Reflecting on Some Instructional Strategies and Student Teaching

This past week I took over my second class. So now, in addition to my World History I class, I am also in charge of teaching World History II. Though I’ve only taught this class for a few days I’ve noticed quite a difference between the behavior of sophomores and freshman in these two classes.

Here are a couple things I’ve found particularly effective with my classes so far. Not only have I found them to be effective to teach content, but I’ve noticed that they have both been engaging for students and useful to teach historical literacy skills.

First, I’ve made weekly Just Do It worksheets that are called “Map Analysis Worksheets.” These Just Do Its are relatively simple. They present the students with a historical map, usually taken from the textbook, and ask them to answer a series of questions based upon the map. While this sounds simple, I’ve found that my students struggle a good deal on map questions on their tests and quizzes. My hope is that my making them analyze, interpret, and synthesize information on maps, that it will help them perform well on map questions within the SOL.

For example, this week I will be doing a short unit on Africa and African kingdoms for my World History 1 Class. My Just Do It on Tuesday, the start of the unit, will be a Map Analysis of this map below. The map relates to the themes we will talk about during the first day, but also to ones we will learn about that week. The map (included below) focuses on Timbuktu and trade in Africa. However, the map also includes more information than that. In the Just Do It I ask the students to answer the following six questions:

  1. What is this map about?
  2. What continent map mainly focus on?
  3. What do the dark black lines represent?
  4. What city lies along the Niger River? What city lies along the Nile River?
  5. What two oceans lie to the east and west of this continent?
  6. What sea lies to the north of this continent?

With activities like this I hope to not only introduce the content through geography, but I also hope that these kinds of activities develop critical literacy in reading maps.

Map of Timbuktu trade routes my students will complete a map analysis Just Do It on

The second thing I’ve really come to enjoy using in the classroom are primary sources. I’ve used primary sources as quick processors or things to structure entire lessons around. Each have their own benefits, but both uses allow students to learn about historical content through investigating the actual sources historians use to write history. Furthermore, I think it develops crucial literacy in my students.

This past week I used primary source investigations multiple times. In my World History I class I used a 1562 painting, The Triumph of Death, by the Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel as a primary source analysis after our lesson on the Black Death. I used it to ask students about various aspects of the Black Death and the impact of the Black Death in Europe. I think the symbolizing of the painting stuck with students and piqued their interest.

Pieter Bruegel’s “Triumph of Death” I used to ask questions about the Black Death

Just days before I created an entire lesson on the First Crusade by using primary sources about the First Crusade. The learning objectives were to explain what the Crusades were, identify goals of the Crusades, and contrast different perspectives of the Crusades. The lesson I created used Pope Urban II’s speech, alongside two accounts of the First Crusade and the capture of Jerusalem (one by a Crusader and one by a Muslim). The sources initiated questions and inquiry among the students and allowed them to see different perspectives. At the end of the lesson we looked at an additional source that was unnamed and I asked them to make a guess of who wrote it, a Crusader or a Muslim, based upon the language and by comparing it to the ones we read in class. Every student correctly identified it as a Crusader source, which indicated to me that the inquiry had been successful.

These are things that I hope to continue through the last weeks of my student teaching, but I also feel like I’m at the point where I need to start experimenting with more instructional strategies and seeing how they go. Now I have two classes I can do them with.

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