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

4 Replies to “Engaging with Multiple Narratives and Exploring Historical Bias”

  1. The lesson is clearly presented to the reader and it does a fine job of reaching students at a variety of levels of Blooms. This is certainly a timely lesson, with a resurgent focus on Native American rights in the news. You might find some useful strategies in this approach: Structured Academic Controversy. It has some good protocols for addressing controversy and especially important when exploring historic attitudes about race.

    Two other sources you might like:
    European Americans and Native Americans View Each Other, 1700-1775 http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/peoples/text3/indianscolonists.pdf

    Westward Expansion: Image and Reality http://chnm.gmu.edu/tah-loudoun/blog/psas/westward-expansion-image-and-reality/

  2. I think your lesson is a great way to introduce students to historical bias and Native American issues in a guided way. I like how students have an opportunity to engage with multiple different sources, primary and secondary. I wonder if you could also include a photo essay as one of your sources, for your students who need visual supports. They are great because they combine primary and secondary sources.

    One suggestion I might make is to allow the think-pair-share to take up more time, and evaluate it as part of the discussion portion. That way students who are more comfortable sharing with small groups as opposed to large ones are being accurately assessed for their communication skills.

  3. Great lesson! It is thorough and brings to light what a great deal of traditional sources leave out. The lesson also incorporates geography, primary source reading skills, annotation and note-taking skills, and historical writing and speaking skills. This will set your students miles ahead when they take high school social studies and English courses.

    I agree with Clarice’s comment about allowing more time for the think-pair-share and including it as part of the discussion participation grade. However, I am happy that discussion, written analysis, and reflection appears to take the majority of the lesson. These elements made up a major part of my own lesson. Kudos!

  4. Wow this lesson is packed! Great material, great opportunities to challenge students, and intense pushing of their previously held views of history. These themes are so beyond what I was taught in middle school – I agree with Valerie’s comment that lessons like this will get your students ready for thinking about history at a high school and even college level.

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