Guiding Students to History Day: An Honest Reflection

At the start of the History Day project last September, the single biggest challenge I confronted was designing instruction to assure that all students ended up choosing a workable topic for a project about a subject they were passionate. At the same time, I wanted them to be open to learning about new things, so I did not want them to select something entirely familiar either. I wanted to see an increase in passion and interest as they progressed in their research.

As I mentioned before, the History Day timeframe allows for an unprecedented amount of time to develop a thesis, and I wanted to maximize this time. Still, my instructional time with the students was only 6 days of 45 minute periods from the open and introduction of the NHD theme and the due date of the Thesis.

I consulted numerous sources for ideas, including the GID Design book and a blog post by Buffy Hamilton regarding “pre-search” strategies.  I was completely overwhelmed with the task of fitting stages of GID from the Immerse to the Gather stages or the full pre-search lesson cycle in the time allotted, so I tried to identify the essential ingredients of both and put a lot of emphasis on reading outside of class.  I wanted the students to begin with the entirety of world history and pick and single individual or group that they felt met the HND Theme criteria for “Taking a Stand” and the stand should be meaningful to the students in a deeply personal way.

Additionally, I was looking for ways to truly individualize and differentiate the instruction so that could guide each student or group toward a better topic and better reading material on their topic.

My plan combined formative assessment strategies using Google forms to checkpoints in the form of worksheets that asked students to back up their current thinking with credible sources of information.

Another aspect of my plan involved a 30 minute meeting with each group. The students would set an appointment with me using appointment slots on Google Calendar. In these meetings I could help groups with any number of issues, ranging from group dynamics to locating suitable sources. This was the most useful strategy albeit a very time-consuming one.

These meetings with students were incredibly revealing regarding the success of my teaching strategies. The truth was that half of the groups did not do nearly enough outside reading on their topic to constitute real inquiry on their part. With the other half of students, I was satisfied that they read broadly enough to select a good topic with sufficient evidence to support a thesis aligned with the NHD theme.

What were the shortcomings of my plan?  While it is tempting to blame the students for being too lazy to do outside reading, I must admit that the students did not all have intrinsic motivation and a clear purpose for reading. My plan certainly lacked good scaffolding for the vital Immerse and Explore stages of Inquiry, and my initial library lessons emphasized skills for the Gather stage.  I also put Gather before Identify.

In spite of my instructional shortcomings, I was immensely proud of the students’ work and can’t wait to see what next year’s group does. Here are a few of the judges favorites.

Webiste: Henry VIII Divorcing a Religion

Film: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Film: Alan Turing: Untold Hero of WW II

I am writing this blog post as a means of reaching out to fellow inquiry fans who are interested in National History Day.  I sincerely hope I have inspired some of you to undertake History Day next year and I would love to have dialog with the GID community refine teaching strategies that help students find a compelling topic and go deep within that topic and create an inspiring NHD project. Thanks for reading.  Please connect via by email or Twitter or LinkedIn.

 

Neil Krasnoff

Librarian

Highland Park High School..

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