Templates for factual mastery (under construction)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which students in my classes relate to historical facts.  I’ve tried to lay out some ideas about how we might conceptualize that here and here.

Here are the guiding principles I try to use in choosing exercises:

1) The accumulation of facts should always have a clear purpose–facts are not an end in themselves but a tool for deeper understanding.

2) Rote memorization should  play as small a part as possible.

3) The skills of synthesis–prioritization, organization, and summarization–need to be consciously taught, not assumed.

Exploration exercises

I often use an exploration exercise to introduce a unit or new topic.  My goals are to give students a sense of the richness, complexity, and messiness of the subject–it’s very easy, reading a single account, to think of that as the only story that could be told;  by letting students wander at the very start through material that may be contradictory or hard to categorize, I am trying to inoculate them against that–and to pique students interest:  I often use these exercises to show them a different, more human view of events, and I hope they will carry that with them through the unit. Because I am letting students choose their own material and interpret it for themselves, I can’t count on them acquiring any specific fact, but in practice, I often find that they remember what they read or saw in these lessons longer than almost anything else.

Working with objects

Simulations and problem solving

Finding examples

Working with secondary sources

Fact checking

Source comparisons

Pooling resources

Teaching skills of synthesis

Prioritization: The one most important

Top ten

Edit down

Summarization: Timed summaries

Precis

Organization:     Outlines

Cornell Notes

Idea Webs

Invent your own notes

Summarizing exercises

Chalk talks

Summary discussions

Summarizing around a question

Historical illustrations

Mini documentaries

Crash course

Write the test

Write the textbook

Teach it!

Review and drill exercises

Chronology with index cards

Categories with index cards (variation: dominoes)

The question off

Bowl full of nouns

What do you know–hotseat

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