1280px-Lincoln_Memorial

Reflecting on APUSH Strategies

[notice]A colleague of mine recently asked me about teaching strategies for APUSH, specifically in regard to having students learn from their textbook and lectures. As I was responding, I thought it would be a good idea to share and reflect a bit more in depth on what worked and what didn’t. Here are some of the ups and downs I had last year.[/notice]

I began the year using a couple of different strategies. First, I made a pacing guide with each day mapped out for what students had to read. This meant that the topics we covered in class that day would come from the reading the night before. Quizzes could follow on that pace too. Kids actually loved the quizzes. It compartmentalized their studying. That has strengths and weaknesses, but overall it kept people on their toes.

I also used Schoology discussion boards in the beginning of the year to have students identify three strengths concerning the content and three weaknesses. I asked them to share them on the discussion board each week/chapter.

It was a graded assignment. Here’s how I framed it to students:

Knowing what we don’t know if the first step to understanding. Very simply, write three statements of topics in your reading so far that you understand well and then list three topics (events, issues or individuals) that you would like to know more about. We’re going to help each other study. Respond to students that you have a common strength with from the text, and help another student with an area that they do not fully understand.

Evaluation: You will receive 20 points for sharing a strength and 80 points for helping another student with a weakness. Thanks!

So, for instance, one student wrote: ‘Strengths- Early War, Anaconda Plan, War in the West
Weaknesses- Changes wrought by war, Homefront’ and another student responded:

‘For the Homefront, a big issue was keeping the civilian morale high during the Civil War. Both the Union and the Confederacy desperately needed the loyalty of the people living within their territories in order to win the Civil War. There were religious revivals during this time to help keep civilians enthusiastic about the war and loyal to their side, these revivals also helped people deal with the death of families members who were fighting and gave them hope to a wars end. Also during this time, newspapers and letters were being written and read more often by ordinary citizens who were trying to keep tabs on the war. For some lucky Americans, the war brought riches to them, and in the South those who broke through the Union’s blockade were able to make hefty profits from selling goods. Although some Americans made money during the war, most were deprived of resources that were given to the armies. In the North, the war opened up job opportunities for women and blacks, but the working wages were low and the inflation of money was high. In the South, there were a lot of supply shortages and many hardships for civilians to endure. Families had lost their slaves and homes, and food was becoming scarce.’

This worked fairly well for the students in the beginning of the year. They were helping each other understand the content, and because 80 points was the big ‘grade’, they needed to do so. 20 points for touting what you know well is only the icing on the cake. I called this whole thing ‘collaborative study’, and because it was online, it managed itself. I just had to moderate it and add follow ups and comments to facilitate a deeper discussion and answer some weaknesses that didn’t get responses.

Textbook discussion: Please post comments and questions here concerning the textbook, or any one particular part in it. This week’s topic is progressivism and there’s a lot that’s new here. Let’s break down and build up our understanding. :)

Monday Essential Questions: Scan the chapter. Everyone is responsible for creating one essential question. The EQ should focus on broad topics that provoke deeper thinking. For examples, look here: http://webs.rps205.com/departments/TAH/EQs.html. You don’t need to answer them. This isn’t an essay assignment. I’ll facilitate a discussion based on your questions. If I ask a follow up, please respond and jump in.

Tuesday ID/Vocabulary: First come, first served. Everyone will add 2 ID terms, with a definition that explains the content and context of the term. They do not have to be proper nouns, but they should be central to the chapter’s topics and themes. If you really need help, go to the flashcards section of MyHistoryLab.

Wednesday Primary Sources: Each student will add 1 image and 1 quoted document from the time period and content covered in the chapter. For each image, you must describe it fully and draw 2 inferences, fully explained. For each document, you must provide the link, quote a selection, and then draw 2 inferences from it, fully explained. First come, first served. No duplications. Use MyHistoryLab if you need help.

Thursday Q & A: Each student will ask 5 questions concerning the content in the chapter. Questions can be ones that you would like to know or about something you don’t understand. Each student will answer at least 1 question. I will answer some as well. Each question must be a separate post.

Friday Smackdown (Debate): OK. Here’s where we debate different topics, depending on the content of the chapter. Each student will take one position. They will have to defend it, using reason and evidence. They also have to respond to three others. Choose from strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose. The goal is to win the most supporters, and create consensus for your position. Try to win over others. This is first come, first served as well. Debate it over the weekend.

Towards the end of the semester, I asked students to do more weekly assignments (essays, projects, debates, etc.) and this broke them out of the mold of the daily assignments. To be honest, some of those after 10 weeks or so were becoming stale. The EQ were not as sharp, and the Q/A were formalities rather than authentic questions. I needed to shake it up.

I began to structure debates/discussions in the class around specific topics for greater depth. Here’s an example of the four corners approach on the 1960’s. It’s a pretty straight forward assignment, and its easy to do in class too (and often more authentic):

In this graded discussion assignment, you will take the positions of strongly support, strongly oppose, somewhat support and somewhat oppose. Each position that you take must have a primary source that supports your point, and/or provides context for the point you are making.

The Civil Rights Movement increased equality in America.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was exaggerated.

The Vietnam War was not winnable.

The Great Society was a success.

Choose two of the four above and take a stand. Please include your primary source documents as viewable attachments to your posts. Remember to respond to another student’s post to build a discussion on these issues, events and people. Greater participation in the discussion increases your grade.

This is a lot more work, and requires more preparation and content knowledge up front, but it produced some interesting results. Obviously, the statements have to be structured so that they are more open ended, able to be answered with different perspectives. Lots of kids strongly disagreed with the Cuban Missile Crisis statement. That one was too much of a softball from me.

I got a little more controversial (or engaging, depending on how you look at it) with the WW2 Support/Oppose statements:

  • The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
  • The Axis Powers had to be stopped, no matter what.
  • Killing civilians is a war crime.
  • All citizens must sacrifice when their country goes to war.
  • Hitler’s racism was worse than America’s racism.
  • Women won the war.
  • Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Allying with him was wrong.
  • Appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive.
  • If the US has the power to stop a genocide, it must.
  • America could have remained neutral.
  • When the war was over, women should give up their jobs to men.
  • The US must continue to use atom bombs until the Japanese surrender.
  • A draft is undemocratic.
  • Dissent is treason during a war.
  • The Jews could have fought back.
  • Winning the war means destroying the enemy completely.
  • Every NAZI soldier is guilty of war crimes.
  • Creating peace is harder than fighting a war.
  • Another World War is impossible today.

Howard Zinn’s Teaching Guide to Voices from a People’s History of the US (available on the Zinn History Project website for free) was also a great repository of ‘debatable’ conclusions on recent history. I used some of them the closer I got to the present. This set is from the 1970’s:

Please take a position on four of the following statements and provide primary source evidence to support your position. Remember to choose from strongly support, somewhat support, strongly oppose or somewhat oppose.

  1. Throughout history, those in power used a long-standing practice of “divide and conquer” to keep marginalized groups of ordinary people from demanding their rights.
  2. The voices of resistance from the 1960s are the direct consequence of historical social, political, economic, and ideological oppression.
  3. A counterculture comprised of persons and groups who are ignored and marginalized by society profoundly influenced United States politics in the 1960s and 1970s.
  4. Many of the counterculture social movements saw issues of oppression as being interlinked.
  5. An ideology of social control and punishment has dominated United States incarceration practices, rather than a philosophy of rehabilitation.
  6. The political, economic, and social ferment of the 1960s created a positive environment for the growth of the counterculture movement.
  7. Women of the 1960s united in many ways to give voice to their desire for liberation: demanding equality; legally challenging the right to make decisions about their own bodies; joining consciousness-raising women’s groups; and frankly discussing sex and sexual roles.
  8. Within the myriad liberation efforts of the 1960s, many people expressed a desire to unite against the “common oppression . . . of control and indoctrination.”
  9. Because the United States prison system was “an extreme reflection of the American system itself,” it was in need of the same dramatic reforms that the counterculture demanded for United States society as a whole.
  10. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a “loss of faith in big powers” and a corresponding “stronger belief in self.”

Evaluation: Students receive 80 points for their positions and 20 points for a detailed response to another student’s post. Thanks.

Finally, as we were in April and the exam was approaching, I showed some of the PBS Presidents series on the American Experience. Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton… and we ‘crowd-sourced’ the videos. Students got out their mobile devices and texted into a specific discussion board. They were texting while watching and reporting out on anything that they thought was important. Quotes especially. We then analyzed them more at night for homework. I asked questions also during the documentary and students were able to respond.

Those are some of the strategies I used last year with APUSH. Thanks for asking. It got me to reflect a bit on what worked and what didn’t. Again, I relied on Schoology for the online platform for all of this, and it worked great. Kids groaned about the work at times (they formed a private FB group to organize the groaning!) but overall they valued it. I think the approach in general was much more interactive than reporting out the content. I’m thinking of repeating some of these strategies this year, with modifications. Again, this is just one way I explored learning. Its not the only (or even the best way). I’m also extremely open to other ideas. :)

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*