Thursday, December 12, 2013

Constructing History: Gathering Evidence from Multiple Sources

   As students construct history, they are building deep understanding of people, events, ideas, interactions, and eras.  This idea of constructing history might seem elusive until you see how it's used in real life.

Imagine this scenario:  Your grandparents have passed on and you've been given control of a box that contains a variety of artifacts from their life.  There is a collection of letters with their correspondence during World War II, pictures from a variety of key moments in their lives, and some trinkets that were kept for one reason or another.  You are the "keeper of the artifacts."

In 4th grade, your son comes to you and says, "I need to do a report about my grandparents.  In my report, I have some questions that I need to answer.  Who were they? What was their life like? What were some of their accomplishments in life?"  At this point, you have a choice related to what and how your want your son to learn.

  1. Do you tell your son everything about your grandparents so he can learn about their life? OR
  2. Do you tell your son bits and pieces about your grandparents and analyze the box of artifacts to see if you can infer a little bit about their lives?
My belief is that you'd choose the second option, for a variety of reasons.  It's more interesting. It allows you to explore and think about the artifacts with your son. It allows you to see what your son does (or does not) understand about the past. And, it involves a conversation that is determined by the analysis of artifacts (versus you sharing information).

The same thing happens when teachers design learning experiences that ask students to construct history. As teachers we are the "keepers of the artifacts." As we gather and curate our collection of primary sources, we are developing a collection of artifacts that we want students to examine and analyze.

We ask students to construct the history of people, events, ideas, interactions and eras.  We use an inquiry approach to the learning, which involves creating questions with students or providing some key guiding questions.  We guide students to use secondary sources to gather ideas and evidence that will support answering these questions.  Most importantly, we involve students in the critical thinking process of analyzing a variety of primary sources connected to the learning.  We involve students in analyzing the artifacts. Through the process of analysis, students gather additional evidence about people, events, ideas, interactions and eras.  In this way, students are using multiple sources (primary AND secondary) to construct history.

For further investigation, you might consider reading a few other blog posts of mine:

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