How to Embed Literacy Skills in Historical Thinking

» 09 September 2015 » In Events, History / DBQ's, How To, Literacy, PD » No Comments

The_Magdalen_Reading_-_Rogier_van_der_WeydenSoon I'll be giving workshops demonstrating how to integrate literacy skills for close reading with historical thinking skills. Here's a preview.

What do we mean by historical thinking?  It's the historian's version of critical thinking: 

  • Examine and analyze primary sources - who created it, when, for what purpose?
  • Understand historical context. Compare multiple accounts and perspectives.
  • Take a position and defend it with evidence.

What do we mean by close reading? Teachers can guide students with scaffolding questions that explore "texts" (in all their forms).

  • Key Ideas and Details:
 What does the text say? Identify the key ideas. What claims does the author make? What evidence does the author use to support those claims?
  • Craft and Structure:
 Who created the document? What's their point of view / purpose? How did the text say it? How does it reflect its historic time period?
  • Integration of Knowledge and ideas: 
Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text. Recognize disparities between multiple accounts. Compare text to other media / genres. How does it connect to what we’re learning? 
And what's it mean to me? 

Let's look at how a close reading of historical sources for craft and structure can integrate with the historical skill of sourcing  - who created it, when, for what purpose?

Here's a great illustration of historical sourcing from Stanford History Education Group's Beyond the Bubble.

And here's an exercise I used with teachers at a workshop this past summer. Here's the instructions they were given:

  1. Create and post a source comparison. Be sure to include: Historical question and two sample sources. 
  2. Once other workshop members have posted their source comparison questions, use their content to answer the question: “Which do you trust more? Why?”
  3. Feel free to add multiple answers to the same question and / or comment on each others question / or answer. It’s a dialogue.

Here's a Google doc with my prompts and teacher responses. 

Image Source: Rogier van der Weyden, Detail from The Magdalen Reading, c. 1435–1438. National Gallery, London

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The World Is My Audience: Using iBooks Author and Book Creator to Change Student Writing

» 12 March 2015 » In Guest post, Literacy, Publishing, Reflection, Students » 4 Comments


Guest post from teacher Jon Smith details the story of his student-written iBooks. Jon and his students have published 44 iBooks that have been downloaded over 32,000 times from iTunes bookstores across the world.

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A Satiric Lesson in Media Literacy

» 27 March 2014 » In How To, Literacy, Strategies, Visualizations » No Comments


Kendra Eash’s essay becomes a satiric video skewering the clichéd corporate message ad as a meaningless montage of grandiloquent pablum. Used as a prompt for a lesson in visual literacy.

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Text to Text: A Strategy for Common Core Close Reading

» 26 September 2013 » In How To, Literacy, Strategies » 5 Comments


The NY Times Learning Network has just launched a new series of lesson plans called “Text to Text.” It’s a simple approach that pairs two written texts that “speak to each other.” I think it’s a Common Core close reading strategy that could be easily replicated by teachers across the curriculum – great way to blend nonfiction with fiction and incorporate a variety of media with written text.

Each lesson includes a key question, extension activities and additional resources to expand the basic lesson. Here’s two graphic organizers to help student organize their “Text to Text” thinking.

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PBL in Action: Students Write, Market and Publish

» 12 July 2013 » In How To, Literacy, Publishing, Students » 4 Comments


Unique Ink is a student-staffed publisher based out of Roosevelt High School’s Writing and Publishing Center that was established in 2012. Volunteers at the center teach publishing to high school students to improve their skills in business, editing, and marketing. Through the center’s unique hands-on approach, students learn about the publishing industry by publishing and selling their own books. Proceeds from the sales of “Where the Roses Smell the Best” will help the Writing and Publishing Center stay self-sustaining.

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How to Teach Structured Academic Controversy

» 26 June 2013 » In History / DBQ's, How To, Literacy, Reflection, Strategies, Students » No Comments


Deliberating in a Democracy in the Americas (DDA), a valuable online resource for teachers interested in helping their students develop skills in discussing controversial topics. The DDA site has all the material teachers will need to support discussion in 15 interesting deliberation questions. It uses the Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) model to provide structure and focus to classroom discussions. Not all issues can be easily distilled to pro / con positions. SAC provides students with a framework for addressing complex issues in a productive manner that builds skills in reading, analyzing, listening, and discussion. And it’s ideal for supporting Common Core close reading skills.

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Use Haiku Deck to Build Academic Vocabulary

» 22 May 2013 » In Ed Tech, How To, Literacy, Visualizations » 4 Comments


Haiku Deck is a free, student-friendly tool for teaching common core vocabulary standards with motivation and creativity. Good defining skills are rooted in collaborative negotiation of meaning rather than memorizing glossaries and testing via two-column matching questions. The genius behind Haiku Deck is its simplicity – just type in text and use its built in search tools for related terms and images. With minimal design choices, student can focus on visualizing vocabulary and sharing their thinking with peers.

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Common Core Training: Five Essentials

» 05 May 2013 » In How To, Literacy, PD, Strategies, Teachers » No Comments

plainfield featured

Teachers everywhere are concerned about the impact of Common Core. But they won’t benefit from lecture-style PD that itemizes specific strands and standards of Common Core. Promoting curricular “checklists” doesn’t build capacity, it fosters either resistance or mindless compliance. Don’t talk about “close reading” – do it!

Here’s five PD essentials to support teachers in transitioning to close reading and the Common Core. Teachers are too savvy to fall for an empty promise that something is “common-core-aligned.”

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Boston Bombings: Close Reading A Media Frenzy

» 26 April 2013 » In Commentary, Literacy, Social Web, Strategies » No Comments

Suspects Together- featured

Here’s a suggestion for high school teachers. Postpone a lesson you had planned for next week and use the time to explore the cacophonous infosphere spawned by the apprehension of the suspects in the Boston bombings. If that media circus tells us anything, it’s that we need a lesson in digital hygiene and responsible use.

It’s also a good chance for students to hone their close reading skills. The events should be fresh in everyone’s mind. Ask students to reflect back on network news and social media coverage of the manhunt using these three critical thinking prompts: What did it say? How did it say it? What’s it mean to me?

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Think Like a Historian: Close Reading at the Museum

» 22 April 2013 » In History / DBQ's, How To, Literacy, PD, Strategies, Students » 4 Comments


The Common Core encourages students to more closely read a text (in all it’s multimedia formats) by answering three critical questions: What did it say? How did it say it? What’s it mean to me? Here I model a Common Core close reading of my visit to a museum exhibit. I’ll dig a little deeper into the three questions with a few more prompts and provide answers as if I were a high school student reflecting on their experience.

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