How Do You… DBQ?

About Whitney Kaulbach

I teach High school and middle school students World History, AP World History, Reading Instruction, and Literacy Specialist.

Teaching with those three little letters can either rev up or rev down a classroom in minutes. D for Document, B for Based and Q for Question is how educators provide standards-based assessment connecting students to a broad range of primary sources and a broader range of perspectives. As a teaching tool it intends to present an essay template for analysis, but producing this in a set amount of time causes students to eye it with loathing. I have had to resort to presenting the DBQ, its rich content, the diverse voices, and the histories that are often overlooked in textbooks, in a variety of settings in order to draw interest and wonder from students.

I teach AP World History students how to prepare and write an essay in 40 minutes. They are given 7-9 short documents, 10 minutes for review and notetaking, and 30 minutes to write an argument to argue how each document attends to the overarching question.  Students must note patterns of similarity and analyze the influence of a few Points of View (POV) in relation to the thesis. The grand finale is to argue for an additional document or a missing voice that would lend meaning to the research.  With so many pieces at stake, the most frequent argument by students is that it is impossible to write meaningfully in such a short amount of time. For some students it goes against everything they know of research and the time spent editing or exploring a truly exciting idea.  On the other hand, students who love the challenge express genuine curiosity, “I never knew this history existed.” To learn snippets from so many voices about one particular topic is a refreshing move away from content crammed textbooks. Teaching becomes less about knowing everything in history and more about knowing how to read a document.

CLOSE reading strategies must be honed when teaching students how to read primary sources.  The first problem students face is over simplifying the essay question. Setting aside the timer, I start class with the DBQ projected on the board while students open the documents on their iPads. By circling each word of the question and listing the variety of possible ways to address each part of the question, I work to prevent  students from writing too quickly, addressing only part of the question. By breaking down the question, they can develop annotation codes which they can then write next to each document. If the question asks for cause and effect of an economic action, students can use a “C” next to a “$” sign for each document and the specific corresponding evidence.  Students can look for details in an image or art piece, they can read words slowly and carefully, shouting out when they find something interesting or a word that causes confusion. I model note-taking and annotation on the projected documents and students can follow suit.

Expertise. Sometimes I like to have students review a DBQ quickly. I give them 30 minutes to take notes, developing a rough essay and a thesis. I then ask each student to take one of the multiple documents home for closer analysis. I provide a graphic organizer with CLOSE reading questions and suggestions for research specific to their document. I include museum links or sources other than Wikipedia. When individuals understand just the history associated with one document, including the background information about the author, they become confident experts that a classroom group will become reliant on. During the next class, I give students time in smaller groups to share their findings. They can choose to continue to rewrite individual essays or present one group essay. As a result there is a tendency to have a shared experience with successful analysis of Point of View.

Curation. Students will spend an entire class sorting through images and documents pertaining to a particular exciting event.  I present students with a lectures and notes on a period in history and then give them a large collection of images, letters, memorandums, maps, economic indicators, etc., to sort through. The task becomes a scavenger hunt. Students use a general outline and set thesis to develop reasons for choosing their own curated collection. Presenting and defending not only the documents they choose but the documents that they reject helps build confidence and reasoning skills while giving students a break from writing.

Picture Walks.  I have a long hallway near my classroom that separates two wings of our high school.  I hang documents on the walls for viewing during and after we develop analysis of an era in history. Class begins with an inquiry question and a lecture based on an outline.  Students develop assumptions about what they would expect to find from particular documents before beginning their search. Sometimes a list of quotes, ideas, and points of view provide the incentive of a scavenger hunt.  A set time in which to walk through the documents is important to keep classroom time for shared discussion and summation.  I will scribe their brainstorms on the board and then give the option of writing in depth about a smaller selection of the documents in relation to the essay question.  This tends to draw the longest contributions from students.  They write in order to miss not a single detail and with great criticism or concern for the impact of the POV on the overall research.  I also let them practice asking for a document that they know exists in order for students to practice writing a meaningful request.

While some techniques seem to work there is always room for improvement. I recently discovered The DBQ Project website as a resource for sharing strategies and tools. Colleges and museums house great collections and sample documents lessons. Pinterest has plenty to offer if teachers are in need of CLOSE strategy posters for classroom walls but I invite all readers to respond to @terpublishing with their own ideas for giving students opportunities to follow an inquiry. #dbqtips

 

 

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About the Author:

I teach High school and middle school students World History, AP World History, Reading Instruction, and Literacy Specialist.

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