Finish the Year Strong By Analyzing Student Writing

Setting aside time to discuss student writing can be hugely informative...and a lot of fun!

Setting aside time to discuss student writing can be hugely informative…and a lot of fun!

Every May, I find myself in need of a kickstart….a little shot of something to help me finish the school year strong and to carry the momentum of the mistakes I’ve made and the successes I’ve had into the fall.  Finally, after over a decade of working in schools, I’ve figured out what that kickstart needs to be or least what it should involve.

It needs to involve collaboration, reflection, and a changes in practice that are both quick wins that will affect students before school lets out in June and long term understandings that will affect students to come.  Analyzing student work with a really smart group of peers is the perfect combination of all those things.

And since none of us wants to reinvent the wheel (especially in May) here’s everything you need to know to replicate my favorite student work analysis protocol.  While I most recently used this protocol with network 9th and 10th grade history teachers to look at common DBQ essays, the beauty of it is that with a few tweaks it can be used across grade levels and disciplines. Read more

Here’s a Keeper: 5 Reasons Why You Should Connect with Facing History

"Teaching Mockingbird" is one of the myriad resources available for free from Facing History.

“Teaching Mockingbird” is one of the resources available for from the nonprofit Facing History.

When you consider all of the educational programs, techniques and strategies you’ve accumulated, which are flashy trends and which are keepers?

In a recent interview, I asked a candidate that same question. Later on the drive home, I found myself still reflecting on the question and considering all of the keepers that I recommend to teachers years after I first learned about them.

So what’s your keeper? As I continue to reflect on that question, the work of the international education nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves rises high on my list of essential resources for social studies teachers in all grade levels.  Here are five reasons why. Read more

Supporting Student Writing: 3 Lessons Learned Through Collaboration

Social Studies teachers met for DBQ Day in February.

Social Studies teachers met for DBQ Day in February.

It’s a truly satisfying feeling when you start to see months of hard work and collaboration paying off. It may be the student you tutored for hours after school who raised her grade. It might be the Sunday night spent tuning a lesson plan that leads to an engaging learning experience on Monday. Recently, the first set of DBQ Days with AUSL history teachers revealed notable improvements in our students’ essays as well as three key reasons we can look to for these gains. Read more

Starting with Engagement: 3 Ideas to Grab Students’ Attention

Activating learning. Isn’t that what a Do Now does?

112514-ssblogSure, but sometimes we get so caught up in the classroom management aspect of a Do Now that once we’ve ensured that students are settled quietly in their seats as close to the final brrring of the bell as possible (while seamlessly taking attendance), we move on too quickly to the next thing on our instructional to-do list.

Why then spend a few more minutes to firing up students’ brains and maybe even getting them excited about approaching new material?  According to Research for Better Teaching, activating students’ current knowledge and thinking prior to instruction… Read more

College Readiness Power Standards and DBQ: A Planning Toolkit

Students will understand the dynamics between people, ideas, and so on in more challenging passages.

Can you think of a teacher (especially a history teacher) out there who’s not interested in having students who can to derive so much from reading non-fiction?

The above standard is one of the reasons why it’s so easy to be a cheerleader for ACT’s College Readiness Standards.  Yet embracing a College Readiness Standard is just the beginning. The real challenge (and fun!) arrives in planning engaging instruction to guide students in making these strong connections as they read non-fiction. This week, I allow me to share several ideas to help you plan your instruction guided by the College Readiness Power Standards. Read more

5 Planning Tips to Ensure an Engaging DBQ Experience

Editor’s Note:  This week’s blog comes to us from Laura Bean, history teacher at Phillips Academy High School and member of the Network History Team.

Our blogger Laura Bean in action at Phillips Academy High School

Our blogger Laura Bean in action at Phillips Academy High School

Quarter three is coming to an end. Are you ready for our 4th quarter common world studies DBQ? If you’re anything like me, you’re up to your eyeballs in grading and not even close to wanting to think about whether the Reformation or Exploration was the most important consequence of the printing press.

Fear not! We’re here to get you started down the path of making this DBQ meaningful before our Q4 DBQ Day.  In fact, even if you’re not teaching the world studies DBQ, the tips below might spark some great planning ideas.

The Printing Press DBQ – what’s it all about?

This DBQ is all about comparing and evaluating the effects of innovation. Students must first be able to describe how the invention of the printing press shaped the Reformation and Exploration and then compare and evaluate their effects.

Below are our top five tips for teaching this DBQ, based on our AUSL Historical Reading and Writing Framework.

Read more

Argument Writing–Where Do We Stand?

Ironically, it’s a recent morning where no students were present that has me so excited about where we’re heading with argument writing across the network.

I literally found myself running between the two rooms where teachers were discussing and scoring the “Was the War with Mexico Justified?” and “Asoka: Enlightened Leader or Ruthless Conqueror?” DBQ essays for fear of missing out on all the great buzz.

Seriously, check out this photo of Jess Hansen, Jessica Cippichio, Katie Hallberg, and Laura Bean leading one of the sessions.  Who knew that a calibration session could be so much fun?


And so informative, especially the debriefing discussion at the end of the morning.  Across both groups some interesting trends surfaced in 3 important areas. Read more

4 Keys to Making DBQ Work in Middle School


Deneen MRC Katie Lyons discusses whether the Code of Hammurabi is just or unjust in this DBQ lesson.

Think DBQs are only for Advanced Placement students?

Please think again.

While many of our history teachers use materials from  The DBQ Project’s Mini-Q binders successfully in 9th-12th grade classrooms, the original target audience was middle school.  In fact, because these Mini DBQs contain less documents to analyze and some really great scaffolded supports, students as young as 2nd grade have actually completed units. Read more

CA+I Blog: A Few of My Favorite Things: The Best Social Studies and History Resources


With 2013 coming to a close more quickly than I would like, this seems like the perfect time to share my own “Best of List” when it comes to all the fantastic social science resources I’ve  seen within AUSL classrooms this year.  So without any further ado and with the exception of the first item in no particular order, here goes…

1.  The AUSL Network History Team, which includes Laura Bean (Phillips), Jessica Cippichio (CAHS), Alina Cordero (TCA), Jess Frank Hansen (Orr), Katie Hallberg (Collins), Jacob Kaplan (Solorio), Ryan Leonard (Collins), Katie Lyons (Deneen), Naadia Owens (Phillips), and Lucas Smith (Morton) These fantastic teacher leaders are my own top resource when it comes to everything from leading January 24th’s DBQ Argument Writing PD to compiling this list. Read more

DBQ….Not Just Another Acronym

So much has been written about the Common Core lately and yet, I find myself constantly returning to the article Three Core Shifts to Deliver on the Promise of the Common Core State Standards in Literacy and Math over and over again. And it’s not just because it was written by….drumroll please….the authors of the CCSS. Instead, it’s because as the authors state, these “core shifts in literacy and math, deeply grounded in the Standards themselves, offer a way to focus implementation on the few things that have the most significant return for students”.

I also really like this article because those “few things” that can have a huge impact in pushing student achievement all align really well with the work so many teachers in our network have been doing with The DBQ Project.

So what exactly is a DBQ and why does it align so well with the 3 Common Core Instructional Shifts?

To start with, it’s probably helpful to know that DBQ stands for Document Based Question. It comes to us from AP history exams, where students are provided with upwards of 15 primary and secondary sources and asked to write an argument-based essay in 45 minutes.

Now for the alignment piece: Instructional Shift #1 is all about building knowledge through content rich nonfiction. If you’ve ever seen an actual AP DBQ question, you’ll notice that each document whether it be a copy of a democratic ballot from 1823 or a Davie Crockett excerpt is rich in content.

Read more