197: Facilitating a Historical Investigation





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  1. Develop driving question that will focus student inquiry:
    • Question should be provocative
    • Question encourages investigation and discussion
    • Question should align to central concepts / skills in standards
    • Question should deepen students’ knowledge of history as an interpretative discipline
    • Question should emphasize disciplinary concepts such as:
      • causality
      • chronology
      • multiple perspectives
      • contingency
      • empathy
      • change and continuity over time
      • influence / significance / effect
      • contrasting interpretations
      • intent / motivation
  2. Initiate the investigation
    • Access prior knowledge by co-examining a primary source such as: poem, journal entry, map, broadside, political cartoon, etc.
    • Hook students’ attention and introduce context for event / person being studied
  3. Conduct the investigation
    • Expose students to relevant and conflicting historical sources that allow students to investigate all aspects of the event
    • Analyze one document individually
      • annotate information
      • extract who, what, when, where, why
      • determine answers about
        • context
          • what was going on during the time period?
          • what background info helps explain info in the source?
        • subtext
          • who created the source and what do we know about that person?
          • for whom was the source created?
          • why was this source produced when it was?
        • how do these answers affect central question
      • Group individual students so that all documents are represented in a group.  Help them use their documents and annotations to :
        • generate and share interpretations of documents based on focus question
        • cite evidence to support interpretations
        • not all group members need to accept all interpretations at this point
  4. Report interpretations and class discussion
    • Share interpretations and discuss sources that most influenced their decisions and why
    • Discuss and compare / contrast interpretations
  5. Debrief student investigations
    • Facilitate a teacher-driven discussion that solidifies basic historical facts and clarifies reasons for varying interpretations
  6. Assess student comprehension of content of the past and historical thinking
    • Assess students’ understanding of history content and process
The structure of this historical investigation project sequence resembles the “You do, We do, I do” sequence promoted by Jo Baoler for math lessons.  Giving students opportunities to read sources while trying to answer provocative questions can make students more critical and careful with the sources they read and examine.  Letting students formulate and defend historical hypotheses and conclusions based on cited evidence teachers students historical content and process.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards and identify enduring understandings, key skills and supporting knowledge.  Develop learning targets targets based on these.
  • Develop a provocative driving question that relates to learning targets.
  • Gather a variety of conflicting sources.
  • Develop thinking sheets that guide students to analyze sources.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Launch project and present driving question.  Examine engaging compelling sources to formulate initial hypotheses
  • Examine sources individually using thinking sheets
  • Form jigsaw teams and develop interpretations of sources within the teams
  • Facilitate discussion that have students share and compare / contrast interpretations
  • Facilitate a debrief discussion that highlights key historical information and explains variety of competing interpretations
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • After students are familiar with this process, let them find their own primary sources to test their hypotheses.
  • Scaffold a historical writing piece that documents students’ hypotheses, questions, conclusions and cited evidence

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