Last week, I had the chance to lead a quick conversation centered on this simple question:
“Is it ever okay to tamper with history?”
As in . . . is it okay to modify and edit the primary and secondary sources that our students use as part of the historical thinking process?
It’s always an interesting conversation. Because without fail, you get both ends of the continuum. On one end, you’ll have teachers who will argue for “absolutely not. You never mess with the raw data of history.” Or the other side that sees no problem with massive changes in vocabulary, wording, and voice.
I’m gonna fall somewhere in the middle. There are steps that you need to follow but without some editing and modification, most primary sources are not accessible to most of your students. Providing evidence that is usable to your kids is one of the first steps in creating historically literate students and modifying difficult to understand evidence is often necessary.
An article written in 2009 by historical thinking gurus Sam Wineburg and Daisy Martin for the National Council for the Social Studies journal, Social Education, provides some helpful tips for what this can look like.
In Tampering with History: Adapting Primary Sources for Struggling Readers, the two write:
We are unabashedly urging history teachers to tamper with history.
And in addition to offering a variety of arguments supporting that statement, the two also provide a three step process for how you can do the tampering. It’s an article you need to spend time walking through – perfect for the year’s first department meeting.
But once convinced, most of us run into the next set of problems. Finding the time to doing the tampering or finding already pre-tampered documents. The curriculum at the Stanford History Education Group Reading Like a Historian is a great place to start but other modified documents are practically non-existent.
Until now. Read more
More and more of us are integrating primary sources and inquiry learning into our instruction. In Kansas, this emphasis on historical thinking is tied to our recent standards. We’re moving to a writing slash social studies state assessment with a shared rubric that supports analyzing evidence and responding to a writing prompt.
There are several things that teachers are using to integrate the use of evidence and historical thinking into their classrooms:
- Document Based Questions
- Stanford History Education Group
Both of these tools provide opportunities to train kids to use evidence and develop products that demonstrate understanding. But we sometimes don’t have time to go out and track down all of the online goodies. So browse on down to find some useful DBQ, SHEG, and primary source sites.
I get the chance to work with all sorts of teachers, across the state and around the country. We’re all different. But when the conversation turns to teaching and learning social studies, I often hear the same thing:
“I have to lecture (or have students read their textbooks out loud, create outlines from the chapter, complete fill-in-the-blank worksheet packets, or watch a 30 year old video converted from 16 mm film) because the kids have to know their facts. It’s not fair asking them to think historically without the basic facts.”
I get it. And I don’t disagree. Kids do need the facts. But I think for too long we’ve just assumed that acquiring foundational knowledge and historical thinking are two distinct and different activities. We fill up their heads with facts and then, if we have time in the school year and after the state assessments are over, then . . . we can try some of that historical thinking stuff.
We need to stop doing that.
The brain is not a basket that we can just fill up with stuff. The brain is a bucket full of holes. The brain works very hard to find ways to forget things and if something is not important enough to be useful, it’s gonna find its way out one of the holes.
Our task is not to fill brains with facts. Our job is Read more
One of the best things about working with social studies teachers is that I get the chance to see all sorts of great ideas and strategies. Several weeks ago, I watched a teacher use something called a SAC or Structured Academic Controversy.
It’s a discussion / debate strategy that I haven’t seen used before. And it worked great so I figured I would share it with you.
History and social studies classes are perfect places for debate. And we’ve all used debates as part of what we do. I’m a big supporter of the idea of having kids research and use that research to create persuasive arguments. I especially like the Fence Sitter idea.
But with these types of class activities, it’s easy for students to lose sight of the objective and get very competitive, focusing more on winning the argument rather than about what they should be learning. And I admit, I’m probably the worst. I love a good social studies argument. And I love to win.
Cause I’m right.
The Structured Academic Controversy can help with this problem. Read more
You may be getting tired of hearing about the work of Sam Wineburg. I do talk about his stuff a lot. I do.
But it’s because the stuff created by Wineburg and others over at the Stanford History Education Group is so good. I’m sure you’ve all been to their site and looked at the 80+ lesson plans – all structured around the concepts of high level historical thinking. I’m sure you’ve all been to the newer Beyond the Bubble historical thinking assessment site.
But perhaps all of you have not seen the the very useful Reading Like a Historian videos. The SHEG people have put together a great series of videos that demonstrated what historical thinking looks like.