Project 3: Teaching History to an Unwilling Audience

November 5, 2018 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Project 3: Teaching History to an Unwilling Audience

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 To some people, the thought of studying history brings chills or recurring nightmares of being in school and learning history through repetition or any other cliché that is often associated with studying history. This is especially true in the classroom and I have been witness to it as a history teacher in a high school. In the beginning of the year, I always ask my students to define history to see what they believe history is and what their view of history actually is. After asking this question over the course of the four years I have been teaching, I noticed that my students have similar ideas as to what history is- a collection of dates they have to remember, isolated events that they have to remember somehow, and people who are long dead, yet somehow important. When they are asked why they think they have to learn history, I also get a variety of responses: so we can learn about the past, so we can avoid making the same mistakes we made before, and my favorite response: because we have to take the New York State Regents in June.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Students in general have shown awareness of the importance of history, but the material to them is not relatable to them because they feel that it had happened too long ago for them to care. This sentiment is particularly felt when they are being taught Global History because each unit jumps from one era to another from one part of the world to another. When you incorporate high-stakes testing into the mix, it makes students feel that they are only learning history because the state is forcing them to take this class and pass an exam based on this class to graduate. The only value history has to them at this particular point in their lives is that it is one of their requirements to graduate high school, but once students have accomplished this goal, history becomes irrelevant to them.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In order to instill the importance of history to my students, I sought to make things as interesting to them as possible. Students tend to show interest in history when it came to periods of war and rapid change. Although I am glad that students are showing some interest in history, wars and rapid change are not the only things that have happened in history that is of importance. I have explained to my students that there are important events in history that won’t be exactly interesting or glamorous to learn, but nevertheless are important for them to know. The most popular response to this small speech came through the students’ eyes rolling and a loud sigh which is teenager for when is she going to stop talking? This told me right away that my students have probably heard variations of this speech throughout their lives, but they needed to see why they are hearing these different variations to the same speech.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As I was trying to figure out why students did not find history as interesting as I did, one of my students raised his hand and said something along the lines of, “Miss, I’m terrible at history cause I can’t remember dates and I can’t remember the order of what happens. It makes no sense.” This statement automatically made me remember the first activity we did in class, which was the students explaining what they think history is. I realized that the way that they learned history and the way I viewed history is quite different- they see it as a collection of random facts, dates, and ideas that seem to not be connected. I however, see history as one long soap opera. After having this realization, I knew that I had to present history to them the way I saw it rather than how I see it so that they can have a better opportunity at remembering what they find impossible to remember or connect together. In order for my students to understand the method to my madness in teaching history, I had to first explain to them how I view history in hopes that my students would give history a chance and perhaps change the way they view history.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Although it is important to know dates, events, ideas, and people, these things do not occur in a vacuum. Everything in history is based upon cause and effect- anything that has ever happened in history is a result of something that had happened previously. The best way to remember history is to think about it as if it were a long soap opera where everyone who has lived on this earth, is living on this earth, and will live on this earth are all characters in this massive soap opera. The only thing about this soap opera is that there is no such thing as castings- everyone is part of the soap opera whether they want to be in it or not. One can be a major character or a minor character, but it all depends on what one wants and is able to land the role. Landing the role of a major character in the soap opera that is human history depends on a variety of factors which can be beyond the control of said person. In order for someone to become a major character in this long soap opera of history, one needs an opportunity, whether it is offered to this person or one happens to stumble upon it. The most important part comes with exploiting this opportunity to ensure one’s rise to prominence.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 To be able to understand the current season of the soap opera or series you are watching, it is important to get context because something happened that leads to what is going on in the current season. Going straight to the new season of a soap opera or a series can often leave the audience confused and asking questions that could be easily answered by watching the previous seasons of the show. History has an upper hand to soap operas and series because in history, you can look up history if you need further context or you have a question that needs to be answered. In addition, since the soap opera that is human history is so vast and complex, it gives the audience the freedom to focus on subplots in the story and become experts in these subplots. The main plots of the soap opera or series are basically the larger trends and/or ideas that transcend through the subplots.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Dates and eras are also important to understanding the soap opera or story that human history is because it keeps the story in order and you can even use it to chunk history into something more manageable and easier to follow like when shows are broken into seasons.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 After presenting history to my students in this manner, I asked them what is more important to a soap opera or a television series: dates or the series of events in the story? My students answered that knowing the series of events is more important because it ensures that the story makes sense. I agree with my student’s answer because if you know the general gist of the series of events in whatever area of history you are studying, it would be slightly easier to remember dates. Even if you did not remember the specific dates, at least you would know what happened, what caused the event, and what were its effects.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 In order to reinforce this idea that history is one large soap opera, I often teach history as if it were a story. Besides teaching the important historical facts, I also add tidbits and stories in between the larger historical facts and present them as bits of gossip to keep students engaged in the not-so-interesting material that they do have to remember. Overall, students have shown a greater engagement and interest in history. I have students asking me more questions about certain events and are showing a more genuine interest in history.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 When it comes to teaching the Middle Ages leading to the Renaissance, I quickly became aware that my students lacked any kind of interest in this time period, so in order to get their attention to this particular period, I would start the Renaissance unit with the Black Death. I would show them statistics of deaths in Europe during this time period along with paintings and engravings depicting the plague. I would ask them simple questions that focused on their observations of the documents given, what does this chart/image show? What do you notice about the people in the images? Come up with three questions you would like to ask me in reference to the document provided. The last prompt is the most important to me because it has students actively questioning what they see, which encourages them to be curious and ask questions rather than to be passive consumers of knowledge and information.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Once they start asking their questions, I go into story-time mode and explain how people go the plague, how people responded to the plague, how they tried to avoid getting the plague, and what the religious and political leaders at the time did to address the plague. I would then ask them what they would do if they were in this situation. For example, I would say something along the lines of, “local priests told their congregations to go to church and pray that their loved ones would not die of the plague or to make sure that they didn’t get the plague.” I would then ask my students if they would go to church if they were in this situation and that your life revolved around your church. Most students would say yes they would because that is what they were taught to do in that time period.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 I would then ask them “Do you think it is a good idea for people in the town to go to church knowing that the plague is (1) highly contagious and (2) spread by mosquitoes and fleas?” Students would then say things like they shouldn’t go because they are probably getting the plague from being around people who are possibly sick. Some of my students would even say that the people of that time are stupid because they can get sick from being together in church. I would then tell them that people back then did not have the same understanding of medicine and diseases as we do, so there is no way for people to know this information that they take as common knowledge.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 By walking my students through this time period through a series of questions, my students begin to understand why people did certain things and not just shrug it off as easily avoidable mistakes. Through this exercise, I walked my students into the Renaissance and my students understood the ideas that arose during this time period because they understood what had happened leading to this point.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 When it comes to reviewing terms and events, I usually take the approach of retelling the story. Once I identify the part of history that they are struggling to remember, I start retelling the story from the causes and as I jog their memory, I ask them questions that grounds them historically. As I continue to retell the story, students start remembering the story and say “oh yeah, that’s how the story goes”.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 In order to reinforce the stories that I tell my students, I show them snippets of movies that may not necessarily be completely historically accurate, but show the main ideas of the event in question. I make sure to tell my students to focus on the larger picture and plot of the movie because that is what tends to be accurate. This ensures that those students who don’t always remember what I say have another medium of remembering what they learned in class. I also refer to these snippets when reviewing because students remember the days when they saw a movie, even if it was a few minutes long.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 In addition to movies, I use a variety of visuals and activities that seek to teach students the larger ideas of history. One activity I like to do in the beginning of the year for all my history and social studies classes is a resources activity where I split students into groups and provide them with instructions on what they need to survive in their civilization. The catch to this activity is that each group would not have sufficient resources to be able to survive, so they have to find a way to attain the resources they need for their society to survive. This activity teaches students that resources throughout the world are unlimited and each region finds different ways in which they are to acquire the resources they need for their society. I connect this to imperialism, capitalism, socialism, and communism since these ideologies sought to address the best way to allocate resources.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 By presenting history in a manner where I am having students think about what they would do if they were in a certain position given certain circumstances, history no longer becomes something abstract and distant that happened a long time ago. Students learn that major events in history were determined by small and seemingly meaningless actions and decisions by both people in power and people who seem to be powerless. History also becomes more personal despite it being all in the past because people throughout history make similar decisions and actions that impacts future generations. Although history and society has changed drastically over time, the events leading to these eras of change are quite similar- if not rhymes.


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