New Haven Public Schools places a great deal of emphasis on the research-based teaching strategies outlined by Robert Marzano, with many of the strategies incorporating skills from Bloom's Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation). Additionally, I have found that the Marzano teaching strategies have been quite effective in my own classroom, with regard to presentation of information as well as increasing academic achievement amongst my students. As a result, my unit will implement many of Marzano's teaching strategies, focusing heavily on building background knowledge, identifying similarities and differences, as well as nonlinguistic representations. The following section will demonstrate how the aforementioned teaching strategies will be applied and built upon throughout the course of this unit.
Building Background Knowledge and Historical Context: Secondary Sources & Vocabulary
In order for my students to evaluate and critically think about what they are seeing in the film, necessary instruction must take place that will build background knowledge and historical context. Most of my World History students have never studied the Crusades and, if they have, they have retained little to no information about the Crusades. Therefore, I will spend at least 2 class periods assessing what my students may already know about the Crusades, introducing the "need to know" information and vocabulary regarding the Crusades, and organizing the information into a format that will be most meaningful to my students. All of this will occur before my students watch
Kingdom of Heaven
as well as read the indicated primary sources. Additionally, throughout the course of my unit, it will be crucial to reinforce the background knowledge as well as vocabulary so my students are able to process and store the information which they will then be able to draw upon for the entirety of the unit as well as for the culminating activity.
While primary sources provide a more authentic view of history from a specified time period, secondary sources can help fill in the gaps of understanding by synthesizing, analyzing, generalizing, and interpreting information, which can then be presented in a more comprehensive way. Additionally, my students, as already mentioned, will need to develop sufficient background knowledge and historical context of the Crusades before they will be able to critically read the primary sources as well as view the film. Therefore, I will be drawing from a variety of secondary source readings to help provide the historical context in which the Crusades occur as well as reinforce and further expose the vocabulary terms in reading.
In building background knowledge, it is important to first tap into any prior knowledge my students have of the Crusades - perhaps they may not think of the Medieval European Crusades, but they may have heard the word "crusade" or its reference in pop-culture (
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
, Stephen Spielberg, 1989). A quick, informal, and interactive way of assessing prior knowledge is to conduct a brainstorming session at the beginning of the unit where students are able to tell what they already know
simply guess. From this informal diagnostic, I am able to tell what my students already know as well as where they might have misunderstandings regarding the Crusades. This activity will serve as a springboard into establishing the "need to know" background knowledge regarding the Crusades (see Content Objectives 1 - 3).
Marzano speaks to the importance of teaching vocabulary not as formal definitions but as conversational explanations and descriptions that students can meaningful interact with (Marzano, Robert J.
Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement
. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2004, p.71). I have found that my instruction is far more effective and easily understood when I cut out the formalities of language and explain certain historical concepts in more informal and conversational terms. Additionally, when introducing the terms identified in Content Objective 1 (crusades, papacy, monarchy, sultan, dynasty, and jihad), my goal is for my students to have a basic understanding of the word before contextualizing it; for example, I will want my students to understand that the "papacy" was the office of the religious leader (Pope) of the Catholic Church. In an effort to help solidify their understanding, we will use analogies, such as "Papacy is to Pope as Executive Branch is to President," in order to draw from what might be more familiar in an effort to help them understand and think about the new information. In this example, my students will understand what the Pope was in charge of as well as the Pope, like the President, was not always the same person, but merely an office or title that was held by different people throughout history. From that point on, "papacy" will then be contextualized within the Crusades, as the Pope was the primary support and leader of the Crusades, from a religious stand point.
Historical Portrayal through Nonlinguistic Representations
The theory of dual-coding suggests that people store information in two forms: linguistic and nonlinguistic. Marzano discusses how most classroom instruction is delivered only in linguistic form whereas nonlinguistic form is often times not considered in the presentation of information despite the impact nonlinguistic representations have on our ability to store information and the increased stimulation and activity in the brain (Marzano, Robert J.
Building Background Knowledge
, p. 72). By providing my students with nonlinguistic representations, not only do I engage their interest as visual learners but also the information is successfully understood and stored for future reference.
My students rely upon visual representations to help foster their understanding of more abstract concepts and terms that we study. Because we will be viewing the film twice, first to expose my students to the storyline as well as how the film portrays the Crusades and then second to critically view the film and compare it to the primary sources, it is important that my students have a strong understanding of the plot as well as the primary sources in order to evaluate the film's historical accuracy.
Prior to showing the film, I will utilize other nonlinguistic representations to help my students develop and organize their background knowledge in a meaningful way that will allow them to remember and think about the content information. As a history teacher, I have found the timeline to be one of the most effective yet abused teaching tools; when used as a tool for memorizing key dates and events, the timeline can be the basis of what all history teachers want to avoid and that is losing the unique narrative history can provide. However, when used to help provide a sense of sequence, chronology and cause-and-effect relationships, the timeline can serve as a very powerful graphic organizer that provides students with an outline for the narrative. In addition to a timeline, we will utilize a variety of graphic organizers and templates which will set up the framework in which my students will think about certain information (comparing Richard I of England as well as Saladin, comparing primary sources).
Once my students have a foundation of background knowledge, we will then view
Kingdom of Heaven
together as a class. Showing a film is ideal for the block schedule because you are able to watch 60 - 80 minutes worth of the film, each day. Because my class periods are only 40 - 43 minutes long, any sense of fluidity in film is lost; therefore, each day we will only watch 30 - 35 minute segments, with guided questions and "plot catch-ups" to ensure that my students are engaged and understand the plot. When I have used film before as a teaching tool, not only do I provide guided questions that my students answer while watching the movie but I also provide "plot catch-ups," brief plot synopses throughout the film that explain major events or plot developments, on the same hand-out with their questions. By providing "plot catch-ups," we are able to watch the movie uninterrupted and without having to pause the movie every few minutes to make sure we know what is going on. Additionally, at the beginning of class, we are able to look back to the "plot catch-ups" to remember what we have seen the day before to ensure that the rest of the movie makes sense.
As suggested by the title of this unit, film will play a crucial role in providing a nonlinguistic representation of the content. This unit will go a step further and consider the influence of nonlinguistic representations and how it shapes the way we understand history; while film will serve as a teaching tool, it was also serve as the basis of our criticism for the unit. This unit will draw upon my students' love of film in an effort to strengthen their critical thinking skills - I want my students to
about what it is they are watching and how that corresponds or conflicts with what they have learned about the Crusades.
While this unit will not serve as an introduction to cinematography, I want my students to be aware that film is just like any other medium, it is constructed with a certain purpose in mind - the director chose to include certain camera angles for a specific reason, the characters' costumes were given serious consideration, a particular scene was shot in silence and with low lighting to convey a certain mood. Directors have choices when filming and they make those choices to make a statement and to reflect their perspective; while we are watching
Kingdom of Heaven
, I want my students to be thinking about what they are watching and how that affects their understanding of the Crusades.
Developing the Critical Eye: Reading and Synthesizing Primary Sources
Primary sources provide greater opportunity for authentic historical analysis and speculation; when viewing primary sources from two drastically different cultures and societies, questions are raised as to the impact of cultural perspective on historical record keeping.
When high school history students are taught the Crusades, the texts readily available to their teachers typically embody a pro-Christian or European agenda; this is due largely in part to the lack of accessible Islamic primary sources as well as the choice of the textbook publishing company (Prentice Hall's
World History: Patterns of Civilizations
The Pageant of World History
are examples of oversimplified texts). Most world history high school textbooks oversimplify the complexities of cross-cultural interaction and therefore provide accounts derived from a more familiar and identifiable perspective, in this case, Western European. In order to counter this imbalanced approach, my students will be exposed to primary sources such as edicts, letters and treaties written by European Christians and Muslim Turks. In providing both Christian and Muslim perspectives, my students will be able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the Crusades as well as insight into how Christians and Muslims viewed one another.
Reading and interpreting primary sources are some of the most challenging tasks the high school history student will encounter; my students' success in being able to do this will rest heavily on my ability to clearly and effectively communicate the historical context in which these primary sources were written. In building my students' background knowledge and understanding of the time period, the primary sources become part of a larger understanding of what was taking placing during the Crusades.
In preparing students to read primary sources, validity of sources must be taken into consideration. Often times, we as teachers will want our students to think about the authenticity and reliability of the primary (and secondary) sources our students are reading; for the purpose of this unit, this will be discussed briefly but not heavily focused upon. The purpose of this unit is to get my students thinking about how well Hollywood utilizes the primary sources available to them and how well these sources are incorporated into the portrayal of historical events and people.
With that end in mind, we will discuss the value of primary sources as pieces of evidence that shed light on what life was like long ago that can inform us, today, as how society has changed over time as well as how we can most accurately think about past societies and historical events. Ultimately, I want my students to be thinking about how the primary sources we will be reading informed the team of people who created
Kingdom of Heaven
and whether or not these primary sources were used effectively in the historical recreation of the Crusades.
As we are reading the selected primary sources, we will be asking ourselves the following questions in order to help us understand the nature and value of the sources:
First, what information can we gather about the author to help us understand how the author knows these details? Where is the author from, what is the author's position in society, was the author present during the event? What might have biased the author's account?
Second, where does the information come from and what type of information is it - eyewitness account, financial or agricultural record, letter, religious order, political treaties, etc.? How do authors know what they are writing about?
Third, what conclusions are drawn, by the authors, from the available information? What does the information tell us about the larger historical context?
And, lastly, how much time has elapsed since the events described occurred?
In asking these questions, my students will be interacting with and critically thinking about the primary sources so as to develop a better understanding of the time period.
Fact versus Film: Comparing Primary Sources to Film
Marzano provides compelling evidence for the identification of similarities and differences ("compare and contrast") as an effective teaching strategy for all age groups and I have found it to be incredibly successful in my own classroom (Marzano, Robert J.
Classroom Instruction that Works: Research
Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement
. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001, pp.14-16). While it may seem unsophisticated for the high school classroom, the Venn diagram and its many variations is something that my students immediately recognize, understand, and are able to apply and analyze the structure within their writing. Not only does this structure set up a framework for students to think about information but it also provides a nonlinguistic representation (usually graphic organizers) that reinforces the skill and plays upon their strength as visual learners.
The basis for this step in the unit is to push my students to actually think about and question what it is they are watching, drawing upon what they have learned and what they know. Often times when teachers show films in class, the film is to serve as a mere visual aid in helping students imagine what life was like; while this can be helpful, this activity does not do enough in getting students to apply what they have learned and to critically analyze how history is represented in film.
During this section of the unit, students will watch the film for a second time, with the intent of critically thinking about what they are seeing and how that corresponds or conflicts with the background knowledge and historical context we have gained from the secondary sources as well as the perspective and historical authenticity we have acquired from the primary sources. While students are watching the film, I want them to be thinking how well the historical integrity of the Crusades has been preserved and perhaps why certain scenes were embellished or certain events/characters were not included. The process of comparison will prove to be invaluable for my students for a number of reasons: First, it will give ground to what they have learned as they are able to take the information they have gained in class and apply it to a different experience; second, it will build their confidence as students since they will have been provided with the tools to successfully accomplish this task; and third, perhaps most important, it will get them
about what they are watching. If this unit is successful in accomplishing its goal, then my students will begin questioning other films that they see and build their interest to investigate the accuracy of history in its representations in film.
Evaluation of Film: Film Review or Screenplay
After having read both primary and secondary sources as well as having seen the film twice, students will then determine how successful the film was in preserving the historical integrity of its depiction of historical events and people. This will serve as the final assessment or culminating activity, drawing on content as well as skills achieved throughout the course of this unit. The culminating activity will stem from my students' strength as visual learners and love for film to help bolster their critical thinking skills.
Students will have two options for their final assessment
1) My students will act as film critics and write their own review of the film, focusing on the issue of historical accuracy and drawing upon the background information gained from studying the Crusades through primary and secondary sources.
2) As a class, we will write a class review of the film and my students will be responsible for creating an alternative script for a portion of the movie that would have made the film more historically accurate - how would
have depicted the Crusades in film.
By providing choices for their final assessment, students will be more interested in creating their product as well as more invested. While both choices provide significant room for creativity, the basis of the assessment would be founded in the students' background knowledge and insight gained from the secondary and primary sources. Both assessments draw upon their strengths in order to address areas of weakness: my students' learning style as visual learners and interest in film will serve to improve their critical thinking skills with how they think about and watch film.