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NCHE Day Two – Common Core and historical thinking

Bruce Lesh, of Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer fame, shared a bit this afternoon on how his class does history and how those practices align with the Common Core.

Reading standards

The Common Core asks our students to read critically, examine documents, ask questions of those documents, use a variety of documents, and to develop literacy skills that let them read effectively

Bruce suggests that most good history teachers have been doing this sort of “common core” stuff forever. We ask kids to look at:

  • the text
    What is visible? What info is provided by the source?
  • the context
    What else was going on during this period? How does this help explain the document?
  • the subtext
    What is happening between the lines? Who’s author / Audience / Purpose?

Sam Wineburg suggests the same thing when he describes:

  • Sourcing: Think about a document’s author and its creation.
  • Contextualizing: Situate the document and its events in time and place
  • Close reading: Carefully consider what the document says and the language used to say it.
  • Using Background Knowledge: Use historical information and knowledge to read and understand the document.
  • Reading the Silences: Identify what has been left out or is missing from the document by asking questions of its account.
  • Corroborating: Ask questions about important details across multiple sources to determine points of agreement and disagreement.

Writing standards

The Common Core asks our students to write arguments on discipline specific texts, support opinions with evidence, apple domain specific vocabulary, compose arguments / opinions, and to create informational and narrative text.

The things that drive Bruce

The idea that:

  • Historians ask questions that frame a problem for them to solve
  • Historians gather and asks questions of a variety of sources
  • History Lab activities

A History Lab has four basic components:

  • A great central question
  • Evaluation of sources with any information gained applied to development of an answer to the question
  • Employment of literacy skills to evaluate sources
  • The development / refinement / defense of an evidence-based answer to the central question

Bruce used a sample lesson focused on the 1970 invasion of Cambodia. His central question? Is Nixon trying to widen the war or to achieve Peace with Honor?

He started with the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song Four Dead in Ohio. We also looked at some basic Kent State and Hard Hat riot information, Nixon’s speech announcing his plan to invade Cambodia, a few political cartoons, a poster demanding a protest march on the White House, transcripts from Oval Office conversations between Nixon and Kissinger, and a 1968 Nixon campaign ad.

A nice exercise that looked at a wide variety of sources with a good question for students to address. We also talked about different ways for students to create their own secondary source that addressed the question.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Phyllis Haibon #

    How do I order the whole kit and how much is it?

    March 29, 2012
    • glennw #


      I probably wasn’t clear enough – the History Lab is just what Bruce Lesh, the session presenter, calls the activities that he has his kids complete while in his class. But he did make the entire sample that we worked through available to those of us who attended his session.

      You should contact Bruce and see if he would do the same for you.
      “Bruce A. Lesh”


      March 29, 2012

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