Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools

By Linda S. Levstik ; Keith C. Barton | Go to book overview

The Arts Make us All Part of Humankind
Chapter 13
Cognitive Pluralism in History Teaching and Learning

What makes a culture unique, where are the commonalities that we share if it isn't the arts? The arts make us all a part of humankind. When you think of learning as a whole instead of little pieces, the arts give you the whole picture. So, in seventh grade when I teach ancient civilizations, how could I teach about Greece and not teach about drama? How could I teach about Greece and not teach about architecture? And in eighth grade, its really been interesting to watch the student who studied Mozart and found out that he was a contemporary of George Washington. . . . The arts also give us a window. Sometimes, we don't give students an opportunity to share with us what they do know because we restrict their vehicle of expression. If I only accept what they know about the Bill of Rights in written form, then I've eliminated children that want to share that information with me in a picture or a drama or those kinds of things. The arts give them a vehicle to share with me what they really do know. . . . And sometimes you help a child develop areas they wouldn't have otherwise. They would have said that's not my strong suit, that's not something I do, but because it is a way that we express ourselves in the classroom--sometimes it's on some kind of assessment--that child makes an attempt to do it and becomes stronger as a result.

Jeanette Groth, Middle School Teacher

Grades 6,7, & 8

Jeanette Groth's classroom is always full of art, music, and movement. When studying the Constitution, eighth-grade students carve feather pens, make ink (after finding a period recipe), and try their hands at drafting resolutions. A recording of Mozart's music using period instruments plays in the background as they work. A few weeks later, seventh graders transform the classroom into a medieval castle. Jeanette removes the classroom door and installs a "drawbridge" for the duration of their study. In her sixth-grade class, students make kente cloths and study the West African tradition of preserving history in the archives of a griot's memory. At other times, the arts of ancient Japan, Mali, and Mesopotamia compete for wall space with more recent images of American history. As one observer notes, the juxtaposition of images creates "harmonious chaos." Jeanette nods, "I like it because my room is mostly student created and so I think they feel comfortable with their own work, and I think it calls to mind things that they have learned." Three brief vignettes provide some of the flavor of Jeanette Groth's arts-infused curriculum.

***

Garrett is, he says, doing a "nonresearch paper" on Ulysses S. Grant for his eighth-grade American History class. His task is to study the life of Grant and then put together a "Jackdaw"--a packet of information and artifacts that will illuminate his subject. Jeanette's instructions direct him to "visually represent your topic, supply notes or photocopies of information with relevant details highlighted, provide pictures and replicas of relevant artifacts." "Then," Garrett says, "We get to present our Jackdaw to the class."

"Jackdaw" is also the trade name for a series of historical primary source and activity packets.

Jeanette explains that this assignment involves gathering all the sources for a research paper, "except you don't write the paper." Garrett compares it to an archaeological dig in reverse: Rather than presenting a written interpretation based on artifacts, he has to present interpretive artifacts based on written sources. So far he has decided to include a cigar and an empty whiskey bottle, along with a set of "letters from the field"--perhaps to Abraham Lincoln--and maps of Civil War campaigns.

***

-171-

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