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Taking Inspiration from the National Black Minds Matter Summit

In this post, our Community Outreach Manager, Tiana Day, reflects on her time last week at the National Black Minds Matter Summit in Washington, DC.

Monica Hall of T.H.R.I.V.E Christian Academy with Tiana Day.

Thinking Nation was a proud sponsor of the 2023 National Black Minds Matter Summit. The conference brought together compelling Black school founders, politicians, allies, and advocates from across the country to discuss how to better support Black students in education.

Elizabeth Connolly (Chief Partnership Officer) and I traveled to Washington D.C. to support our partners at Black Minds Matter and attend this conference.

“Black Minds Matter is a national movement to celebrate Black minds, support excellence, and promote the development of high-quality school options for Black students.” -BMM Site

During this three-day conference, we listened to inspiring panelists share their success journeys, ups and downs, and the advice they have gained from working in the education space.

One of the first presentations was conducted by students attending Legends Charter School, based just outside the nation’s capital in Lanham, MD. Legends School, founded by Shomari and Atasha James, focuses on integrating financial literacy courses into their curriculum. The 7th-grade students who attended the conference presented a stock market analysis. It was incredible to see such young people speak confidently about investing and closing the wealth gaps in historically marginalized communities. I personally learned a thing or two from these students! I also learned that school founders can take innovative approaches to education to tackle systemic issues during students’ K-12 years.

One of the most compelling speakers we heard from was Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship Public Charter Schools. Friendship Schools (PK3-12) is a leading group of 15 physical charter schools in the Washington D.C. area that started with two locations in 1998. Brantley believes that the representation of teachers in the classroom has contributed to the success of her students. Her schools focus on ensuring teachers reflect the diverse populations of the students they serve. Friendship Schools also value accessibility, offering an online platform for students in grades K-8 living in the Washington D.C. area. Brantley celebrated their 25th-year anniversary and achievements, boasting a 95% graduation rate with 100% of students who have attended Friendship Schools being accepted into 4-year colleges and universities.

As I reflect on my own educational journey and why I love working with Thinking Nation, I think about the lack of representation I faced as a Black student during my K-12 experience. Today, my passion lies in creating a safe space for students to feel supported by a community where they feel they belong. When students feel a sense of belonging, they feel celebrated, and their confidence often translates into academic achievements. We heard from a politician based in Indiana who shared that at one point, there were only 10 Black male teachers in the entire state serving 1.2 million students. I pondered whether the students who had access to learning from those Black male teachers knew how rare it was to gain that perspective. It truly changed my perspective on the importance of having representation in the classroom as leaders for students to look up to.

We also heard from politicians who shared with the participants how to get in contact with their state legislators and build genuine relationships. One politician shared that for them, it only takes one impactful story to inspire action, and hearing from a quality parent, student, or community member has a greater impact than receiving thousands of template-filled emails. Another politician shared that they prefer scheduling coffee meetings during breaks or between sessions with community members and enjoying attending community events. Each shared a different perspective on how they like to be communicated with. However, they all agreed on three things: the importance of getting to know representatives at the local, state, and national levels, being informed before approaching a representative, and being respectful and non-confrontational when advocating for what one believes is right.

A unique aspect of this conference was a presentation from Lauren Zelt and Kristin Hoff from Zelt Communications Group, who taught school founders how to use media for visibility. In today’s society, where we are constantly consuming media, leveraging it can be an effective way for school founders to spread the word about their schools. We learned about hosting press conferences and reaching out to broadcast, radio, and news stations to gain coverage. They emphasized the importance of building media relations to expand brand awareness.

Through a partnership with the American National Federation of Schools, founders attending this conference would gain access to free consulting and media training from Zelt Communications. This is often an overlooked aspect when starting a school or any endeavor, really. The media can help amplify our messages, and with proper training and confidence, it can be an essential tool for founders and educators to scale their impact, reach more students and parents, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

I felt like I left this conference with a wealth of knowledge from others’ lived experiences and perspectives. It was truly inspiring to hear from these leaders who spoke with immense passion about their students. 

My biggest takeaway from the National Black Minds Matter Summit was that Black-founded schools are not monolithic. The majority of these founders aim to use innovative techniques relevant to students to equip them with skills that go beyond academics and prepare them for life. Many schools offer unconventional classes such as computer science engineering or financial literacy to help students align better with their educational and life goals. Attending this conference was an incredible experience for both Elizabeth and me. Simply listening and learning how Thinking Nation can continue to support schools and reach students across the country has been a valuable experience.

The Importance of Bipartisan Ed Reform: Reflecting on RISE

Last week, some of the Thinking Nation team was able to attend the Reagan Institute’s Summit on Education (RISE) in Washington DC. The day was jam packed with thoughtful panels, fireside chats, and discussions among some of the nation’s leading thinkers on education and ed policy. Most importantly, these leaders adhere to diverse political persuasions. This context meant that there was fruitful (and sometimes tense) conversations about how we can truly make education better for all children in the United States. As Thinking Nation spends most of its time in social studies and civics spaces, this was a very special event to engage with even broader bipartisan ed reform and ed policy.

I wanted to take some time to highlight some of the panels and speakers here as we reflect on how essential these bipartisan summits are if we really want to enact systemic change.

The Panelists on “The Imperative for Education Reform.

To start the morning, the first panel, “The Imperative for Education Reform,” engaged conversation among Arnie Duncan (Sec. of Education under President Obama), Rick Hess (Ed. Policy Fellow at American Enterprise Institute), Bill Kristol (Founder, Defending Democracy Together), Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. I personally remember the documentary Waiting for Superman, which highlighted Canada’s work being very transformational in my own journey into education. Needless to say, I was excited to learn.

Thinking Nation’s Chief Partnership Officer, Liz Connolly and Executive Director, Zachary Cote hanging out on at the Reagan Institute.

The conversation among the panelists was robust as they reflected on the political context that has led to the many crossroads we are at in public education. But for the sake of brevity, I’d like to highlight something Canada said: “Often education has been a political cudgel.” He said this as he reflected his own journey in education and how at some points he was praised by progressives and at other times he was praised by conservatives. As he noted, he was simply trying to do what was best for kids. But he remarked how political allegiances clouded both sides’ ability to do the same. Canada’s focus on the needs of children was a breath of fresh air.

Later in the morning, a panel entitled, “Teaching and Learning in the Age of AI,” was incredibly apropos for our current moment. While I felt that the panel leaned more optimistic without really wrestling with ramifications for rigorous learning, I was struck by something that Mary Snapp, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Microsoft, stated. In ensuring that developers build out resources that don’t undermine democracy, she noted that “engineers need to learn history too.” Absolutely, Mary. Absolutely. 

Remarks by the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden.

After lunch, we were fortunate enough to hear from our First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. Biden remarked that the last time she came to RISE, she was late because she had to rush over after teaching her class at a local community college, a good reminder that FLOTUS has quite a bit of first hand experience in education. Her address consistently thanked the Reagan Institute for hosting a bipartisan ed reform forum, and while she reminded the audience often of the President’s plan for education, she took quite a bit of time emphasizing the need for stakeholders of different persuasions to seek out commonality to effect real change. I hope we make real waves to push for such consensus.

NBC’s Chuck Todd interviewing Maryland Governor, Wes Moore.

In the afternoon, we were able to hear from former Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, who recently announced his candidacy for President, followed directly by the new Governor for Maryland, Wes Moore. These two men of opposing political persuasions did not emphasize those areas of opposition. They healthily staked their claims while advocating for as much bipartisan legislation as possible to initiate change. Moore reminded the audience that even though he could have passed state legislation with just the Democratic Party’s support, he pushed for legislation to be written in ways that would garner bipartisan support, because he knew that “it simply won’t work” if only one party is behind it. I hope that wisdom around bipartisan ed reform transcends his state boundaries and enters the Capitol that was just a couple miles down the road from us at the time. 

In all, the summit was a day to both challenge and bring hope for public education in the United States. We are grateful to the Reagan Institute for having us.

Oped: Our Response to the NAEP Scores

Last week, Education Week published my response to the recent NAEP scores which showed a decline in students’ understanding of both American History and Civics. They summarized my article succinctly: History Teachers Deserve Respect. I’d like to nuance this slightly to say that “The Discipline of History Demands Respect.” Please read an excerpt below, and then head over to Education Week to read the full article.


Trend in eighth-grade U.S. history average scores (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ushistory/)

“The National Assessment of Educational Progress released the 2022 scores in history and civics for 8th graders earlier this month. I cannot say I was surprised by the decline. As others have noted, decreased time spent on social studies, a lack of funding, and recent state legislation prohibiting the teaching of a full and honest history were likely contributing factors.

I’d like to make the case that each of those causes represent a larger issue worth addressing: the lack of respect or attention to history education. This lack of respect permeates school buildings in how tests are built, professional development is allotted, teacher bonuses are awarded, and teaching assignments are given.

Most people do not actually see history as a discipline. They see it as a content. This distinction is crucial. When we only see history as a content of stories to be told, we get lost in the weeds of which stories to choose. The ongoing culture wars over what we can teach in history classrooms illustrates how this quickly spirals out of control. Rather than having constructive conversations about competing interpretations of the past, many people have become dogmatic about particular narratives, distracting us from the disciplinary practices inherent to the study of history.

If we truly care about equipping the next generation of citizens to be proficient in history and civics, we need to start by redefining what it is we do as history teachers. Of course, as I often tell the teachers I coach, this does not mean that we get rid of content in favor of skills, but it does mean that content becomes a means to an end—to the loftier goal of empowering our students to think historically.

We must… cultivate historical thinkers, empowered to engage with the diversity of ideas that they encounter both in and out of our classrooms.

To do this effectively, we need to build a common language around how we think about history so that social studies teachers don’t just have surface-level conversations about student progress within their content silos. We also need to provide common assessments on historical thinking that facilitate the use of that common language.

We can bring legitimacy back to what we do. Focusing on the discipline rather than the content allows us to rise above the culture wars, redeem ourselves as teachers of literacy so that we can properly collaborate with other content areas, and, most importantly, empower our students with the skills and dispositions to reinvigorate a visibly injured democracy.

As a bonus? Yeah, the NAEP scores will increase, too.”

Teacher Appreciation Week!

On our social media this week for Teacher Appreciation Week, we featured teachers at some of our partner schools around the country who are absolutely CRUSHING IT! We are so grateful to work with such inspiring teachers and want to take some time to honor them here, too.

Following each teacher introduction, we will highlight some of their thoughts on history education through a mini Q+A.

First up for Teacher Appreciation Week: Dr. Carlo Aaron Purther. Dr. Purther currently is the department head at Birmingham Community Charter High School and has been teaching for 21 years. This year teaches US History, US History EL, AP Euro, and Government. To add to that he also teaches at Cal State University, Northridge. We love how we constantly integrates historical writing and analysis into his classes. We appreciate you, Dr. Purther!

Dr. Carlo Aaron Purther, Birmingham Community Charter School, Van Nuys, CA.

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: The mission is to help students become responsible democratic citizens.   In addition to the number of skills one needs to be an effective citizen such as supporting an argument with textual evidence like they do with DBQs, one should also be able to think historically.  That is, students should be able to understand the context and contingency of situations to better understand their place in the present and future.  Additionally, students should be able to identify the cause and effect of events, how things change over time, and be able to comprehend the complexities of situations.  All of this leads to students becoming responsible democratic citizens.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

A: I would like to see (1) more cross-curriculum skill-based work with other subjects (2) students being service focused  (3) focus on depth of historical events based on interests and/or needs of a local community.

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

A: Because of our school’s work with Thinking Nation, students have improved in  (1) summarizing documents (2) being able to explain how textual evidence supports a thesis (3) and connecting what they learned from the writing an essay to event in another historical era.

Moving across the country to Michigan, we want to highlight the work of Uplift Michigan Online High School teacher, Jenifer Gould! Mrs. Gould is an incredibly reflective educator who continuously pushes her students to think deeply about the past. We appreciate you, Mrs. Gould!

Jenifer Gould, Uplift Michigan Online School

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: Teaching students to think historically is so important as it teaches them lifelong skills of analyzing, thinking objectively, and making sure they have evidence to support their position. Especially in the current climate we live in, it is more important than ever that students have these skills.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

My hope is that history education would start focusing much more on primary sources, analysis, and critical thinking, versus memorization and multiple-choice answers. Teaching history using primary sources is so rewarding as students see historical events in an entirely new light. 

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

It has been so fun, rewarding, and worth the effort to incorporate and use primary source documents in class as I have seen “light bulb” moments in several students as they have learned about historical events that they previously learned about, but now are seeing it from a totally different perspective. 

From the Mitten State to the Lone Star State, we are going to the classroom of Gabriel Hernandez at Idea Public Schools in Weslaco, TX. Mr. Hernandez is a go-getter and risk taker that cares deeply for his students. We appreciate you, Mr. Hernandez!

Mr. Hernandez reviewing for the AP exam with all of his students at Weslaco IDEA Pike College Prep!

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: It is important for our students to think historically and view concepts through a historical lens to ensure we grasp it through the interpretation of then and now.  To make sure history does not repeat itself, since history is a  generation away from being lost.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

A: History in the future should be something we all carry with us, and be showcased through multiple platforms, topics and not just what is required, but special topics, narratives, and interpretation from scholars and others that will bring more attention to History education.

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

A: A bright spot of student thinking in my classroom consists of peer feedback, pair shares and a WATCHA wall (oh look at this work/Spanish translation) that showcases student work and achievement. The photo that I attached is one of our last days of review, we build Key Concept hats and students were to showcase all day to other staff and students!  I apologize for the walls being covered, since it was right before exams, we are not allowed to have any work up (timelines, anchor charts and such).

Finally, for Teacher Appreciation Week, we’d like to (again) highlight the work of Abraham Martinez at Stella Middle Charter Academy in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Martinez has been teaching for 7 years and continuously reflects on how to best empower his students to think historically. We appreciate you, Mr. Martinez!

Mr. Martinez going over a Thinking Nation Formative Assessment with his 8th graders.

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: Teaching students to think historically is important as it gives them a framework and thought process to approach primary sources in an academic setting. I also believe that this framework can be applied outside of the history classroom into other content areas and beyond. Ultimately, it helps them become better people and gives them the problem solving skills that they will need throughout their entire lives.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

A: This is a tough one. I believe that history education has moved into the right direction in the last 20 years by focusing on the historical thinking aspect of the discipline in addition to the names, dates, and facts. However, I don’t think that everyone in education seems to see this importance. I would like for education leaders to highlight and recognize the importance that history education plays in the role of developing the “whole student”. Perhaps this may be a reflection of my thoughts on education as a whole, but we need to make sure that we are developing better humans that are able to think for themselves, not just for academic purposes.

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

A: One of the brightest moments that I witnessed this year was when we had a socratic seminar on the Monroe Doctrine. Students were so excited to discuss what would normally be a rather “boring” topic according to an 8th grader. My 4th period class was so engaged in the conversation that they chose to stay in during lunch to continue the discussion. It was amazing to see their excitement and passion.

Take some time today to celebrate the teachers in your life for Teacher Appreciation Week. And all the teachers out there: Know that we see you and appreciate how much you do for the students in your room.

AAPI Heritage Month: Students Can Explore Resilience

[This blog was adapted from a previous Thinking Nation blog on May 28, 2021]

The month of May is AAPI Heritage Month, or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We want to take this week’s blog to honor those who resisted injustice and persisted toward equality within the AAPI community. This week’s blog will highlight three instances where Asian Americans called the United States to live up to its founding ideas of liberty and justice for all. Each of these stories come from our curriculum’s library of DBQs and we hope that as you engage with their heroism today, students will engage with their stories in the classroom.

Our first story of resistance and persistence comes from San Francisco in 1886. Chinese men Yick Wo and Wo Lee were denied permits to operate their laundry businesses under a new discriminatory law in San Francisco. While the law did not mention race at all, after the city council passed it, only white laundry business owners could obtain permits to legally operate in the city. Yick Wo and Wong Lee challenged this discrimination on the basis of the relatively new (passed in 1868) 14th Amendment, which states, “No State shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” To put the amendment to the test, they continued to operate their businesses without permits, and then when threatened by the city, made their case in the U.S. legal system. Despite the new city law not explicitly referencing Chinese San Franciscans, Wo and Lee took their case (Yick Wo v. Hopkins) all the way to the Supreme Court to argue that the city’s laws violated their 14th amendment rights. The court unanimously sided with Wo and Lee and set a profound precedent in U.S. legal history. The court argued that just because a law is not racist on its face doesn’t mean it can’t violate a citizen’s 14th Amendment rights. Their resistance and persistence led to an important change in our justice system. (Here is a free document analysis activity highlighting the court case).

Our second story to highlight during AAPI Heritage Month comes during the American tragedy of Japanese internment. During World War II, the American government forced Japanese Americans out of their homes, rounded them up, and forced them to live for almost three years in concentration camps in remote areas mostly in the Western United States. Resisting this unjust internment, Fred Korematsu hid in Oakland. He was later arrested and jailed for refusing to be taken from his home to one of these camps. The ACLU used his arrest as an opportunity to test the legality of Executive Order 9066, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed to intern Japanese Americans, arguing that it was in the interest of national security. Sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court did not uphold the 14th Amendment rights like it did in 1886 and ruled 6-3 in favor of Korematsu’s conviction. Still, Korematsu paved the way for America’s apology for this atrocious act against Japanese Americans. In 1982 a federal commission found that the Executive Order was shaped by “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” In 1988, the government paid $20,000 in reparations to each surviving internee. Korematsu’s resistance set the foundation for justice. 

Our third story takes place in 1965. Thousands of Filipino farmworkers in California were working underpaid and in inhumane conditions in California farms. Filipino-native Larry Itliong, who led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led a successful strike in Coachella to raise the wages and working conditions of Filipino farmworkers. From there, the workers followed the grape crops to Delano, CA. When refused the same wages they were granted in Coachella, they planned another strike. But to avoid Mexican workers taking the jobs once the Filipinos went on strike, Itliong approached Cesar Chavez, the leader of the association that primarily served Mexican farmworkers. Initially hesitant, Chavez agreed to help Itliong and join the strike. This became the great Delano Grape Strike that lasted 5 years and became an international movement to advocate farmworker rights. If it were not for the resistance and persistence of Larry Itliong, the movement would have never come about.

During AAPI Heritage Month, may we remember the contributions of the above three men and so many more within the AAPI community who resisted injustice and persisted toward equality on behalf of Asian Americans throughout the United States.

Oped: Primary sources allow teachers to continue the National Week of Conversation

We shipped this week’s blog elsewhere thanks to The Fulcrum, “a platform where insiders and outsiders to politics are informed, meet, talk, and act to repair our democracy and make it live and work in our everyday lives.”

In it, I address how we can continue the National Week of Conversation in our classrooms by giving our students ample opportunities to read primary sources.

The primary source the student in that classroom analyzed.

Here is a taste:

As seen in the classroom that day, listening to the past through the analysis of primary sources can be a powerful act of empathy for students. When we incorporate student discussions into that analysis, we only deepen empathy. Students model a listening process for their analysis of past documents as a way to set them up to listen in the contemporary conversations they engage with every day.

It is my hope that we continue the themes of #NWOC [ National Week of Conversation ] far beyond this week. Let’s support teachers around the country as they pause and look for opportunities to have students listen to the past and engage in empathetic conversations about its significance. Not only will students grow in their intellectual capacity through these conversations, such conversations are foundational for the preservation of our constitutional democracy.

Head over to the full article to read the rest.

Our Juneteenth Art Contest!

Teachers and high school students! For the month of April, we are collaborating with the National Liberty Museum and Youth Advocates for Change to host a Juneteenth art contest! 

This year’s National Charter School Conference takes place in Austin, Texas. This is the weekend of our nation’s newest national holiday: Juneteenth. As a way to celebrate a holiday defined by liberation, our art competition challenges students to imagine and envision a Black leader or artist and their contributions to liberation. The top 20 students will be featured in a pop up exhibit at the National Charter School Conference. Then the top 3 students will even win cash prizes of $1000, $500, and $250 respectively.

The National Alliance for Charter Schools is sponsoring this contest. This means it is only open to HS charter school students, so if you teach at any charter school in the U.S. WE’D LOVE FOR YOUR STUDENTS TO SUBMIT THEIR ART WORK! This is a really great fourth quarter activity to stretch students beyond the traditional scope and sequence and demonstrate civic participation.

Teachers: We’ve also collaborated with the National Liberty Museum on two introductory activities, linked here. The first has students read General Granger’s Order NO. 3, dubbed the Juneteenth orders, which declared the Emancipation Proclamation to the wrongfully enslaved communities in Texas. The second has students analyze art work to help them plan out their own art submission. Please use these activities in your classrooms to situate your students before they begin on their submission for the Juneteenth art contest. 

We can’t wait to see what students come up with! If you have any questions, please contact Thinking Nation’s Community Outreach Manager, Tiana Day (tiana.day@thinkingnation.org)

Here is our flyer! (Also linked here in PDF form). We cannot wait to see all of the talented submissions by your students!

The Juneteenth Art Contest Flyer (pdf linked above)

How We Can Shift and Shape School Culture

I was visiting one of our partner schools in Los Angeles recently and I happily saw that the 8th grade teacher, Mr. Martinez, had student writing on the wall in the hallway outside his classroom. His school, Stella Middle Charter Academy, has partnered with Thinking Nation for a few years now and it has been so rewarding to watch the students grow. 

student writing on hallway wall
Mr. Martinez’s Wall

My initial reaction was admittedly a little proud. It’s always cool to see Thinking Nation out and about. But as I reflected, I recognized that what Mr. Martinez was doing was both shifting and shaping the culture of learning at his campus.

Most times that we put up student work, it is the work that has immediate visual appeal. Artwork, maps, pamphlets, etc. This work does indeed look nice, but it often does not showcase student thinking. In fact, many of these assignments require the same amount of DOK 1 knowledge that most content-based multiple choice questions require. In a way, these pieces of student work reward students for restating the information that we or a textbook or website gave them at an earlier date. By putting them up, we are sending a message of what we reward in our class.

In the case of much (not all!) student art work, we are sending the message that what is valued by us (and at our school) is visually appealing work that demonstrates content knowledge. But this isn’t history.

History is the study of the past and we have to employ historical thinking in order to do that well. What Mr. Martinez was doing was demonstrating to students and passing staff and parents that he was rewarding something deeper. He was showcasing student writing that couldn’t simply be taken in by quickly walking by. It encouraged the passerby to stop, read samples of student work, look at a rubric that assessed higher order thinking and writing skills, and engage with a variety of arguments. Mr. Martinez was rewarding historical thinking.

student writing on hallway wall

This may seem small, but in this simple way he was setting a tone for the type of work that was celebrated in his class. He was shifting the culture from “this looks nice, let’s post it,” to “this is deep work, let’s celebrate it!” If we want to cultivate thinking citizens and shift the paradigm of history education, this is the school culture shift we need. If we shape our culture to reward deep thinking and complex writing, guess what? Students will begin to showcase their deep thinking and push to become better writers. From there, the paradigm will shift.

As we reflect on what we reward at our schools, I hope that Mr. Martinez’s example can serve as an inspiration for us all.

Elizabeth Keckley and Women’s History Month

For our last blog, we talked about the special occasion of listening to Dolores Huerta speak on International Women’s Day. Today, we want to continue to celebrate Women’s History Month by honoring a lesser known, but incredibly important voice: Elizabeth Keckley. 

If you’ll recall our last blog post of 2022, I highlighted my top 5 history books of 2022, one of them being Keckley’s autobiography. Her story is incredible. From that blog: 

Picture of Elizabeth Keckley

“Wow. Keckley’s experience as an enslaved, then free, seamstress was riveting. Put simply, there needs to be a movie about her. A seamstress for Jefferson Davis’s wife before the Civil War, she refused to go with them once the war began. Through her own grit, she became Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress during Lincoln’s tenure in the White House. She was a confidant for Mrs. Lincoln and was often “in the room” with President Lincoln at critical personal moments. I could not put her book down.”

Keckley’s life story is truly incredible. I was blown away by her story and how she was able to be such a crucial part of the Lincoln family’s life while they were in the White House. She witnessed so much! She spent so much time in the presence of the first lady and her husband, the president, that she offered such fascinating insights into the inner workings of Lincoln. For instance, read her perspective on his integrity and trust in others:

OFTEN Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln discussed the relations of Cabinet officers, and gentlemen prominent in politics, in my presence. I soon learned that the wife of the President had no love for Mr. Salmon P. Chase, at that time Secretary of the Treasury. She was well versed in human character, was somewhat suspicious of those by whom she was surrounded, and often her judgment was correct. Her intuition about the sincerity of individuals was more accurate than that of her husband. She looked beyond, and read the reflection of action in the future. Her hostility to Mr. Chase was very bitter. She claimed that he was a selfish politician instead of a true patriot, and warned Mr. Lincoln not to trust him too far. The daughter of the Secretary was quite a belle in Washington, and Mrs. Lincoln, who was jealous of the popularity of others, had no desire to build up her social position through political favor to her father. Miss Chase, now Mrs. Senator Sprague, was a lovely woman, and was worthy of all the admiration she received. Mr. Lincoln was more confiding than his wife. He never suspected the fidelity of those who claimed to be his friends. Honest to the very core himself, and frank as a child, he never dreamed of questioning the sincerity of others.

Elizabeth Keckley in many ways was an American hero. The stability and restraint that she brought to the White House flies flat in the face of the “get ahead however you can” culture that often runs our world. Her empathy for others is worth emulating. 

In our middle school Civil War DBQ, students are asked to look at the various experiences of women during the Civil War, one of whom is Elizabeth Keckley. Teachers, if you would like to introduce Keckley’s story and efforts to your students, please download this document analysis worksheet that highlights her efforts during the Civil War. 

Happy Women’s History Month!

Celebrating Women’s History Month by Honoring Dolores Huerta

This past Wednesday, we celebrated International Women’s Day, and of course, this month is Women’s History Month. Fortunately, I was able to attend an event honoring the great civil rights activist, Dolores Huerta, on Wednesday. She spoke to the crowd and challenged us, she read a beautiful children’s book capturing her life to a group of local 4th graders, and those 4th graders sang a perfect rendition of “De Colores” for the audience. It was such a special day. 

An art piece from the new exhibit at CSUCI.

It’s not often that you are presented with the opportunity to sit in the presence of such a powerful person in history–and the crowd at California State University, Channel Islands knew it.

Dolores Huerta came to the university that day to inaugurate a new exhibit housed at CSUCI put together by the Smithsonian. I was lucky enough to sit next to Maria del Carmen Cossu Saettone, the Project Director for Latino Initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Cossu Saettone’s hard work on the exhibit manifested itself clearly that day. Her dedication to spreading the word of important history shined in her passion and focus.

Before reading the children’s book, Huerta took the opportunity to speak to the intently focused crowd. She mentioned how her organizing helped save the local community of La Colonia in Oxnard, CA from being bulldozed in the 60s before the Farm Workers’ Movement really began to take shape. After she told that story, she reminded us, “All they [the people] have to do is come together, organize, vote, and I’ll say it again, vote!” She wasted no time in her efforts to organize at the event.

An art piece from the new exhibit at CSUCI.

She spoke to the necessity of passing the Equal Rights Amendment, the importance of funding education and dissolving the education to prison pipeline, she addressed what she identifies as creeping fascism in the United States, and even challenged the crowd to write to our senator to stop the inhumane treatment at a migrant detention center in Kern county. “Can you do that?” she asked. We’ll make it easy for you, readers. Here is his contact information. Voicing my concern took less than 5 minutes.

Huerta ended her speech by asking everyone to stand up in true organizer form. She had us answer her questions. “Who has the power?” and “What kind of power?” In return, the crowd shouted: “WE HAVE THE POWER.” and “PEOPLE POWER!” This moment brought me right back to my studying of the Delano Grape Strike, where Huerta, Caesar Chavez, and Larry Itliong organized a nationwide strike on behalf of the farmworkers who were working for deplorable wages in inhumane conditions. 

Awhile back, our blog covered this event to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Huerta and others sacrificed so much for the voiceless. Now, at 92 years old, Huerta has not stopped the fight. She is the personification of tenacity, grit, and service. May we take some time to reflect and learn from her this Women’s History Month (Teachers, use this primary source analysis resource to talk about Huerta’s work and the Delano Grape Strike in your class).

Dolores Huerta addressing the crowd at CSUCI.

Huerta’s response to a 4th grader’s question sums up her goals well. The 4th grader asked, “What’s your favorite thing to do?” 

Dolores shouted: “Organize! I love to get people together and tell people that they have power… Come together and fight for justice.”

Or perhaps another 4th grader’s question: “What sport did you play when you were little?”

Chuckling, she responded, “Well I was so small that no one picked me for sports teams. But, I love dancing. Everyone should dance. If you dance when you’re small, your legs get strong so you can march!

Our Annual “Let’s shift this paradigm together” Reminder

Two years in March, our blog was titled – A Needed Teaching Revolution: The Importance of a Skills-Based Curriculum. One year ago, we posted it again.Well, it seems that March is the month to reevaluate our foundation and remind ourselves of the work that needs to be done, so today’s blog highlights just why we need a teaching revolution in history. Lets cultivate historical thinkers.

The Reminder:

Teaching history in schools needs a revolution. For years, the primary way to teach history, and measure student learning of history, has been content, content, content.

“Do you remember this event from the past? No?! Then you don’t know history!” This attitude toward history needs to change and is one of the primary reasons we began Thinking Nation.

Why a content-driven history classroom should not be our goal.

As you’ll recall from previous posts, history is not merely the past, it is the study of the past. History is a discipline. It is a process, not an outcome. It changes over time, it necessitates multiple perspectives, and it takes time. 

Often times, ensuring that students know a particular topic is the primary aim of the history teacher. While there are noble reasons for this, it should not be our primary aim. If our students know about many important people, dates, and events, but do not know how to think about those things, they may be walking encyclopedias, but they are not historians. To be historical thinkers, students must be able to contextualize those people, dates, and events. They must be able to identify patterns, make comparisons, and understand causation. Of course, this does not mean that the content of history should be neglected. After all, if historians have nothing to think about, they cannot be historical thinkers. Still, the content of history should be our means to the end, not the end in and of itself. 

At the heart of our curriculum is the idea that when students think historically, they are better citizens. They can think critically about their own time and place in the same way they think critically about the past. They have the skills and dispositions to navigate the present moment in an analytical way. This is why our skills-based curriculum goes deeply into specific areas of history rather than providing a cursory view of a broader range of topics. By doing this, students are empowered to analyze the past and draw their own evidence-based conclusions, not merely absorb the narrative that their teacher or textbook tells them. History becomes a dialogue, not a lecture. History becomes active. It helps us cultivate historical thinkers.

To do all of this, though, we have to re-think our teaching of history. We need to be willing to a spend large amount of class time on a small amount of topics. We need to prioritize depth over breadth. We may not be able to cover all of the things we used to, but our students will be equipped to better remember what we do cover and be equipped to think – the ultimate tool we can give our students.

Join us in this revolution to teach historical thinking. May we cultivate thinking citizens and build up a thinking nation.

No, ChatGPT has not killed the essay

If we think OpenAI’s ChatGPT has killed the essay, we’re missing the point of writing.

Humanists have sounded the alarm over OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Some are even saying that ChatGPT has killed the essay. Its capability to generate accurate, readable, and even engaging text given any prompt is incredible. It will undoubtedly become a tool used (and abused) by students in both secondary and postsecondary education. Focused on its potential misuses, many teachers express worry about what it will do to writing in the classroom. While some of those fears are warranted, I hope that the existence of ChatGPT and its future competitors will cause reflection about why we teach writing, not fear about its demise. ChatGPT’s existence does not have to mean the death of the essay.

Of course, if the only goal of writing an essay is to convey an idea, then yes, this may be the end of the essay as we know it. But I have to believe that there is more to writing. In order to discover what that might be, it is important to draw a clear connection between what it means to write and what it means to learn.

My first introduction to this connection came as an undergraduate majoring in history at California State University, Channel Islands. I was taking Historiography, our historical methods course, when my professor, Dr. Nian Shen Huang, reminded the small group of students in the room: “Talking rarely deepens people’s minds, but writing forces one to think; good, persistent writing produces good thinking.”

Always looking to him for wisdom, my pen quickly recorded his words on my spiral notebook. Like other moments in his classes, which I signed up for as often as my schedule allowed, I was inspired. To him, writing’s purpose was not solely found in its product, but perhaps even more importantly, its process. 

Fast forward to my 5 years as a middle school history teacher in South Los Angeles, I took that inspiration and emphasized writing daily in my class. The above quote from Dr. Huang made my “quote of the week” section of my whiteboard at least once a year. I often reminded my students of the importance of using writing to solidify their thoughts. In this respect, the art of the rough draft held deep importance–something I attempted to model regularly by writing essays as a class up on the whiteboard, the quote of the week serving as our inspiration in the corner.

In December 2021, Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist at The Wharton School, reminded us of this approach to writing in a Tweet:

Writing is more than a vehicle for communicating ideas. It’s a tool for crystallizing ideas.

Writing exposes gaps in your knowledge and logic. It pushes you to articulate assumptions and consider counterarguments.

One of the best paths to sharper thinking is frequent writing.

When I read Grant’s tweet, I instantly thought of that Historiography class almost a decade prior. Why do we write? To formulate our ideas. To sharpen our thinking. The product is only part of an important process. If we can do a better job of getting this goal of writing across to our students, perhaps the essay is not dead.

At Thinking Nation, we continue to stress this goal of writing whenever I can. We believe it is transformative for empowering students. When students write, they think better. We cannot let artificial intelligence take that away from them.

Almost every week I get to enter into secondary classrooms where students are wrestling with deep questions, analyzing various sources, and presenting their thoughts through that very medium that is supposedly “dead.” But it’s not. 

The essay provides students with a place to try out their ideas, explore the use of evidence, and refine their ability to make a claim. Of course, the product still does matter, but the process reveals far more useful information on student thinking.

ChatGPT has not killed the essay. To be sure, we may need to rethink how we do essays in our classes given AI technology. But writing an essay is far more than the product at the end. ChatGPT may transform the way we think, but we cannot let it replace our thinking.

As long as we can remember that as educators and emphasize that for our students, we can still rely on that trusty, and perhaps even timeless, method of assessment: the essay.

Black History is American History

Black History Month has its origins in “Negro History Week” which was launched in February of 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black history.” Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, was born in 1875 to former slaves. His life as a historian paved the path for Black history to be an integral part of American history, even if it took generations after him for Black history to be treated with the respect it deserved from the academy. Woodson recognized something before so many others: that Black history is American history and that the more we know about the history of Black Americans, the better we can understand the nation that claims to prize “liberty and justice for all.”

In our very first blog post, we looked at the definition of history—the study of the past. Since then, we have constantly referenced this definition. Understanding it is vital to recognizing its importance in uncovering the past and how that past shapes, and is shaped by, our present. When Woodson debuted “Negro History Week,” America was in the depths of Jim Crow. Black Americans were individually and systematically discriminated against by white Americans who refused to acknowledge their humanity. The history they were taught only confirmed these prejudices. Woodson understood this. He recognized that if an accurate American history was portrayed, one which equalized the voices of Black Americans with white Americans, people would be able to engage with the accomplishments, the contributions, and of course, the humanity of Black Americans. 

Once we recognize that history is not merely the past, but the study of the past, we can be open to the truth that there is more history to uncover, more history to learn, and more history to engage with. Narratives can change and despite what political pundits will have us believe, that is a good thing. It means we are wrestling with the past, not just passively receiving it as fact. 

So, as Black History Month begins, may we use this time to reflect on both what it means to study history and what it means to be American. We live in a moment where there is still racism, both individual and systemic. We must collectively combat this fact of our present. And we can. When we elevate the stories of Black Americans, we elevate America. The narrative, perhaps of America’s exceptional greatness, may shift, but this is not a bad thing. When our collective understanding of the past represents who we are as a collective, we all grow. When we see that Black history is American history, we can better see citizens who may look differently or believe differently from us as equals rather than others. “We the People” becomes an accurate description of all Americans, not simply the founder’s ideal. 

Building Collaboration Without Losing Autonomy: Our Session at the California Council for Social Studies

In a month, we get to join hundreds of California Social Studies teachers at the CCSS (California Council for Social Studies) annual conference. As every year, I am excited to engage with those passionate about social studies education in our home state. 

On Friday, February 24th, I will be leading a session called: Building Collaboration Without Losing Autonomy: Common Assessments on Historical Thinking. I am excited to talk with teachers about the importance of common assessments, historical thinking, and the collaboration that can be had by combining the two. 

So often, history teachers work in silos. The lack of funding, the variety of content eras under the umbrella of “social studies,” and the general lack of time often keep us from collaborating with others both in the department and in other departments. Common assessments, when built in as a routine, can change that! By widening the community of practice, we can gain more support, better ideas, and clearer data on student growth. These are all wins as we pursue the aim of cultivating historical thinkers in our classrooms. 

Often, our counterparts in ELA and STEM have clear means to build collaboration with one another (not to mention the funding to go with it… sigh). But by utilizing common assessments that emphasize historical thinking and the skills of the historian, we too, can build this type of collaboration. What’s even better about this approach to common assessments is that they do not interfere with the general content scope and sequence of our classes. By assessing our students’ ability to think historically, we assess how they navigate the information that their class is defined by, rather than their mere retention of that information. This opens up so many doors for both vertical alignment in Social Studies across grade levels, but also interdisciplinary collaboration with our ELA and STEM peers. 

I’m excited to dive into the specifics of this approach with a room of impactful educators up in Santa Clara County. If you are attending the California Council for Social Studies conference, be sure to come and say hi at our session or our booth!

Thinking Nation’s First Webinar

This week, we hosted our first Thinking Nation Webinar. We walked attendees through our mission and vision, our resources, and our platform. Knowing that not everyone can attend these time-specific meetings, we’re posting the recording to this week’s blog. If you’ve wanted to to get to know Thinking Nation a little better, we hope this webinar recording helps!

Click here to watch the Webinar Recording.

https://us06web.zoom.us/rec/share/n8rDbM4T7iq7DfzYZyJWoXEeZ3FbjHBcZt_kH3u8FIrgn0dxMphMQFhNbigUvWU-.C1AjHmOy2c9bHJbV?startTime=1673395064000

Best Books of 2022

To wrap up the year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on some of my favorite books read in 2022. These books continue to shape my understanding of history, historiography, methods, and pedagogy. Here are the top 5, in order of when they were read.

  1. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere

One of our partner school teachers recommended this book that I had sadly not read yet. More than anything, this book challenged the way I think about how others think. It reminded me that what we think is not just contextualized into our own experiences, but how we think is too. The methods of our thinking vary based on our own lived experiences, and as we develop curriculum we need to consider these varying modes of thinking. Like millions before me, Friere challenged me deeply.

  1. As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker

I read this immediately after Friere’s book as I was building a unit on Indigenous Environmental Justice for our Ethnic Studies curriculum. At the end of the unit, students are asked how they can promote justice (free graphic organizer!) based on their engagement with this history. Gilio-Whitaker’s work was incredibly scholarly and incredibly readable, a combination that is pretty hard to come by. She challenged the way I saw certain events in history and enlightened me to just how important environmental justice is to American Indians. She demonstrated why land is so much more than a physical asset for indigenous communities, as land is tied to indigenous culture, religion, economics, food, and more. Her holistic history was incredibly eye opening.

  1. Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley

Wow. Keckley’s experience as an enslaved, then free, seamstress was riveting. Put simply, there needs to be a movie about her. A seamstress for Jefferson Davis’s wife before the Civil War, she refused to go with them once the war began. Through her own grit, she became Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress during Lincoln’s tenure in the White House. She was a confidant for Mrs. Lincoln and was often “in the room” with President Lincoln at critical personal moments. I could not put her book down. 

  1. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Back on Juneteenth, I dedicated a whole blog post to this book, so I will link to it rather than restate much of what is there. In sum, Gordon-Reed’s book was equal parts memoir, history, and a treatise on historical methodology. This book should be read in undergraduate methodology courses.

  1. The Historian’s Craft by Marc Bloch

This is somewhat of a canonical book in historiography, and yet I hadn’t read it until this year. Bloch was a part of the Annales school of historical methodology in France in the years before WWII. An activist, he stood against the Nazi regime when they took over the area of France he lived in. He was imprisoned by the Nazis and wrote this entire book while imprisoned. The book ends with a “…” because he was executed before he finished and edited the book. Even in its incomplete state, Bloch’s reminders of what it means to “do history” are foundational to what we do at Thinking Nation

Each of these books were formative in my own historical thinking and I’m excited for students to experience this type of thinking in our curriculum.

Empowered Middle School Writers

When visiting one of our partner schools this week, I was able to watch students engage in the writing process using Thinking Nation DBQs centered on historical thinking. At this particular Los Angeles middle school, the 6th and 8th grade classrooms sit directly across the hallway from each other, allowing me to bounce between the two classes while on campus.

In the 6th grade classroom, students were beginning the outlining process for writing an essay to answer the question: In what ways was Queen Hatshepsut’s reign as Pharaoh of Egypt historically significant? In the 8th grade classroom, students were about half way through outlining their essays to answer the question: Why did the founders create a government built on the separation of powers?

A 6th Grader outlining their essay.

Both groups of students were thinking critically about primary source materials in order to answer those questions. For the 15-20 minutes that I was able to hang out in each classroom, I saw all types of analysis as students engaged with the material. 6th grade students were looking at pictures of statues of Hatshepsut and noting how she portrayed herself as a deity in order to give herself legitimacy as a female pharaoh in a largely male-dominated society. They drew attention to her building projects like her massive obelisks or her mortuary temple, Deir el-Bahari. Students were constructing a thesis statement that highlighted how accomplishments like this made her historically significant.

In the 8th grade classroom, most students were interrogating James Madison’s meaning for the behind “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition” and thinking of clever ways to word their paragraphs in order to explain how the founders wanted to build a government that recognized the inherent selfishness that Madison saw in human nature. Their conversations straddled the line between history and philosophy and it was inspiring to listen in and even engage with some of their thoughts. 

A table of 8th graders collaborating on their outlines.

In both cases, students were not merely passively receiving a historical narrative and telling their teacher what they remembered about it. Rather, they were actively engaging in historical arguments. Arguments of both significance and purpose. Of course, understanding significance and purpose for many is a lifelong endeavor; but how much more equipped will these students be to ask such questions of their present after dissecting their meaning in the past?

Historical thinking not only builds up students analytical skills, it gives them a necessary tool belt to engage with life’s biggest questions. They can think historically about their own world and rather than simply be bystanders to the events of the day, they can enter into the conversation in order to offer up their own solutions, just as they offer their own interpretations of the past. Historical thinking matters.

Learning from 7th Graders

This week, I had the opportunity to teach a few classes at one of our partner schools: Rise Kohyang Middle School in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. For three class periods, I was able to work through the history of Ancient Rome. Specifically, the students were working on answering the essential question: How did the idea of citizenship in Ancient Rome change over time?

As a guest teacher, I never really know what I’m walking into. I find this exciting! It gives me the opportunity to let the students lead a little as I pry and figure out what they know and what they know how to do.

We started reading some historical context of Ancient Rome. Right away, the students were making poignant observations. One student noted that “just because the plebeians became citizens did not mean that they became equal to the patricians” pretty early on. I had some fun and ignored raised hands when it was time to give an answer to a text based question and simply said “say it if you know it!” Dozens of students shouted out the answers. The students were engaged, inquisitive, and prepared to participate. I was impressed.

An 1882 painting depicting Rome’s upper class men.

As we began to talk about the document that cemented the last large expansion of citizenship in Ancient Rome, the Edict of Caracalla, some of the students’ brains really began to turn. Emperor Caracalla signed the Edict of Caracalla in 212 C.E. It essentially gave citizenship to all free people living in the Roman Empire. Many scholars point out that this was probably the largest expansion of citizenship to ever take place from a single event in world history. People across the empire, living on three continents, instantly became citizens. Its significance is profound.

The classroom was set up with four rows of desks on each side of the room, all facing the center. As I looked down the center walkway dividing these sections, I noticed one student sitting in the first row, closest to the center but in the back of the room. She was clearly pondering something. Her hand went up. 

“You know how a lot of people say that Rome didn’t fall because of invaders from the outside, but that it crumbled from within?” Without waiting for my response, she continued, “Do you think that Rome expanding citizenship to too many people too fast was a reason that it fell from within? That they couldn’t make everyone happy or keep order which led to it crumbling?”

Of course, this was not where my brain was at that moment. I was thinking about the inclusiveness of the act. She was thinking about its unintended consequences. To be sure, I’m no expert on Ancient Rome. I let her know that that is a really interesting and plausible consequence of the edict. We then opened the conversation up to the class. What is the purpose of a government? What happens when it can’t fulfill that purpose? Students began to express their thoughts, compare Rome to the U.S.A today, and most relevant to this unit, really began to grasp just how large the Roman Empire was.

It’s always a privilege when I get to join students in their academic journey. This week was yet another example why. I came in with a specific purpose around a specific question. That particular student was making different connections, based on her own interests. The intersection of those two goals produced a brilliant exchange with a group of Los Angeles middle schoolers. We often are unsure if young students can analyze deep concepts in history. I hope this example reminds us not just that yes they can, but that they want to. We just have to provide them the opportunities.

Keeping the Conversation Going: Thinking Nation’s Chat Feature

On the teacher’s homepage, teachers are notified when students have asked them a question.

Students often have “in the moment” questions about history, historical thinking, and writing during class. Truthfully, we can’t get to them all nor do all of our students feel that they “really” need to ask their question. With Thinking Nation’s chat feature, however, all students can ask their teacher questions during the analysis and writing process. Even if teachers can’t get to the questions immediately, they can sift through student questions on their notifications tab on their own account home page. This way, students can ask their questions when they are top of mind even if the teacher is unavailable to answer them at that moment.

When teachers click the student comment, they can reply. Students will then be notified that the teacher responded.

We want the conversation about historical thinking and writing to have the opportunity to continue even after the bell rings. Our chat feature, embedded in all of our DBQs, allows just this. All students need to do is highlight the text or section of the resource that they have a question about. Next, they type their question, click the “send as chat” option and press “save.” Teachers are notified and can then respond when they are able. Students are also notified when a teacher responds so that an intellectual direct message conversation can ensue.

So, teachers! Make sure your students know that they can do this and be sure to utilize this feature as you continue to empower your students to think historically. Lastly, in light of our last blog. THERE ARE ONLY 10 DAYS LEFT IN OCTOBER. You got this!

Student questions are highlighted in yellow to distinguish them from their regular annotations.

The Dreaded Month: Teaching in October

If you’ve taught more than one semester before, you’ve experienced teaching in October. The honeymoon stage with the students is over. Behavior in the class, if things were not established in incredibly explicit terms, begins to be harder to manage. Students begin feel a little tired and perhaps even a little apathetic toward learning, wishing to be back on summer break. October is hard! Many people know that November 1st of my first year of teaching was my lowest point as an educator. I felt defeated and I quite literally questioned my choice of going into education. I was equally exhausted and perplexed. 

These scenarios and reflections are not uncommon in education. Just talk to a teacher. With that being the case, though, what do we do? How do we set ourselves up for success despite the pitfalls that come in this month? How can we continue to set the foundation for a year of academic growth for our students? 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a 5 point plan for success when teaching in October. I’m not sure one exists. But there are some important things we should consider and reflect on, especially as history teachers.

First, we must remind ourselves of our purpose as teachers. As this blog has emphasized time and again, our job is to teach students how to study the past. Teaching the past is not enough. History is bigger than a timeline. It’s a discipline of study. Creating routines in our classrooms around reading, analyzing, and writing about the past reminds students that they are in our classroom to become better thinkers, not better at recall. Reminding ourselves of this purpose (DAILY!) is critical for cementing our purpose as history teachers.

We also have to reset structures if they need to be reset. Do you see things that irritate you as a teacher but aren’t quite enough to call out? Call them out anyway. Set your behavioral standards in stone. Resetting is hard, but it is better in October than in January. Good, quality, historical thinking cannot happen in classrooms where management takes all of our energy. 

The last thing worth considering, at least in this post, is to set a routine of historical thinking in your room. Make that word have daily resonance with your students. Introduce a new skill each week. Give concrete examples of it and adequate time to practice thinking that way. Have students write something argumentative, even if short, as often as possible. If they aren’t ready to do it on their own, do it with them! Students cannot do what they’ve never seen. Be a model of analysis. Doing heavy lifting for students at this point of the year is ok! Especially if you are giving them the framework to do that lifting on their own later in the year.

Teaching in October is hard. So many things are thrown at teachers. But, reminding ourselves of our purpose daily, resetting structures to create pathways to success, and embedding historical thinking into every lesson are important steps to take to make it a successful year of academic growth.