Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools

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

There Aren't a Lot of "For Sure" Facts
Chapter 3 Building Communities of Historical Inquiry

It is 11: 10 on a cool October morning and 26 seven- and eight-year-olds are gathered around their teacher, listening to a story about Johnny Appleseed. At one point, the teacher stops to talk about what is known about the historical Johnny Appleseed:

Teacher: What kind of a story is this? Remember we said that some stories were tall tales?

Jennie: And folktales!

Teacher: Right, some are folktales. And Johnny Appleseed is a le . . .? le . . .?

Choral: Legend!

Teacher: Legend. That means some parts of the story are?

Ryan: True.

CeCe: But some are just made up.

At this point, the children engage in a general conversation about why parts of stories might be made up. One boy suggests that the real story probably wasn't exciting; others think that people probably didn't know "the real facts" and so simply made them up.

Teacher: What parts of this story do we think are true?

Gabriel: Well, there was a man who planted apple trees. It said so in that other book.

Avram: Yeah, but his real name wasn't Appleseed, remember!

Several of the children recall that John Chapman was the "real" Johnny Appleseed. The teacher draws them back to the original question: Which parts of the story do we think are true? Again, she puts the emphasis on think, and the students begin to discuss "facts" versus "exaggerations." The conversation bogs down as some children repeat suggestions others have already made. Lucy and Gabriel appear to be having an argument over whether "Appleseed" can be a "real" name, since it was a nickname used by Chapman's contemporaries.

Lucy: See, it says here [in the encyclopedia entry] that he was "popularly known as Johnny Appleseed" I think that's what people called him then.

Gabriel: Uhuh. That's what's popular now.

Teacher: I'm getting mixed up. Is there some way we can keep track of our ideas here?

Lucy: We could make a list!

Two children get the large pad of chart paper that hangs in the front of the room. Another grabs the plastic cup of magic markers.

-19-

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