UP-Leveling the Think Factor


A good history teacher makes examining primary and secondary sources a priority as opposed to an after-thought.  Most primary sources are difficult for middle schoolers to read because of the readability level.  But it’s even more so for World History when we need to rely on translated copies of the real thing.

But because I feel it’s important to push my students beyond their comfort zone, I’ve added a new lesson to my Japan & Europe Units – examining a variety of primary and secondary sources that specifically focus on honor and oaths of loyalty for the samurai and knight.

Now last Friday, I introduced an activity which asked students to define what is honor within the context of a soldier’s action.  It was difficult to get students to explain their thinking and if I’m being honest, I was a bit frustrated.  But there was a glimmer of hope when there was an impromptu debate during my 4th period.  Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!  Last Friday was a block schedule, so I only saw my Periods 2, 4, and 6.  Tomorrow, I have all six periods, so I’m going to try the honor activity again with my Periods 1, 3, and 5.  But they are going to put their responses on a GoogleDoc.  The reason why I didn’t do that last Friday is because our iPads were commandeered for testing.  But we get them back tomorrow for one day and then permanently by Thursday.

Whew!  This teaching without the iPads is for the birds.  I don’t think I’ve ever made that many paper copies in quite some time.  The because of iPads is that most of the documents I use are online and thus, I don’t have to spend my time making copies, nor do we have to use several reams of paper.  So, believe me when I say that I’m glad to have the iPads back at the end of this week!

But I digress.

So Periods 2, 4, and 6, because they already examined honor are going to jump into analyzing primary and secondary sources, looking for examples of honor.  They are going to use the Keys to Questioning/Keys to Learning to help them write a coherent response.  Part of our department’s frustration with student writing is that it lacks analysis.  It’s hard to teach students to think deeper, to elaborate on their writing, to cite evidence and explain how it supports their statements.  It’s an uphill battle for sure, one that we’ve been fighting for many years.  The goal for this particular activity is to help students answer a Level 5 question about the role of honor in Japanese society.  Now Level 5 questions are optional, so though many students will choose NOT to answer the question for the unit test, they have no choice but to analyze the primary and secondary sources as a class activity.  Gotcha!

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