Tag Archives: Short Nonfiction for American History

History Matters

The second resource in the Toolkit Texts series, Short Nonfiction for American History, is out now. In several blogs over the next few weeks, coauthors Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey share their perspectives and insights into historical literacy.

by Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey

The active literacy history classroom is awash with rich, engaging resources of all kinds: images, short texts, maps, artifacts, time lines, poems, historical fiction, on-line resources, and biographies. When kids encounter unexpected events, quirky individuals, and surprising information, they become immersed in the dramas and experiences of the times. There is not a worksheet or end-of-chapter question in sight as kids read, write, draw, talk, view, question, and discuss. And research supports this approach: Allington and Johnston (2002) found that students demonstrated higher achievement when classroom instruction focused on a multi-source, multi-genre, multi-perspective curriculum rather than a one-size-fits-all coverage approach.

Our upcoming blogs will introduce several comprehension practices that we believe are essential to building kids’ historical literacy. For the next two weeks, we’ll focus on reading and annotating all kinds of texts using a variety of strategies to build content knowledge. To turn information into knowledge, kids actively annotate their new learning, their questions, and their responses on a variety of sources.

Annotating texts of all kinds is a powerful thinking tool. Kids engage in thinking-intensive learning: they paraphrase, summarize, analyze, and react to new information. This gives them the best shot at understanding and remembering important information and big ideas in history.

Practice #1—Annotate images: Expand learning and understanding from visuals

We often begin with annotating images to get kids engaged in an iconic historical event, such as this famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Battle of Trenton (by Emanuel Leutze, 1851). Students view and observe closely, leave tracks of their thinking, and discuss their questions, inferences and interpretations. Often we pose a question or two to focus their thinking and guide their observations: Who created this? Why and when was it created? What do you think is the author/artist’s purpose or perspective?

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

A group of fifth graders who had read an account of the Battle of Trenton and a primary source diary entry about Washington’s army crossing the Delaware River (see the American Revolution and Constitution: Short Nonfiction of American History collection of primary sources) were asked to carefully observe this painting as part of studying these events. Here are some of their comments:

Wait a minute, it says this was painted in 1851—that’s way after the American Revolution! How did the painter know what happened? He must have used his imagination to paint this.

But we read it was cold and rainy that night—there’s ice in the river, so that is accurate. When we read about it, it happened at night. But it is not night in the picture.

I think that boat would sink if it had all those people in it! It shows lots of action and that it was dangerous…

The men are all pretty brave, especially Washington standing up when it was so rough. I wonder if they really had a flag like that.

♦ 

Gallery Walks

When we begin a study of a historical time period or topic, such as the American Revolution, we often start with a gallery walk, posting or projecting images of women, men, and children who are connected to these events. We include colonists, indentured servants, enslaved people and Native Americans, in addition to the founding fathers (with over 60 historical images in the image bank for American Revolution and Constitution: Short Nonfiction of American History, we have plenty to choose from).

We pose the question “Whose revolution was it?” This prompts kids to think about the people described in the pages of their history books: who we remember and why we remember them. The images and short captions spark questions about lesser-known and unrecognized individuals who played important roles in historic events.

Responding to and discussing images piques kids’ interest—and we are ready with additional articles and resources that kids can read to find out more information. We always keep in mind ways to tie practices such as this back to our goal of teaching kids to think like historians. So we wrap up by asking them to consider how images and visuals help us better understand a historical event or topic.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey have enjoyed a fifteen-year collaboration in education as authors and staff developers. They are coauthors of the Heinemann title Comprehension Going Forward and of Strategies That Work. They have also created a family of bestselling classroom materials under Heinemann’s firsthand imprint: The Comprehension ToolkitThe Primary Comprehension ToolkitToolkit TextsComprehension InterventionScaffolding for ELLs, and Connecting Comprehension and Technology. Their newest resource, Short Nonfiction for American History, is discussed in this blog post

Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey on the How and Why of Historical Literacy

The second resource in the Toolkit Texts series, Short Nonfiction for American History, releases this week. In several blogs over the next few weeks, coauthors Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey share their perspectives and insights into historical literacy.

by Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey

At this very moment, calls for increased rigor and content-rich curriculum reverberate from coast to coast. Yet too many schools and districts—particularly in the elementary and even middle grades—have put history and social studies on the back burner. The laser focus on high-stakes testing in math and reading has pushed social studies and history into an ever smaller corner of the school day or, astonishingly, they’ve been abandoned all together.

The study of history and social studies should not be optional in a democracy!

How will our students ever participate fully and thoughtfully in the democratic process if they have little time to learn how that process has worked in the past? To build knowledge and understanding—to become literate in the discipline of history—students should be reading and learning about the stories, mysteries, questions, controversies, issues, discoveries, and drama that are the real substance of history.

Unfortunately, the default history curriculum is often reduced to a passive slog through the textbook that focuses on kids’ answering the questions at the end of the each chapter. In states with high-stakes history tests, teachers are responsible for “covering” a long list of facts, a curriculum that’s a mile wide and an inch deep.

The study of history and social studies should not be optional in a democracy!

What to do? We merge foundational literacy practices with engaging, authentic, relevant resources. As kids read, listen, and view, we encourage them to ask lots of questions; these are the best entry points for beginning to think like historians! Most important, we create a “minds on” classroom environment by focusing on big ideas and compelling issues. As kids discuss, agree, disagree, and take a stand, they are actively thinking and building their store of knowledge.

We flood the room with rich resources that kids can sink their teeth into: artifacts, images and visuals, primary sources, videos, historical fiction, journals and letters, even plays depicting historical events. As Diane Ravitch says, history is all about “stirring events, colorful personalities, and riveting controversies.” In this series of blogs, we’ll answer the question, What does teaching for historical literacy look like? We’ll share several instructional practices that immerse kids in historical ideas and information and spark their curiosity about the past so they can more fully understand the present. Wary of history taught as a dull recitation of dates and facts, we keep this mantra in mind: Curiosity and thoughtfulness are at the center of engaged teaching and learning.

Click here for more information on the new Short Nonfiction for American History.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey have enjoyed a fifteen-year collaboration in education as authors and staff developers. They are coauthors of the Heinemann title Comprehension Going Forward and of Strategies That Work. They have also created a family of bestselling classroom materials under Heinemann’s firsthand imprint: The Comprehension Toolkit, The Primary Comprehension Toolkit, Toolkit Texts, Comprehension Intervention, Scaffolding for ELLs, and Connecting Comprehension and Technology. Their newest resource, Short Nonfiction for American History, is discussed in this blog post.