In the essay “Examining the Reputation of Columbus” Jack Weatherford writes, “Christopher Columbus’ reputation has not survived the scrutiny of history, and today we know that he was no more the discoverer of America than Pocahontas was the discoverer of Great Britain. Native Americans had built great civilizations with many millions of people long before Columbus wandered lost into the Caribbean” (Weatherford). History, specifically the era of the Encounter between the Native Americans and the Europeans has left historians and many others with the question “What is the truth? Who were the Indigenous people that lived prior to the invasion of the Spanish and was Columbus truly a hero or a villain?”
Worlds Collide, a course on of the exploration of the Indigenous civilizations from the Greater Antilles and Mesoamerica and the immediate and long lasting consequences of the clash with the European aggressors is designed for students to question the history they have been taught and the impact it has today. Students grapple with primary and secondary sources to determine whether or not these civilizations were advanced. Students use the acronym SPICER (society, political, cultural, economic and religious) to understand the complexities of these civilizations prior to European colonization, the changes made and a fusion of indigenous contributions with the assimilation of Spanish colonization.
Weatherford’s statement of “Christopher Columbus’ reputation has not survived the scrutiny of history”: while Weatherford declares this statement to be true, I want my students to determine whether or not they agree with the statement. I want students to think effectively and critically using multiple sources to determine the perspectives but also try and find the similarities between the sources in hopes of understand the “truth” behind what happened. I want my students to use artifacts to deepen their understanding of the events and use the artifacts to draw conclusions about the impact. Lastly, I want a curricula that is meaningful for my students and makes deep connections and correlations between the past and the present. Mostly, I want my students to think like historians and use the information provided to use a lens in which they can understand but most importantly enjoy learning even the most difficult of content.
The questions I am framing my instructional practices around is How might we teach the skills and strategies needed to analyze materials and think like a historian?
Currently we are completing Unit One, with creating a weekly schedule that is repetitive but also allows for students to not only think but write like a historian. My weekly schedule is designed, as I would say to the students, as the “Recipe for Writing an Analytical Paragraph”.
Daily Schedule is as follows:
- Day One: Provide background about Native American Group using both facts and artifacts
- Day Two: Details into the history using a reading or station activity
- Day Three: What’s the Proof? – this is the part of the week where students are actually analyzing artifacts and making connections to the history. This is where I believe the connections piece and thinking like a historian really comes into play. This is where students can think about perspective of the way history is told, biases, how does the evidence support the facts, etc.
- Day Four: Writing activity related to content and the writing skills taught throughout the week. This is also the opportunity in which students begin to connect the history from multiple sources to the artifacts that exist.
So to continue the work I have already started the area of authenticity I chose is:
How am I encouraging all students to think, talk, and act like historians, critics, scientists, mathematicians, civically-minded individuals, etc.?
History is so important for understanding our world today. Students are disconnected with the connection between the past and present. Part of that is they do not possess the skills and strategies needed to think like “historian”, opportunities to analyze the “proof that exists” (evidence, artifacts, etc…) My hope is that through making the class engaging and allowing students to not memorize but think for themselves and provide multiple ways for students to explain their thinking, the disconnect will transform into engagement, curiosity and a thirst for more knowledge.
Now in doing this work I do foresee some challenges specifically with teaching heterogeneous classes with multiple levels is:
- Finding sources students will be able to read and understand as well as being able to provide multiple perspectives. History tends to be written from the perspective of the “strong” more dominant group.
- Providing more opportunities for researching or making true connections historians make using the limited resources available.
I’m embarrassed to admit that after having been at ESA for 8 years, I still did not know what the Worlds Collides course was really about. That is a great essential question to frame this course and really timely for this month with Indigenous People’s Day.
You say that there are limited resources – if you had unlimited resources, what would you have in your class? What do you envision your students having access to that would elevate their abilities to think like true historians?
Ideally this class I would love to explore the issues of race and culture. I would like students to look at how this period in time shapes not only how we look, but how we judge one another, how power is allotted, politics of a country, so on so forth. I really more than anything don’t want them to feel as if they can’t questions history or the sources provided. I want them to naturally question why events happened and the lasting consequences of history.
I think it’s pretty amazing that you are teaching your students how to deeply analyze historical events from multiple perspectives. This most certainly is a discipline-specific skill and an important skill for life in general. It seems as if you have chosen themes that are both engaging and intriguing to students. Another important aspect of historical work is asking questions worth exploring. How do you get students to ask good questions? Once they formulate a question that is of interest to them, what are ways you guide them on the journey to grappling with multiple responses they may encounter?