Reflections on a DBL


Lesson 3 from El Amancer Del Pueblo (Sunrise of the People), the standard issue Literacy Workbook, with lesson’s generative theme at top.

When I began designing my chapter for our shared iBook, I considered only a handful of ideas before settling on the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade.  Having spent the better part of the last year researching the campaign, becoming intensively familiar with the historiography of the topic, and looking for sources, I had constructed an excellent library of documents and evidence to draw from.  The iBook design process offered an opportunity to showcase some of these findings, and choosing such a familiar topic meant that much of the grunt work had already been done.  I could focus, almost entirely, on selecting my absolute favorite documents and creating an educational experience built from those sources.

Working within the iBook design process offered another opportunity, however.  For months, I have played the role of historian, looking into this topic to discover new understandings, and form new conclusions.  The nature of the Document Based Lesson format, which puts students into much of the same role, meant that with some careful planning, I could provide a lesson that would mirror my own experience, and offer students a chance at a history project more closely aligned with how academic historians operate.  I sequenced documents in a way that mirrored, in general execution if not in exact similarity, my own research process, and my own journey of discovery.  In my lesson, students examine some of the same secondary sources I did to gather context, come to understand the historical event through the same quotes and excerpts I used, and are given a chance to carefully examine the same primary materials I did, with a different but no less meaningful focus.


Image accompanying the generative theme in Lesson 3 from the El Amancer Del Pueblo (Sunrise of the People) Workbook.

One of the aspects of the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade that drew me to the topic when selecting it for a Thesis, and again when beginning this project, was it’s relevance to both myself and to a degree, all students.  The Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade is a story of how a nation came together — albeit in sometimes controversial ways — to better their society.  It is a story of relying on the youth to make this vision happen.  As an educator, a historical event centered around teaching and instruction naturally appeal to me.  But I hope that for students, the emphasis on education can bring some relevance as well.  Students spend the lion’s share of their day at school, immersed in an educational system they’ve known in some form almost as far back as they can remember.  School is a fixture in student’s lives, and a fixed one at that — a system that changes slowly, is defined by the past, and presents one narrative of what education is and what it should look like.  Creating a lesson about a project where middle- and high-school aged students not only played a vital role in a national endeavor, but also served as teachers themselves, opens up an opportunity for students to step outside this system and reflect on the differences between different ways we educate.  Perhaps, in the process, they can begin to think critically about their own education, and the structures that facilitate that education.

Designing a book like this could be challenging at times, from a mundane technical standpoint, but that challenge never seemed so big as to obstruct the overall goal.  iBooks Author proved to be intuitive enough, for me at least, to make the real difficulty of this assignment the challenge of sequencing interesting content and providing meaningful questions to accompany that content.  Finishing the chapter was extremely rewarding, both due to the sharp professional look of the book, and the satisfaction of being able to incorporate an event I find fascinating into a new and fresh format.  This was a fresh look on a topic I have spent much time looking at already, and the new perspective was valuable and refreshing.  Knowing that I already had most of the documents I needed due to prior research additionally reinforced to me the value of the skills I have acquired to find sources in the future, for future, similar projects as this.

Republica De Nicaragua. Cruzada Nacional De Alfabetizacion. Ministerio De Educacion. El Amancer Del Pueblo. Republica De Nicaragua, 1980.

Document Based Lesson – Nicaraguan Literacy

For my Document Based Lesson, I will be having students examine the overt, then more subtle, ways the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade of 1980 was turned from an act of education to an act of politics.  The intent of this is to have students identify the ways language, visuals, and curriculum content are used to communicate political messages.  Students will also have to examine documents to become familiar with what the Nicaraguan government’s political position was, so that they can identify political messages when they see them, a process that will involve documents that should specifically help students formulate questions about the underlying political nature of education itself.

This lesson is intended for 12th Grade Students enrolled in a Modern World History course with an emphasis in exploring less commonly discussed historical stories or events.  It is similar in function to a World History course I took myself as a Senior, and is intended to push students towards reflecting on the role education has played in their own lives.  This ties directly to the Essential Question, “How is Education shaped by and used to shape society?“, which hopefully ties to the student reality by discussing a large portion of their life up to that point, the education process.  img_3803

The lesson will begin with students analyzing images of militarized literacy instructors to identify defining visual characteristics, to introduce students to the process of looking at images to identify relevant visual details, then backtrack to an examination of a field report on Nicaragua.  This will serve to introduce background information on the Nicaraguan nation, it’s Sandinista government, and the Literacy Crusade, but this will be done via a primary source report and students will be posed sourcing questions to examine it.  Students will then examine selected excerpts from Nicaraguan leaders to determine their position on politics in education, close reading the arguments, and discuss what they think of the document’s veracity and the author’s opinion.

Next, students will examine selections from the instructional workbook used during the crusade, quotes from instructors, propaganda songs with accompanying translated lyrics, and still images of Crusade images and source/close read to determine how they communicate political messages.  Finally, to end the unit, students will review the first image and note political aspects they might have missed the first time, then re-review an excerpt from a Nicaraguan leader on education, and discuss how it relates to their own time in school.

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Scott Hearron

Ministerio De Educación. “Mejorar La Calidad De La Aflabetización!” La Cruzada En Marcha (Managua), July 14, 1980, 12th ed.


Devastation of the Indies


Use this excerpt from Bartoleme de Las Casas Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies and your knowledge of history to analyse the following image and answer the associated questions.  

Background Information:

Bartoleme de Las Casas, a Spanish Priest, participated in slave raids on the island of Hispaniola (the 15th century Spanish title for the island that is now home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the conquest of Cuba.  Following the conquest of Cuba and the admonishment of a group of Dominican missionaries, de Las Casas experienced a change of heart while studying a Biblical passage and came to the conclusion that the Spanish exploitation and oppression of the Native Caribbean peoples constituted a great injustice.  De Las Casas was subsequently inspired to pen his Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, decrying the Encomienda system and barbaric practices of the Spanish conquistadores.  In this passage, he describes the customs and physical characteristics of Native peoples.  


Source Text:

“This is a most tender and effeminate people, and so imbecile and unequal-balanced temper, that they are altogether incapable of hard labour, and in few years, by one Distemper or other soon expire, so that the very issue of Lords and Princes, who among us live with great affluence, and fard deliciously, are not more effminate and tender than the Children of their Husbandmen or Labourers: This Nation is very Necessitous and Indigent, Masters of very slender Possessions, and consequently, neither Haughty, nor Ambitious.

They are parsimonious in their Diet, as the Holy Fathers were in their frugal life in the Desert, known by the name of Eremites. They go naked, having no other Covering but what conceals their Pudends from publick sight. An hairy Plad, or loose Coat, about an Ell, or a coarse woven Cloth at most Two Ells long serves them for the warmest Winter Garment. They lye on a coarse Rug or Matt, and those that have the most plentiful Estate or Fortunes, the better sort, use Net-work, knotted at the four corners in lieu of Beds, which the Inhabitants of the Island of Hispaniola, in their own proper Idiom, term Hammacks. The Men are pregnant and docible. The natives tractable, and capable of Morality or Goodness, very apt to receive the instill’d principles of Catholick Religion; nor are they averse to Civility and good Manners, being not so much discompos’d by variety of Obstructions, as the rest of Mankind; insomuch, that having suckt in (if I may so express my self) the the very first Rudiments of the Christian Faith, they are so transported with Zeal and Furvor in the exercise of Ecclesiastical Sacraments, and Divine Service, that the very Religioso’s themselves, stand in need of the greatest and most signal patience to undergo such extream Transports. And to conclude, I my self have heard the Spaniards themselves (who dare not assume the Confidence to deny the good Nature praedominant in them) declare, that there was nothing wanting in them for the acquisition of Eternal Beatitude, but the sole Knowledge and Understanding of the Deity”

Question 1: Biased Sources: Analyze the passage and image in conjunction with one another.  Does de Las Casa’s written account corroborate what is pictured in the imagery?  Why might a historian approach de Las Casa’s account as untrustworthy or questionable?  Can this source still be used, in spite of possible flaws?


Question 2: Selective Use of Evidence: This passage is a short selection of de Las Casa’s larger work.  What might one assume de Las Casa’s is arguing reading only this passage?  Explain your answer.  


Question 3: Selective Use of Evidence: After answering, read the following excerpt.  Does the additional context change what you think Casa’s was arguing?  Explain your answer, then reflect and write on how you think a historian might use evidence to selectively.  How could an incomplete reading of a source effect one’s perception of that source’s argument?  

“The Spaniards first assaulted the innocent Sheep, so qualified by the Almighty, as is premention’d, like most cruel Tygers, Wolves and Lions hunger-starv’d, studying nothing, for the space of Forty Years, after their first landing, but the Massacre of these Wretches, whom they have so inhumanely and barbarously butcher’d and harass’d with several kinds of Torments, never before known, or heard (of which you shall have some account in the following Discourse) that of Three Millions of Persons, which lived in Hispaniola itself, there is at present but the inconsiderable remnant of scarce Three Hundred.”



Instructional Goal: This questions asks a student to approach a primary source document and associated historical imagery and analyze the ways they can be used and the limitations imposed by their inherent biases.  In this assessment, students examine Bartoleme de Las Casas’ account of the practices of Native peoples in conjunction with a painting picturing de Las Casas’ amongst Caribbean Native peoples.  


Question 1 asks student to analyze De Las Casas account for similarities, or ways in which it could support, the image.  Students are then tasked with discerning whether or not it can be used to corroborate it, or if the bias of the source makes it poor evidence.  To answer the question, students must examine the limitations de Las Casas had writing, what his own agenda might have been, and then determine whether to support the use of the source or not.  A proficient student will be able to evaluate the limitations of using De Las Casas account and recommend that it might be possible to corroborate the image using the picture, but that the source must be viewed with a great deal of skepticism given de Las Casas’ infantilizing view of native Caribbean peoples and his missionary intent.  

Question 2 and 3 introduces students to the idea that evidence can be used selectively to push a specific, but questionably accurate, argument.  Students first must determine what they believe de Las Casas was arguing, and explain the reasons for the answer.  Subsequently, students read a second excerpt from the same document, and reflect on how it changes their perception of what de Las Casas was arguing.  Students will hopefully reach an understanding of how a source must be examined when someone is using it as evidence, because of the way an argument can use only the pieces of that source that support it to push an inaccurate conclusion.  Students will finally speculate how other sources might be used selectively.  Proficient students will also be able to determine that de Las Casas was arguing not just that Native inhabitants of Hispaniola would make good Christians, but also that the Spaniards were abhorrent in their treatment of these people.  Students will determine that de Las Casas condescendingly believed he was protecting the Native inhabitants from Spanish excesses.  

Image Credit:

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Source Excerpt Credit:

Project Gutenburg

Engaging with Multiple Narratives and Exploring Historical Bias

  1. Intro

My student teaching placement classroom, an 8th Grade Social Studies course, will serve as the example for how and why I would conduct my lesson.  This year, we are covering United States history from colonization through reconstruction, including particular focuses on Native American experiences, problems of colonization, how the United States government was designed and created, and how racism has served as a pervasive force throughout American history up into the present day.  The lesson I have designed would take place over the course of one to two days, depending on class performance and would be given to two classes at different periods.   Each class period is 53 minutes long.

  1. Content

Students in this lesson will work towards acquiring research and writing skills.  Students will become familiarized with the ways in which violence between Colonial Settlers and Native Americans developed and the impact of colonization on Native American communities.  Students will develop skills to recognize historical bias.

  1. Process

Students will be conducting individual notes and research and writing short responses, before engaging with a guided classroom discussion on the idea of historical bias.  Students will be assigned a warm-up upon arriving, asking them to briefly answer 3 questions related to a map comparison.  The first in this comparison map will show the territorial spaces of Native American, English, Spanish, and French cultural groups, while the second map will show how these territories shifted following the Seven Years War.  Students will be tasked with giving a basic analysis of which groups are labeled in the map, what the maps show about how Native American territory changed, and why they think the territory may have changed as it did.

After the completion of their warm-up, students will be given a choice between three articles: one on Metacom’s War, one on disease epidemics among Native American populations, and one describing gender dynamics in Native American society compared to colonial settlements.  Students will then use Cornell note sheets to identify the key concepts, vocabulary, and one section they feel particularly interesting or difficult.  The instructor will filter through the class during this period to answer questions, manage the classroom, and keep track of student progress.  After a twenty-five to thirty-five-minute work period, students will be paired into groups of three.  They will conduct a three-person think-pair-share activity and take one minute per student to explain the key vocabulary and concepts to their partners using their Cornell sheets.

Students will then be rearranged into one large group, either circled in their desks if space permits, or sitting in chairs but not desks if space is too constrained in order to facilitate face-to-face discussion between the students and their peers.  The instructor will place and read a short excerpt from a primary source document detailing the feelings of an American Colonist towards Native American violence.  The instructor will lead a guided discussion, focusing the class on the different perspectives between their assigned readings and the excerpt, potential problems or biases present in the excerpt, and ways in which the narrative provided differs based on the source.

Students will then be given five minutes for a closure activity, where they will be asked to write one paragraph detailing what they learned from the article and how their thoughts changed or did not change as a result of group discussion.

  1. Product

To demonstrate their learning, students will produce a one paragraph response detailing what they learned from their article, and how their thoughts did or did not change due to group discussion.  Students will also produce a Cornell note sheet identifying the key concepts and vocabulary of their article, which they will use for both their pair-share activity and the discussion.  Importantly, students will also demonstrate their learning by engaging in the classroom discussion with thoughtful and relevant commentary.  This small variety in student products will hopefully provide avenues both for students more comfortable writing, and students more comfortable explaining their ideas verbally.

  1. Evaluation

Students will be assessed in a number of ways during this lesson.  The initial warmup, when and if completed on time, will be given a stamp, which students will then be graded on during a Journal Check to assess how they are doing, overall, at participating in the class activities and the warm ups.  Students will also be given a stamp on their Cornell note sheet, after demonstrating it contains both the key vocabulary and main ideas, which will also be checked during the Journal Check.  Students will be assessed on their level of participation, as well as on the content and relevance of their contributions, during the discussion, but this will be done as part of a running, multi-day discussion rubric to give quieter or students with an off day a more equitable evaluation.  Finally, students will be assessed via a stamp on their short-response, which will also be placed in their journal and evaluated during their journal check.

  1. Kinds of Thinking

During the warm up, students will be engaging in understanding and analyzing thinking, as they use maps skills, compare and contrast, and make inferences.  During the article section, students will engage in remembering and recalling as they define the main vocabulary terms and key concepts.  During discussion, students will engage in analysis, comparing the differing perspectives of the articles they read as well as the instructor provided excerpt.  Finally, when writing their short response, students will engage in analysis, comparing and contrasting their own thoughts pre/post discussion, and understanding, summarizing what they learned from their article in their own terms.

  1. Student Choice

During this lesson, students will have limited but meaningful opportunities for choice.  Students will be provided three options to focus on for their work time, based on whatever topic they find most personally relevant.  These topics have been selected to engage on questions of war, violence, roles of disease, gender roles, and how social systems differ, to hopefully provide some relevant historical topic the student will find interesting and engaging.


United States Library of Congress

Image Source