Content vs. Process

In addition to being practice in how to go about making a DBQ, this assignment has also been a solid lesson in how not to create a DBQ. I feel that as an actual practicing teacher, this will be easier as I will have a better idea of what I want and need the DBQ to do. I will have a topic in mind, and a message that I am trying to convey to the students, or messages that I want them to come up with on their own. There will be more structure in place. Creating a DBQ in the manner that we did for this class allowed me too much freedom, I feel. I needed a more concrete goal, as my DBQ turned into doing whatever I wanted to with it, not trying to meet specific requirements for student learning.Lady Bird and Students

Going along with that, I decided early on that I wanted to create an image based DBQ. I found my resources, and shaped my DBQ around what I had discovered. If I were to do this again, I would reverse my work flow. The topic would come first, and then I would find documents that fit with it. There would be more diversity in the sorts of documents that I included, rather than just using images.

While I do like my DBQ, and feel that it would get students to think about something that wouldn’t normally cross their minds, I am less pleased with the process that I went through to create my DBQ. My problems aren’t so much with my content as with my process. If anything, I became too attached to  my content, and struggled to make changes because of that.

Image Credit:  White House Photo Office Collection courtesy of the National Archives.

First Families as an American Ideal

For this project I was initially looking into portraits and family photos from the late 1800s, and intended to explore what differences there were between how white and blacks were posed and portrayed. However, I soon realized that while this topic was interesting to me, I would be limited in the amount of documents there were. Furthermore, I was struggling to come up with questions to go along with these photographs. I knew that I wanted to do something with photos though, and that got me searching for a new topic. This new search led me to the photo below, which immediately captured my interest.

Bush family

The George Bush family in 1964 in Houston

Accompanying this photo were an assortment of other family photos of George H.W. Bush’s family, and diplomatic meetings that his wife Barbara conducted. From there I saw photos of other First Families and First Ladies, and I was hooked.

Potential Questions

  • How is the First Family used as an extension of the president’s image?
  • How does the way in which they are depicted show what the perception of the ideal American family was at that time?
  • What reasons might exist for the First Lady being photographed with someone? What message was the administration trying to get across?
  • How was the First Family used in the United States compared to the families of leaders in other leading power countries?

For example, we have the following photo of Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev together in 1990. If someone did not know who these two women were, they likely would assume that they were two good friends, rather than the wives of the leaders of nations that were coming to the end of an unspoken war. Why were they both chosen to give this address? What was to be achieved by depicting the two as being so comfortable around each other? It should also be noted that the school at which they spoke, Wellesley, is an all-female college. What importance should be attached to this?

Bush and Gorbachev

Mrs. Bush and Raisa Gorbachev give the Commencement Address at Wellesley College

Looking Forward

I am not going to have any problem finding photographs that I could use for this project. If anything, I am going to struggle with narrowing down what era the photographs should cover, and which are the most important. I need to decide if I want to work with families that were in power back to back, or if I would prefer to have a gap, to show how things changed over the years. During our critique session in class, I got the suggestion to look into First Family equivalent photos from other countries, which is a great idea that I have not explored yet. Again, this will raise the problem of having too many potential documents to work with.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Not Being Able to Correctly Identify These Speeches (and Fear Itself)


Photo Credit: Tony Fischer

Target: 8th or 11th grade (caliber of questions can be tailored based upon grade)

Historic Skills: Contextualization

For Students: The following two excerpts are both from inaugural speeches given by FDR. Based upon what you know about the time during which FDR served as president, respond to the following prompts:

  1. Which speech do you think came first? Why?
  2. Out of the four inaugural addresses that FDR gave, which do you think these two are? Explain your rationale.
  3. What common themes do you see in these speeches?

For Teachers: Students should have enough knowledge about FDR’s presidency that they will be able to identify what issues he was addressing in each speech, and be able to put them into context. They will be able to pick up on the fact that he was far more verbose in the first speech given than the second, indicating that this was his first, or at least an earlier speech. By the time he gave the second, he was used to doing this, and the people were used to hearing from him, thus he felt less of a need to be so wordy. They will also notice the repeated calls to be courageous during this time.

Note: The dates attached to the speeches would not be provided, but are included for the reader’s knowledge.


 Speech #1

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

FDR’s First Inaugural Address. March 4, 1933


Speech #2

“Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, my friends, you will understand and, I believe, agree with my wish that the form of this inauguration be simple and its words brief.

We Americans of today, together with our allies, are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage—of our resolve—of our wisdom—our essential democracy.

If we meet that test—successfully and honorably—we shall perform a service of historic importance which men and women and children will honor throughout all time.

As I stand here today, having taken the solemn oath of office in the presence of my fellow countrymen—in the presence of our God—I know that it is America’s purpose that we shall not fail.”

FDR’s Fourth Inaugural Address. January 20, 1945.


Reflection: As usual, I felt that the class review process went smoothly. I have used Google Docs to work on projects with people before, so I was already fairly comfortable using the comments option. It was a fun experience being able to incorporate that into a class. While working on these lessons was fun, I still strongly believe that these SHEG inspired activities are still best suited for being used as a warm-up, or part of a review session. An entire lesson could not be taught on this. Perhaps by combining a few slightly different formats of this activity, you could teach an entire lesson on thinking like a historian and examining documents. Beyond that though, this is just a quick exercise.

“The People happen to love me.”

The Life of Benjamin Franklin

Image from Page 6 of The Life of Benjamin Franklin

Lesson Study: First Draft

Content: Students will be given a quote by a famous historical figure, or a quote about an important moment in history. Preferably, these quotes would be ones that are not typically associated with the speaker or moment, so that students will have to think harder about the context the quote could have been given in. For example:

“The People happen to love me. Perhaps that’s my fault.” -Benjamin Franklin

Process: The quote (with speaker and the approximate date when it was said or written) would be put up on the projector for the class to read. Each student will then be given a few minutes to think about and write down ideas about what they think the context of the quote is and who the speaker is. This could be long bullet points or a short paragraph, whatever form they decide their work should take. What was the speaker really trying to say? What does it say about the time it was said during? If they know who the speaker was, they can write down what background knowledge they possess about this person. If they do not, they can speculate who they think the speaker was. Students will then share their ideas in pairs or small groups and will come up with a consensus for their group, which will be written down and given to me. I will then read out these ideas, conduct a short discussion, and then give a lecture on what the quote was really about.

Product: This is a lesson to be repeated, and by the end of the mini-unit, the students should each have a collection of reflections written down that they would be able to turn in.

Evaluation: With these reflections, I would like to stress to the students that there are no wrong answers. It does not matter if they were completely wrong about their theory, as long as they are able to clearly explain why they thought the way that they did. They should also be able to reflect on how their thinking changed after they learned about the true context of the quote. Ultimately, the mini-unit would be ended by having each students find a quote of their own, and to repeat the exercise. Another possible final assessment option would be to have each student make up a quote that a historical figure might have said, or about an event. They would then exchange quotes with another student, and would essentially teach a mini-lesson to their classmate.

What kinds of thinking will students need to do to participate in the lesson? Ideally, over the course of the mini-unit, students will have to employ every level of thinking according to Bloom. First, they must remember and understand the history behind each quote to some degree. They will then take what background knowledge they have, and apply that to their understanding of the quote, which they will then analyze and evaluate what the true meaning of it is. With their final assessment, they will have to apply everything they have learned from the previous lessons in order to create a product of their own for a fellow student to evaluate.

To what extent do students have options or choices regarding these lesson components? Students can express their individuality through their own interpretations. Each lesson will start with them being given the chance to think whatever they wish, without any prompting from me. They will also be given choices when the time comes for them to create their own mini-lesson.


I went about designing my lesson study by starting with the Benjamin Franklin quote above. I came across it in a reading for a history class, and decided that I needed to come up with a way to implement it into my future teaching. That got me thinking about other historical quotes that I enjoy for their wildness. I decided to structure my lesson study around this idea, and decided to focus it upon context and perspective.

Accomplishing the peer reviews was easy. The hardest part for me was not knowing how much feedback I was supposed to contribute. As a college student, and a soon-to-be teacher, I’d like to think that I am good at taking and giving constructive criticism. Going into the peer review sessions, we knew that we were supposed to be helping each other, and that it was nothing personal. A big part of teaching is being able to realize that what you’re doing isn’t working, and being able to set aside your pride and admit that you need to make changes. Accordingly, a class of future teachers should have no problem with constructive criticism. This is not going to be something I’ll have the chance to teach in this student teaching placement, but I hope I will be able to implement it in my advanced placement.