After looking at the New Haven Public School's district curriculum for Language Arts and Social Studies, recent Connecticut Mastery Tests, and district mini assessments, I found that the standard strand that presented the most difficulty in our school and state was the one involving making reader/text connections. That strand focuses on getting students to connect with the text they are reading, connect to a personal experience that the student had while engaged in the text, and then connect the text to an outside experience. This strand presents students with the opportunity to apply what they are reading to a particular feeling a character might have had or a particular situation that the character and they themselves might have been in, then write a personal response to the text either in the form of a journal entry or a letter about the real world experience. The strand also asks the students to form questions about the text that has real meaning to them and try to answer the question based upon what they think the answer should be.
History presents a lot of challenging questions that we are forced to try to answer based on dates and facts, but we do not know how the people of that time period felt or even if the event is as accurate as it is in our textbooks.
The idea of this unit is to challenge students' thinking by prompting them to think about the war, its events, and its people in a way that promotes student-centered conversations and stimulates a mental picture that each student can see in their imagination. It is through these conversations that the students are engaged in their own learning and become eager to find out more through the internet, books, or magazines.
Student-centered discussions increase comprehension and build personal experience to the text by allowing students to decide which information is the most meaningful to them and using it to promote more learning about the subject. This method is called the inquiry-based method. According to Boise State University's Jeffrey Wilhelm, "Lessons are designed so that students make connections to previous knowledge, bring their own questions to learning, investigate to satisfy their own questions and design ways to try out their ideas." In his book
Learn to Read and Write: 50 Problem Based and Literacy and Learning Strategies,
Wilhelm stated that "By bringing the students' background knowledge to the learning table, students will find ways to connect to the topic and will have activated some basis for creating meaning for the text they are reading."
Students are in charge of their own learning through questions about and discussion of the topic with their peers, teachers, and families. It is through inquiry-based learning that the students can connect to a feeling one of the soldiers could have had being away from friends and family for a long time, or connect to the meaning of what the Fourth of July represents rather than just connecting to the barbeque in their backyard.
Why is teaching history, more specifically the Revolutionary War, such a challenge to teach to my fifth-grade students? I have asked myself this question every time I teach the Revolutionary War. Is it the way the textbook presents the information; is it done in a manner that is kid-friendly? Either way, the most difficult part about teaching the war is getting the students to understand the relationship between past events and the present they live in. Another difficulty in teaching history to students is the act of separating facts from fictional ideas or speculations heard from non-historians or through movies like
, that tell children that there is a secret on the back of the Declaration of Independence, when that really is not so.
I decided to ask my students what they knew prior to studying the war and what they felt was difficult for them to grasp. Here are their responses: first I asked them what they knew about the Revolutionary War, and they told me that the Americans were trying to become free from Great Britain, and George Washington was the President at the time of the war. They knew very little about the events because there were too many to keep track of, too many locations in the war, and too many differences between the loyalists and the patriots. My students felt overwhelmed by the amount of dates and vocabulary that I presented to them during our study. Later, I asked if the students can connect to any part of the war, and I was told by one student that she can connect to her uncle being part of the army, but could not expand on a feeling that her uncle might have felt during a war. The response given was an indirect indication that she could relate to a soldiers' life during war times, but just did not give enough information to complete the response. Other responses included Fourth of July celebrations, barbeques, and patriotic songs embracing freedom. It was because of their responses that I decided that there must be another way to teach the Revolutionary War that makes sense and is accessible to all of my learners in the classroom.
Our United States
, the main text used in this unit, is the staple book that is used to teach the Revolutionary War; however, other texts in conjunction with the staple text need to be utilized in order to convey the details of the powerful, visual images of the Revolutionary War. My unit will utilize a variety of classroom resources like the internet, where students can access websites such as http://www.pbs.org and http://www.kidinfo.com, where the students can play games about the Revolutionary War while learning about events, people, and locations. There is also an interactive map that the students can click on a specific place during the war, such as Boston, and information is given about the city. The students will also have access to non-fiction books like
If you Lived during the Time of the Revolutionary War
Fight for Freedom,
two books in which text is attached to illustrations to explain the war. Other resources include animated videos of George Washington called
Animated Hero Classics-General George Washington
American Heroines and Heroes-George Washington
, and a great Revolutionary War video called
Events Leading up to the War-Revolutionary War
. All videos are geared toward younger children and streamed live through a site that teachers can access called http://www.unitedstreaming.org.