In my first post I posed two Problems of Practice:

  • How might I ensure that what all students are doing is an activity or task that a historian, in the midst of gaining new knowledge through research and analysis, would actually do in the course of their work?
  • How might I ensure that what all students are doing will be a factor in their development toward being contributing, thoughtful, and fully-functioning members of the world?

The first PoP became the focus of the following lesson while the the second is a larger question to be dealt with later. It’s a question that I realize is core to my work as an educator and a question that I will grapple with for quite some time. So, how do I create instruction that positions my 9th and 10th grade students in the mindset of historians? This became a great need in my current class which is called Worlds Collide. Here is the explanation of Worlds Collide: a combined 9th and 10th Grade Social Studies Class, is an exploration of the indigenous people of Central America and the Caribbean and the eventual clash with European aggressors. Students are digging in to both primary and secondary sources to develop a deep understanding of the most substantial civilizations prior to European interference. One missing piece for the class this semester was substantial work with Primary Sources. Understanding that was a deficiency in my class, I set out to develop an authentic lesson in which students would use primary texts, somewhat modified, as well as secondary sources, to retell a narrative and develop their own interpretation of the history. By doing this task students would be doing what historians do. I used the Stanford History Education Groups Historical Thinking Chart to guide my lesson. The goal was for students to be Sourcing, Contextualizing, and Corroborating

I provided students with several texts. The full student documents can be found here.

Text 1

Text 2

Text 3

Text 4

The first day of this lesson students read and completed the task for each of these texts as individuals. Some classes worked in pairs. The second day of the lesson focused on reliability, biases, and believability of resources. Students, in a whole class setting, discussed these questions:

The results were fascinating. Some students concluded that the secondary source and text book were the most reliable. Many students thought the primary sources were to be believed regardless of potential bias, and others didn’t think any of the narratives were to be trusted.

The final task was to write their own interpretation of the meeting between Cortes and Moctezuma. Some samples of students narratives are below:

The lesson felt successful. It felt fruitful. The students were thinking critically about the sources and forming their own opinions about history. Our students produce better writing and engage in deeper thinking when they are asked more complex questions and faced with challenging texts. This particular task was appropriate for my students and it was a great reminder to challenge students and present them with materials that could be a reach for many.

The long term plan for my classes and instruction is to provide more opportunities for students to engage in similar discussion and writing. The class I will teach next is called World at War, which focuses on the competing interests and developments that led to WWI and WWII. With an endless supply of primary sources at hand I look forward to challenging students with demanding texts and real world work of historians.

This lesson was composed through collaboration with Lightning Jay, Doctoral Candidate at University of Pennsylvania, utilizing materials adapted from the Stanford History Education Group’s Thinking Like a Historian Lessons.