Wednesday, January 23, 2008

High standards and expectations. All students can learn.

In 2001, my husband and I began to use the National History Day process as a research, skill-building process. We were teaching with LA/U.S. History block classes which was ideal because it allowed us to teach research, skimming, note-taking evaluation skills and analysis skills in both academic areas. As most of you know “Teaming and blocking are considered best practices by the National Middle School Association.”

We assigned projects that allowed students choice: choice of specific topic, choice of performance (presentation), choice of working with a partner, or not working with a partner. NHD presents a specific theme each year, such as Communication in History. Students are to select a specific event, research it generally, develop a thesis statement, continue in-depth research which requires skimming, analysis, synthesis of what they have learned. They are encouraged to travel to museums, contact experts, dig deep into online and brick-and-mortar archives, asking questions of archivists, and discuss their learning with partners or adults.

Their final product may be a research paper (individual), exhibit board, play, documentary or website (individual or group). The result of this process is the hardest work most students have ever been asked to do, and with it comes huge self-respect and pride. It is an epiphany for many students. For example: The first year we attended Washington History Day regionals our students wanted to pack up and go home in the early afternoon. They were just proud to be there. We told them they had to stay until the winners were announced.

Their delight and surprise, when two group exhibits and one individual exhibit won placements to State, was awesome. There are nine regions in the state; each region sends the first three placements of Junior and Senior Divisions in seven categories. So up to 42 projects move on to State Contest. Fewer yet go on to Nationals. But every year we took someone to State. This was a very special honor.

It took us three years of hard work to produce the necessary structure: models, practice skill builders, weekly deadlines, and self-analysis of student samples. Out of this came uniformly strong projects. Teachers at the high school noticed and remarked on the skills students brought to English classes.

Celebrations: The students who built a cardboard “Hooverville” house and let their classmates crawl inside to read the great story they told; the first documentary we took to state which made it into the finals, but did not win a prize; the group documentary kids who loaned their equipment to another contestant who’s equipment had failed; the boy who brought a shabby looking project on The Everett Massacre and received an A because he had fulfilled the research requirements; the two groups who stayed after school for hours so they could rework their projects before they attended regionals; the girl who stood alone for her team when her partner was too ill; the boy who argued convincingly that “Skate boarding” fit the topic and proved it by winning at regionals and traveling to state; they day the students graded each others projects and suddenly found room for improvement on their own work; the day a girl who had upgraded her project between regionals and state contest won first place in her division; we all went to the contest at University of Maryland, and she was selected to represent the state of Washington by exhibiting one morning at the Smithsonian American History Museum. My final fall I had five classes of 8th graders, 28+ students in each class, researching for NHD.

I had planned to stay until the end of January to guide those who chose to go to History Day regional contest, but left because of the disheartening lack of support from the administration. The principal undermined this outstanding skill building process for the four years before he left suddenly at the end of school June ’06. He broke up the 8th grade teams and ignored the value the OSPI placed on this project. The following year he applied for a job in district administration as the head of Teaching and Learning. I attended the public forum. There he presented himself as admiring mathematics and technology, but said derogatorily, “Who can understand history?” School leadership should admire all academic areas, should be interested in pupils, employees and patrons at the school. Yet when he was asked at the forum by the mother of the student who qualified to go to Nationals about programs of excellence, he responded by saying, “We don’t do National History Day” with pride. Why would you be proud of not doing a program valued and promoted by OSPI?

1. knowledge of, experience in, and training in recognizing good professional performance, capabilities and development;
2. interest in pupils, employees, patrons, and subjects taught in school;
3. leadership;

Even as the principal was urging teachers to create curriculum that provided choice and was challenging, he was simultaneously reducing our ability to do so. Ironically, the History Day process requires students to complete the skills listed in items A and C below.

Edmonds School District Subject Area Guide, page 61 lists Anchor Tasks for U. S. History as follows.
A. Historical Research Project—Construct a thesis about an issue, person,problem, or event using evidence from multiple primary and secondarysources.
B. National History Day: TBD
C. Historical interpretations—Using artifacts to construct a coherent historical interpretation.

Are we really supposed to ignore the man behind the curtain?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BTW: Even President Bush has acknowledged the value of NHD to our students' learning: Rose Garden ceremony marking an NHD/National Archives joint venture worth a couple of million dollars. Actually about what ESD 15 overpaid for the future admin site.