Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Who Said it?

I’m not on Facebook anymore. It turns out that in addition to being inordinately annoyed by learning what people ate for breakfast (why does that annoy me so much?) I am also hugely annoyed by people sharing stupid things.

I don’t mean sharing puppy faces or sales or sunsets.

I mean information and articles from questionable sources presented as absolute facts.

Don’t your students do the same thing? Doesn’t it drive you NUTS? My students always swore that Martin Luther King freed the slaves.

Oh, come ON, you guys!

People will believe anything if they don’t know anything about the sourcing.

The biggest big-deal research done in Social Studies Education was done by Sam Wineburg in 1991. His landmark study has been referenced by everyone doing research in SS Ed since then.

It goes  like this.

Dr. Wineburg gave a bunch of historians some documents. He then gave the same set of documents to a bunch of high school kids.

Turns out that the historians and the teens got different things out of the documents.

Big surprise, right?  Veteran, multi-degreed historians SHOULD get different things out of the documents than teenagers would.

But here’s the thing. The biggest difference wasn’t in vocabulary or basic understanding.

It was that the historians looked at the back, the bottom, the side of each document to source it. The historians looked at who wrote it, when, where, and for whom.

THEN, they read the actual document, after they took a moment to source it and put it into context.

The high school students, in contrast, read the document from beginning to end, like a story, without paying attention to sourcing.

The understanding the historians gained was pretty hugely different from the understanding that the teens gained -- but mainly because they looked at who wrote it and why.

Sourcing matters.

I give this example when I teach:
Imagine you found a note on the floor in the hallway and it said terrible, awful things about you. And about your mama (ohhhh! burn!!)

You would read it and deal with it differently based on who wrote it and why.

You would deal with it one way if your ex boyfriend or ex-girlfriend wrote it on the day after you two broke up.

You would deal with it another way of it was written by your sibling (talking about your mama? Whaaa?)

You would deal with it differently if it was written by your best friend, today, while you were thinking that everything was okay.

You would deal with it yet another different way if it were written by someone who doesn’t even know you.

Sourcing matters.

It matters on Facebook and Twitter.  

It matters in history and politics.

It matters on the EOC and the AP exams.

Who  wrote it and when can help you glean a little of the why.

Teach your students to source everything they come across -- on Facebook, on Snapchat, on the news, and in history class.

I love using the top half of the Doc Analysis sheet from the DBQ Project  for this  but you can use any format or tool you like.

Try One of the Doc Analysis sheets from the National Archives and Records Administration or one from the Library of Congress

Get your kids used to figuring out the who, when, where, and why and you have already created wiser news consumers, more media-savvy social-media-participants, and more thoughtful voters and citizens.

Don’t wait until you do a DBQ. Use Doc Analysis sheets all the time -- for bellwork, classwork, homework, wrap-up. Use it as formative assessment and use it to teach. Explain it, model it, practice it again and again until it is second nature.

It is part of your benchmarks in history courses, part of the standards-commonly-known-as-the-common-core, and a skill helpful on analyzing stimuli on the EOC.

Source every document that comes through your classroom. It will pay off on tests and in real life. And on Facebook, (where everything important happens) :)

How much time do you spend on sourcing? How often do your students practice sourcing? Are they good at it yet? As always, I love to hear! Email me at

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