In this section, I will highlight some of the teaching strategies that may be most effective in presenting this unit in narrative. Some of these will also be included in the sample lesson plans.
Inspiration from Real Documents
In order to understand the work of historians, as well as the types of artifacts historians look at when writing about history, students will need to see actual primary source documents and read secondary analyses of them. We utilize primary documents throughout the year, but in particular students need to see them in the format I will be asking them to create. The main source I plan on using for this is a college reader,
Major Problems in American History
. It includes short primary documents and brief analyses of them.
However, this text can be quite challenging for the middle level. Other ways of approaching this introduction may include using images and/or text from Jacob Riis's
How the Other Half Lives
, historical maps of New York, or some of the excellent collections of images and documents available on the Library of Congress's website. It will be essential to show students the basis in reality for their creative work (see Sample Lesson Plan 1)
Planning: Fictional Family Tree
It will also be important for students to have a mental concept of just who their modern family is before they can create the items that will tell the family's story. Students should map out a family tree at the start of the unit. They can then highlight which family members and historical periods to include when creating artifacts.
Depending on the nature of the classroom, teachers can be more or less structured when assigning this family tree. For example, if teachers want to highlight migration from North to South, WWI, immigration in the early 20
century, or more recent immigration, they can require students to include family members/artifacts from particular periods. I will require students to include one artifact from each of the family's past five generations, in order to cover the span on the 20
century. Teachers can also decide if they will allow students to base their fictional families on their real families. If this is the case, it will of course be harder to require students to include various time periods or events (See sample lesson plan three).
It may be a good idea to ask students to focus on one branch of their fictional family tree, as this will help mitigate students who may end up confusing themselves with complex family narratives.
This unit would benefit greatly from modeling an end product. This will help students visualize teacher expectations. Because so much creativity is necessary for this unit, modeling will in no way limit students. Every family can have remarkably different stories.
If I were to use my actual family as a model, I could bring in items that would tell my story. These might include my maternal great-grandfather's WWI portrait (conflict), the passenger list from my paternal great-grandmother's immigration from Italy (migration), my maternal great-grandparents' wedding portrait from England (class), a regiment list from the Civil war that included members of my paternal grandfather's family, a photograph of my husband's grandmother in her WAC uniform or a letter from Niccola Sacco to my husband's great-grandfather. I would write secondary commentary on these items (See Lesson Plan Three).
The difficulty in using actual family mementos as models would be that I would be not modeling the creative process and the range of American experiences represented would be limited. While this would demonstrate how primary documents can tell the history of family, it might not demonstrate the range of experiences or historical events that are open to kids, or might be off-putting to students who do not have extensive documentation of their family history. For example, while I am Caucasian, most of my students are African American and the historical experiences of African Americans would not be represented in my personal experience. In my case, it may make more sense to model a fictional family.
Students can create a range of artifacts including photos, letters, journals, government documents, passenger lists, paintings, tickets, school papers, or legal documents. While I would like students to create all items, teachers can also decide whether they would allow their students to incorporate fictionalized versions of Library of Congress (or other) photos. For example, in class recently we were analyzing images of working women during WWII. One image was two African-American women working in a factory in New Britain CT. Perhaps these women were members of this fictional family and that image can be one of the artifacts.
Depending on access to cameras, students may be able to stage photographs as well, and apply filters to make them look older. In this case, students will have to model their work on actual photographs from the past and write a written analysis about the choices they've made in composing their family photo. I will require at least one written document and no more than two photographs in order to ask students to diversify their work and incorporate a variety of sources. This will also reinforce the concept that historians must look to many sources in order to understand a particular moment.
Teachers can require specific artifacts, set guidelines for length of written documents, or differentiate for struggling and/or high achieving students as necessary.
When modeling the secondary documents (written analysis of the artifacts), it will be important to emphasize the dual purpose of this short document. It must first identify the item and its role in the family's history (what is it and to whom does it pertain) and secondly, students must explain the connection to a historical period. For example, if I were going to write about a family wedding portrait I have from the early 20s, I might explain how the clothes reflect the fashion of the time, as well as the family's social station, in addition to identifying the family members in the photo and their personal story (the photo was taken shortly before they emigrated to the U.S., etc.)
The analysis is just as important as the artifact itself, as the analysis will be the true assessment of the students' understanding of historical chronology, culture and content.
In creating a 21
century classroom, teachers are always looking for ways to implement technology standards. While every classroom has different access to equipment, this would be a great unit to post online. Students can use presentation programs like Prezi, Google Presentation or Powerpoint to consolidate and present their artiacts (or photographs/scanned images of them), along with their analyses. Alternatively, there may be blogs or classroom pages where all students' final projects can be collected. Students may be able to comment on each other's work and make connections between their imagined families.