Wednesday, September 7, 2016

BFG (Building Familiarity with Gilded) -- Lesson Ideas for the Gilded Age

Dahl, Roald, and Quentin Blake. The BFG. Digital image. The BFG. Wikipedia, 26 Oct. 2008. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.
Sometimes it’s interesting where our ideas come from. Recently, while reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG with my kids, we came across the term gilded. As we stopped to discuss this word and ensure everyone understood it’s meaning, the history teacher in me took over and I immediately began thinking of the Gilded Age and of ways to explain this period to students.

When introducing this era, I often start with the term gilded. This leads us into a discussion of why a term meaning covered in gold, or having an appearance that conceals something of little value, is used to describe a historical era. This often leads to some great predictions from students and gets them thinking about the time period we are going to study.

I have always felt it is important for students to understand that the Gilded Age was a time of change in the United States and that this change benefitted some at the expense of others. My approach to achieving this instructional goal varied over the years. Several times I had students create Animoto videos as a response to an essential question related to this era in history (This project was very similar to the activity I wrote about in Picture Perfect – Creating Animoto Videos to Illustrate Life During the Great Depression).

Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives. Digital image. How the Other Half Lives. Wikipedia, 19 Aug. 2007. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.
The Gilded Age also provides a great opportunity to work on image analysis. There are a number of excellent images from the Gilded Age for students to analyze. I enjoy using images and excerpts from Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives. Riis’ photographs take us into the lives of many ordinary people in the late 19th century and really drive home the inequity of the era for students.

This is also a great era to work on analysis of political cartoons. I love using Thomas Nast’s cartoons to help illustrate key issues of the Gilded Age (Nast’s works are available through many different sources, including the Library of Congress). These cartoons are not only telling about the era, but they also provide an opportunity for students to practice analyzing political cartoons. There are many different effective approaches to teaching students how to analyze political cartoons; I often discuss the persuasive techniques common to political cartoons and use the Primary Source Analysis Tool for political cartoons from the Library of Congress. Through this process I want to stress to students that they need to look for symbols in the cartoon, see what action is taking place in the cartoon, examine any text (speech/thought bubbles, captions, labels, etc.), and then determine the message and/or opinion put forth in the cartoon.

As I was explaining the term gilded to my kids recently, I thought of another instructional strategy that allows students to demonstrate understanding of the changes and inequities of this era in history. I think it would be a great activity to have students illustrate how the term gilded represents this time period. Students could create drawings showing wealth and perceived progress covering up the exploitation and problems within American society. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the United States’ struggles with growth and the conflicts between wealth vs. poverty, urban vs. rural, industrial vs. artisan, reform vs. corruption, etc. Drawings are an excellent way to assess student understanding of key concepts.

I have used student illustrates to gauge understanding in the past, but I guess I had never thought of applying it to this topic. I like the idea of asking students to draw. This allows them to express their creativity and gives students who are better at expressing themselves in this way an opportunity to demonstrate understanding.



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