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NCSS 2008 Day Two – Writing Historical Arguments in MS

Leslie Duhaylongsod teaches at the Winsor School, a private girls school in Boston. She starts off well by pandering directly to public school teachers

I know how difficult your job is and understand that some of the things I can do, may not be possible in your situation.

Why bother writing arguments in middle school?

  • they already love to argue
  • a chance to push their thinking
  • opportunity to demonstrate their understanding
  • builds great writing foundations for other content areas
  • ability for teacher to intgerate differentiated instruction

A MS argument has three parts – simple thesis, evidence and explanation as to how the evidence supports the thesis. She suggests that the last piece is the most difficult for kids. She spends a lot of time “teaching patience” during this process. Most kids haven’t done this before and so get very frustrated at this stage.

Activity one:

Using an atlas – what info can we get from an atlas that might be useful to us as we try to find out about the ancient Greeks. Why is this info important (forcing them to make inferences). She also forces kids to use what I call a three story media analysis activity with her maps. I’ve done this with images and political cartoons but hadn’t really thought about doing that with maps. I’ll need to try that.

She uses a book called Shorter Atlas of the Classical World to help her kids measure the “correctness” of their inferences.

She works hard to get her kids to develop good thesis statements. She shared some sample thesis statements:

  • the geography of Greece was an advantage of Ancient Greece.
  • the geography of Greece negatively impacted the lives of the Ancient Greeks.
  • geography led to development of democracy
  • geography of Greece helped the ancient Greeks become powerful

Basically the steps that Sam Wineburg and others suggest that ALL history students should be doing. Of course, we can say this is what should be going on in all our classrooms whether private or not.  But I know teachers who will argue that they just don’t have time.

We have state tests coming up. We have to cover the material!

It was nice to listen to Leslie, hear how excited she is about what she does and see how she is working to create good historical thinkers. It makes sense how she is able to get her kids to work this hard – a lot of times good teaching boils down to the passion that kids see in their teacher.

Thanks, Leslie, for being one of those teachers that enjoy history and teach it the way it needs to be taught!

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