As I’ve become more involved in the teaching community, I’ve noticed a growing tendency towards turning history into a series of craft projects. This issue has been very well documented by Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy) in an article titled “Is Your Lesson a Grecian Urn?”
Unfortunately, dealing with a student’s death is an issue that most of us will deal with at some point in our teaching careers. I’m half way through my career. I’ve had former students die in the past, some of natural causes, some in car accidents and some by suicide. Most of them were either out of school or in high school. This past year, one of my current students died suddenly. He was twelve years old. It was a random accident, one that no one could foresee, and its suddenness was shocking. A child, a person who hadn’t even grown to his full size, who still stood shorter than me. The fact that he didn’t get to experience a full life, the depth of life. It’s just infuriating.
As a Social Studies teacher, I’m obsessed with having my students think critically about the topic of History. Still, it’s difficult to have students think critically without some background knowledge. Therefore, I’ve taken on the task of making sure that my students gain background knowledge with a variety of activities and tasks. It has been a process for me to develop those strategies. I thought I might share some of those strategies here to inspire you to think about the classroom experience for your students.
I’m really lucky. I teach in a small rural school district, with great kids (students, but I always refer to them as my kids). They’re largely well behaved, inquisitive, and their parents are supportive. Most days, I get to go to work, try out new activities, and observe my students thinking and learning. It’s not a bad deal.
As Social Studies education has transformed in the past few years, I’ve found that I need to have my middle school students analyzing documents almost every day of the year. Simply having students read and answer questions becomes tedious and boring after a week of class. Therefore, I’ve developed quite a few strategies to “trick” my students into reading and analyzing text. Honestly, the more I’ve introduced these strategies for primary source analysis, the more I’ve seen my students engaged and involved. My classroom has become much more student centered in recent years, and that makes me really happy.
Whenever possible, I try to incorporate music into my history classes. With my high school classes, I teach the full American History. Therefore, it’s rather easy to find music to play for the 20th century.
I absolutely love listening to podcasts in my spare time. It’s an easy way to delve in to history topics I know little about, and it provides an alternative to reading. I can listen to a podcast on my morning walk with the dog, or when I’m cleaning up a garden bed. History podcasts often focus on forgotten history, or smaller stories that are missed by textbooks or survey courses, and they help me to make connections in my own understanding.