Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools

By Linda S. Levstik ; Keith C. Barton | Go to book overview
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I Think Columbus Went to Hell! Chapter 6
Initiating Inquiry Into World History
Please help your child with this interview.
Person interviewed Gus
How does someone become famous?
They do something special for a person.
Who do you think is a famous American? Why?
President Clinton. Because he's the president
& he does a lot of things that are famous.

Can I become famous?
How do you know when you are famous?
Because the people you talk to when
you're famous tell you so.

Once you are famous, do you stay famous?
Sometimes, but if you don't want to you don't
have to stay famous anymore but usually you do.

Twenty-two kindergartners and first-graders excitedly share their homework assignment. They had interviewed family members, neighbors, and friends. Some of them wrote their responses independently; others had an adult help them. They were trying to find out how people became famous. Some of their interviewees thought fame came when you were rich or when you did "something real cool," "headturning," "something out of the ordinary." Their list of famous Americans included President Clinton, Michael Jackson, Miss America, Shaquille O'Neal, Jimmy Carter, Abraham Lincoln, and Daniel Boone. Staying famous was, their survey helped them conclude, not a certainty. "Sometimes," Minna Gayle declared, "you can really blow it."

K. A. Young ( 1994), Crook ( 1988), Penyak & Duray ( 1999)

Oral history is accessible even to the youngest students.

In classrooms across America, children study famous people. Rarely, however, do they consider how these or any other people became famous or what "fame" really means. Teachers sometimes fear that young children will be unable to deal with the controversies that surround some historic figures or events. Others worry that young children are not ready to study people from more distant times and places. LeeAnn Fitzpatrick shared these concerns, and she was also worried that her students, a number of whom were nonreaders, might have difficulty with disciplined inquiry. With some hesitation, then, she decided to test this approach with her students, but to do it in ways that would provide many links between the familiar and unfamiliar.

Evanset al. ( 1999), Levstik (in press-b), Sosniak & Stodolsky ( 1993), Thornberg & Brophy ( 1992)

Even young children can deal with historical controversies.

Emergent readers can conduct disciplined inquiry.


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Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools
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