Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Just the Facts Ma'am . . . Progressive Era Historical Heads and Factual Statements



Recently I have been struggling to get students to include more information in their writing.  Many of my students have been basing their essays on opinions and generalizations with very little factual information.  This has particularly been a problem in my AP U.S. History class, which is very concerning considering that the three essays on the AP U.S. History exam constitute half of the final score.  By lacking concrete, factual information students fail to prove that they have an understanding of the significance of the era and thus do not meet the requirements for an AP essay.  

I have done previous lessons to address this problem, such as having students examine essays with and without factual information (from the College Board website) and the supporting a thesis activity in Michael Henry’s U.S. History Skillbook (this book is an excellent resource for history teachers), but after grading the last set of essays written by my students, I realized that I needed another activity to reinforce the importance of including facts in an essay.  Not wanting to completely scrap the content that we needed to cover, I decided to integrate this activity with our study of the Progressive Era.  

For this lesson, students were paired up and given a short biography of a figure related to the Progressive Era (Carnegie, Debs, Du Bois, Jones, La Follette, Paul, Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Tarbell--although there are many other possibilities).  Pairs of students were given the biographical briefings that accompany the “Progressive Era Thinkers Meet the Press” activity from History Alive! Twentieth Century United States History (biographies could also be found on online sources such as the links gathered by Professor Robert Maloy and his students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst -- http://resourcesforhistoryteachers.wikispaces.com/USII.8).  After analyzing the biography of their assigned individual, students were to determine what this person felt were the most important issues facing American society and how these issues could best be addressed.

Each group was then provided with an outline of a head (such as the one included on the National Gallery of Art’s website -- http://www.nga.gov/feature/shaw/s6151a.shtm).  Students were instructed to fill the head with a mixture of text and illustrations to demonstrate the thoughts, ideas, visions, and motivations of the person they read about.   I stressed to students that they must include specific facts and details to create an informative representation of a Progressive Era leader’s thoughts about American society and how to deal with the nation’s problems.  Below are examples of some of the historical heads created by my students.

After students had a chance to complete their historical head, groups were instructed to pass their project to the next pair of students.  After giving students several minutes to analyze the historical heads created by their classmates, I handed out a 2-3 sentence generalization of each Progressive leader.  Using the information from the head completed by their classmates, students added specific historical facts to the generalization to make it a more complete statement about a Progressive Era leader’s views on the problems facing American society and how to best address these problems.

Through this lesson, students not only gained a better understanding of the views of various individuals from the Progressive Era, but they also had another opportunity to recognize the importance of adding factual statements to their writing.  At the end of class several students mentioned that the process of adding specific historical information to an existing generalization helped them to better understand what needs to be included in an essay.  Hopefully the next set of essays will reflect this lesson!!

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