I call it "You do - They do - We do" Students start individually by writing down 10 skills they personally think are the most important or that they struggle in the most. I usually walk around answering questions and defining skills like "assertiveness" and "networking". 

After a couple minutes of alone time, I ask them to have a conversation with their team members about the skills they all wrote down. Where do they agree? Where do they disagree? Why? And then create a group list of 8 skills they can all agree are needed outside the walls of academia.

Then comes the "We do" part of the activity. I call on a group to share their list. As they read aloud the skills they chose, I write them on the board. I pick the next team to share their list. If a skill is repeated, I put a check mark. By the time each team has shared their list it becomes obvious which skills are the ones the majority of the class wants to focus on. 

***Here's where I sell it*** 
This group of young-adults, many of whom will be walking out into the "working world" in little over two years has just told me the skills THEY want to work on. The aptitudes THEY feel are the most important for their future. And it becomes my job to create lessons, activities and projects that include these important competencies while also teaching the necessary history curriculum. I post them on the wall and I refer to those skills anytime we do something that includes practice in those areas. I make sure to remind them that THEY were the ones to choose those skills not me. It's very important that I make it known in class when we are focusing on specific skills that they chose. I do this after activities, discussions, and I include the "skills of focus" on projects (as seen in the image above). 

***And here's my secret***
I was already doing this in the classroom years before we did this activity. These skills were being taught consistently to my 7th and 8th graders at Cheney. It has always been important for me to make sure to include those in my activities. The only difference now is that the students have OWNERSHIP over the selection process and more BUY IN to the reasoning. It's a win-win. 

ANNNNDDDDD they always choose the skills I want them to. Every time.