Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Calling all fairy blogparents

So, now that the slavery unit is over I'm working on planning the next unit, which is going to be on the Civil War. We're going to spend three 45-minute lessons on it next week, and I was having a hard time deciding what I thought the most important things are that students should take away from such a short unit. So my solution was not to decide -- I'll let them choose from among a list of questions relating to the Civil War, and then divide them into mixed-ability groups, and each group will have to come up with an answer to their question by the end of the week with evidence to back up their answer.

The unit coincides with the ELA unit on nonfiction reading, so their responses to their questions will come from nonfiction texts on various topics and reading levels. At the end of the week each group will present its answer and evidence to the class.

With a setup like this, the questions are going to be what really drives the unit, and I thought I came up with some great questions that kids could approach at different levels. Some of the questions I thought would work:
  • Was the Civil War inevitable?
  • Was Lincoln "the great emancipator"?
  • Did the South have a chance?
  • Could the war have happened without women?
  • Would the Union have won without African Americans?
My cooperating teachers thought these questions would be above some kids' heads, and suggested I give some kids these tough questions and other kids more straightforward questions, such as:
  • What was it like to be a soldier?
  • What was it like to be a soldier's family?
  • What were some of the important battles of the Civil War?
To me, those kinds of questions are less compelling; it's hard for me to imagine a kid really trying to answer those questions because they really care about finding the answer. But I trust their judgement and realize I'm just going to have to try this out and see how the kids respond.

Anyway, if anyone out there has some good ideas for questions, or some good sources of short nonfiction texts on the Civil War, please let me know!

4 comments:

ed at aft said...

I think the question of secession and loyalty and what it says about patriotism is one question that is worth looking at. Would you be loyal to your state or to the nation? Could you, like Robert E. Lee supposedly did, believe slavery was evil and still support secession out of loyalty to your state? (There are some obvious and perhaps ham handed parallels to supporting the US now in Iraq).

Tom Hoffman said...

I think the "what was it like" questions might be harder than they look, particularly the family one. If you go with the "what was it like to be a soldier" question, you TOTALLY want to use some of this:

http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/horwitz-attic.html

My wife (who is a mentor teacher in the Brown social studies MAT program) and I think your first three essential questions are good and the last two are forced.

Also, the one about battles is a terrible essential question.

julie said...

Thanks for the input Ed and Tom! Speaking of ham handed parallels, the other 8th grade humanities teacher is doing a one-day lesson on the Civil War in which he puts up a red state/blue state map of the 2004 election, and then overlays it with a map of the states that seceded, and considers his point made.

julie said...

Also, I agree that the African American and women questions are sort of forced, but I'd still like to include them. I regret not doing more about things like slave rebellions during our slavery unit, as it became clear to me at the end of the unit that these students need to know about actions taken by those without power to challenge those with power.