Historian’s Dinner

For students in the IB history course, a requirement in their writing of Paper 2s and 3s is the incorporation of historical perspectives, or historiography. Since I began teaching IB History I have grappled with how to best share with students the multiple views of historians. Should students just be given excerpts from historian’s writings for a given topic? To me that seems inauthentic as no real thinking is involved — just read and memorize. Should students be sent out to investigate perspectives? I worried with this approach students would chase historical perspectives down rabbit holes of the internet. For the most part I found that I was encouraging students to read into articles that we used in class. I wanted students to take these medium length scholarly articles find meaning and to record the interpretations of those historians. While this last approach has worked well for me and my students, I still was searching for new engaging ways to introduce new historiographies. Lucky for me, there was a new technique that I came across and tried the other day in my classroom.

 

I first read about the Historian’s Breakfast on Rebekah Madrid’s blog. I was intrigued by what seemed to me to be a brilliant way to hash out multiple historians perspective around one topic. For a Historian’s Breakfast each student in the class assumes the role of a historian and participates in a historical based conversation from the point of view of an assigned historian. Students are responsible for knowing the ideas of their historian and of course the context of the historical conversation, as well. Through a conversation facilitated by the teacher and with solid driving questions, a slew of historiography is able to be flushed out in an engaging way.

 

How did I set up/facilitate my Historian’s Breakfast?

 

  • I assigned each of my students a perspective on the topic/question that we addressing, which was, “Why did the US fail in Vietnam?” In my research of Historian’s Breakfasts I had seen that other educators had their students research into the views of specific historians. For me, I gave my students pieces of writings from different historians. I did this to cut out the possibility of misinformation and for the sake of time. I was lucky enough to have access to a book from the opposing viewpoint series. Students were asked to read over their piece and to annotate it with our essential question in mind as well as the task they knew they would have to complete.

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  • Before we moved into the full conversation where students spoke as their historians, I had them present their ideas. I created a shared Google Slideshow and allowed each historian one slide to put their main ideas. With their one slide students (acting as their historian) had one minute to present to their classmates/fellow historians their ideas. My reasoning behind having students present was to allow all students to have at least some insight into the views of the other that they would be dialoging with.

 

  • After all students had given their presentation, we organized ourselves in a circle and had a conversation. It was in this conversation where students were asked to really assume the role of their historian. Students needed to share ideas as their historian, build ideas as their historian, challenge others as their historian, and ultimately share the historical interpretation that their historian held

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What went well:

I was very happy with how this experience went. As I monitored the conversation I was deeply impressed with the accurate historical interpretations that were being shared. I was happy with the emphasis I had put on students staying in character. As students conversed they addressed each other by the name of their historians. The students saw the others in the conversation not as their classmates but as historical thinkers.  Due to each historians unique perspective, students appropriately challenged one another’s ideas, asked thoughtful questions, and built upon each others ideas.

What I would do differently?

I am interested in having students research into the views of historians as opposed to being given a singular reading from a historian. Maybe next time I would work to strike a balance such as me providing a reading but also holding students accountable for some research. I also think that I might change my debrief process. This time the debrief was focused solely on me assessing students for comprehension of historian’s views. I was only looking to see if they understood the ideas of historians. Next time I would like to ask students what they think about the views. The use of a four corners activity could act as a good way to facilitate a reflective conversation on the views of the historians.

Will I host another Historians Breakfast?

Absolutely! Overall I was extremely happy with how this went. I found that students were highly engaged in the learning activity and additionally via my assessment I could see that they took lots away. I think that since they experienced the conversation as opposed to just reading another view of a historian they will retain the information at a higher level and hopefully be able to apply it in their writing.

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