written a week after the battle would be more reliable than the recollections of a former soldier 50 years later; and that a captured British soldier might change his account to please his captors. Having seen just how many details of the Battle were in dispute, students then became indignant whenever they found books that asserted more certainty than in fact existed. They were thus becoming adept at asking the basic question of critical thought--How do I know if this is true?
Analyzing and evaluating primary sources written from different perspectives helps students become critical readers.
Similarly, students will gain a more complete understanding of the Revolution if they examine novels on the period written from a variety of perspectives--works like My Brother Sam is Dead (about a Loyalist family in which the eldest son joins the Continental army), War Comes to Willy Freeman (about a freed African American girl searching for her mother during the war), An Enemy among Them (about a Hessian soldier cared for by a German American Patriot family), The Fighting Ground, about a boy who learns that fighting is not as heroic as he had imagined. By working in literature response groups, students can analyze and compare these novels and the perspectives they represent. But as we described in chapter 9, narrative can be a very powerful medium: Telling stories is a basic means by which people make sense of their world, and there is a tendency for students to regard what they have read without a critical eye. Students can thus use reference works like The American Revolution, U.S. Kids History: Book of the American Revolution, and If You were There in 1776 to investigate the accuracy of the books they are reading. By comparing the information in these sources, students will learn more about historical inquiry and the effect of the Revolution on diverse groups of people than they would by reading a text passage or seeing a filmstrip on the Boston Tea Party.
Brenner ( 1994), Carter ( 1992), Egger-Bovet & Smith-Baranzin ( 1994)
Collier & Collier ( 1974, 1984), DeFord & Stout ( 1987), Avi ( 1984)
Many of the teachers in this book have almost complete control over their history curriculum, either because they teach in the primary grades--where there are few expectations for history content--or because their state curriculum focuses on outcomes rather than requiring specific topics at each grade level. Many teachers do not have that much responsibility for designing their curriculum; particularly in fourth grade and above, most teachers are required by official guidelines or informal (but very real) expectations to teach specific topics in state, American, or world history. As Rhoda and Rebecca demonstrate, though, teaching the required content of the curriculum does not mean following a textbook in lockstep fashion; principles of effective instruction and the elements of historical thinking can be applied to any topic a teacher wants or needs to teach.
At first glance, most of Rhoda's and Rebecca's students have little reason to be interested in the major events of American history. Most are immigrants from poor or working-class families; their ancestors rarely show up in stories of the British colonies, the Overland Trail, or the Civil War. But by focusing on human agency and multiple perspectives, Rhoda and Rebecca not only keep their students interested in American history, but make it clear why the topic is relevant to them after all. Their students learn that America has always been diverse and that attention to any topic must include the experience of different ethnic groups, of men and women, of rich and poor. In addition, focusing on people--real human beings who live, work, play, create art, and make decisions--allows students to make connections across time and place--connections that at first might not be clear. By teaching history this way, Rhoda and Rebecca not only cover factual content, but help students see what historical understanding is and how it relates to their own lives.