Collaborative Writing & Historical Thinking

Last week, a couple of colleagues and I hosted #sschat.  Our topic was collaborative writing and historical thinking – two things that we all believe are essential skills for our students to learn and practice in our classes.

Teaching writing is hard.  Teaching writing for history is a whole other ball game.  In the history classes, there is little benefit for students simply regurgitating information from the textbook or class discussions….which is why we make a concerted effort to create questions that require students to use higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  

And I’m not saying that other history teachers don’t do the same.  

But we used to require less than we do now.

We’ve upped the ante.

Because we have our learning scales, our department has created leveled questions for students.  Level 4 questions require analysis.  Level 5 questions require synthesis and/or evaluation.

Currently my students are focusing on analytical writing.  They are starting with what looks like a basic question:

  1. The men counted in the land had to serve in the army (p. 303).  Should all men be required to serve in the army?  If not, then who should be excused.  Why?
  2. Top government officials were “given farmers to work the land” (p. 303).  What is the ethical issue here?  Explain.
  3. How should a hierarchy be organized?  Should it be organized based on power?  Wealth?  Importance/usefulness?  Intellect?  Explain.
  4. Should government jobs be passed down to a son or other relatives?  Or should one have to pass an examination in order to get a government job?  Explain the pros and cons.

But as they are writing on the GoogleDoc, I’m posing questions to make them think deeper about the topic. Students have a difficult time elaborating on an idea and explaining themselves. And they aren’t going to get better if we don’t give them practice.

The twist is that students are writing on a GoogleDoc that is shared with peers who sit at their table throughout the day. I like this option because it exposes students to different points of view and writing styles. It also gives them an audience and sets the purpose.

Tomorrow, students will select a peer’s response and review it for accuracy and clarity. Hopefully by reviewing a peer’s response, students will be able to reflect on their own post to see if they are not only answering the question, but utilizing analysis skills in their writing.

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