When We Did Our First DBQ...

History has been in a very interesting situation the last two years. With the introduction of Common Core and the dissolving of CSTs, history teachers have found themselves in a realm of possibility with no clear set of content standards. Maybe “realm” is too powerful of imagery for some, but for me I have found Common Core to be a blessing within my history classroom. 

Within the last year, my department has been evolving with finding the balance between old content standards and the new CCSS. Since CCSS implementation has been relatively vague for history, we have began experimenting and one of our earliest experiments was with Document Based Questions (DBQs). The very first DBQ I did with my students was:
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Needless to say, the first DBQ was filled with failures, both mine and students'. The biggest failure of all was when I saw how much students struggled to critically think. The Hook Activity, for example, became a painful process when I had to slowly pull the answers of the significance of the political cartoon from the students. Many were hesitant to answer a question with no clear answer and didn’t want to fail while most had no idea how to even come up with an answer that was not obvious. My boyfriend (a fellow teacher) and I always think of this scene when moments like these happen. Granted, I would have been happy if my students were so eager to throw out ideas like the peasants in the video. So naturally this experience made me nervous for CCSS adoption.

Now a year has passed and I have found that the sophomores who once struggled with the Versailles Treaty DBQ are now juniors who can know effortlessly complete DBQs with a simple analysis sheet and need less and less instruction from me. Yet the biggest moment for me  was when my current sophomores, who have been DBQs since August, came upon the Versailles Treaty DBQ. I was unsure of how the DBQ would go, but I was prepared for a difficult and failure filled journey. Quite unexpectedly, my students flew through this DBQ without problem. Students fought over who would get to analyzed the political cartoon since everyone came up with their own unique interpretation. Students made connections to previous topics and some even did additional research on the Versailles Treaty and WWII. Rather than having to pull the information from them, their knowledge became free flowing without much of my help. All I could do was stand there and smile.

The amount of growth I have seen with my students in the last year is indescribable. Last year I longed for students to find their voice and come up with their own arguments and now I’m finally seeing it. Of course there are many reasons why my students did so much better this time around; my accountability for answers has improved with use of ClassDojo, I’ve integrated more Kagan techniques throughout the lessons, and I have a completely new set of students with different strengths and weaknesses than last year. I still can’t help but think that maybe this growth has been due to the greater emphasis on critical thinking skills of CCSS instead of the memorization of the CSTs.  

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