The Changing Character of American Government: A Document-Based Lesson

Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Medicare_bill,_with_Harry_Truman,_July_30,_1965
Source – President Lyndon Johnson signs Medicare into law

Inquiry skills are at the heart of social studies and lessons that provide students with the chance to engage with rich primary sources are unparalleled opportunities for growth. In the document-based lesson (DBL) I prepared for this course, I sought to familiarize high school-aged social studies students with the ways in which the US federal government has changed over time by asking them to engage with samples of popular discourse surrounding Social Security, Medicare, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) at various points in the programs’ respective histories.

Students are presented with arguments made by high-profile figures and various forms of public opinion data. They are then asked to use this information as well as their knowledge of the historical contexts in which these debates take place to recognize connections between these debates and themes underlying the ways that US government and politics have shifted in the last century. Students demonstrate their ability to use the documents to arrive at such conclusions in both a class discussion and a written response to the lesson.

The experience of creating this DBL will inform my approach to the development of future lessons. In particular, I feel that incorporating sources that create opportunities for less proficient readers to engage in grade-level inquiry is important. In this case, I included videos, photographs, and a graph. The diverse character of the documents ensures that barriers to participation in the lesson are minimized.

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