Wednesday, May 6, 2009

DBQs in the US History Classroom Can Be Addictive

The DBQ Project is a series of US and World History projects for high school students. The effective component of these projects is that they are based on an over-arching question that students are challenged to research and answer in a five paragraph essay. The primary source/document material for the project is provided for the students to read, and has been thoughtfully excerpted for accessibility to a variety high school students. Additionally, the program offers a very effective Writers’ Workshop, background readings for each unit, and (within the Mini-Q projects) comprehension questions which effectively guide the students to the overarching question, and guiding them through the components of their essay.

The first DBQ I tackled with my classes was the Mini-Q on the Mexican War. The Mini-Q is similar to the full DBQ, however these projects include fewer documents and can be completed in a shorter period of time. The Mini-Qs offer two elements that I’ve found extremely useful. These include comprehension questions following each primary source, and the Writers’ Workshop at the end of each unit.

After reading the background essay to the class, I gave the class the Hook assignment which we read and worked on until the end of class. For homework, the first two of six documents were assigned as well as each of these two documents’ guiding comprehension questions.

On the second day of the project, I went over the questions on the first two documents on the overhead projector. Then, I read the next two documents to the class and assigned the questions for these two readings for homework. The third day was similar to the second day’s structure. However, after I went over the questions in class on the third day, we began to bucket them into categories.

On the fourth day of the project, we went over the buckets again and began to incorporate the Writer’s Workshop Essay Template with our bucket categories. Additionally, I highlighted the other body paragraph structures of the template on the overhead as well. For homework, the students were assigned to design their essays on a blank Essay Template.

Finally, on the fifth day, we went over a number of templates on the overhead and I assigned the essay. As I had previously arranged to have the computer room for two days, the students had two days to complete their essays in class.

The Mini-Q on the Mexican War was an unmitigated success. When I read my students’ essays, I found that an overwhelming number of them included all of the elements that I was looking for from the Writers’ Workshop Template. They structured their body paragraphs so that each offered a thesis and provided evidence on how their thesis ultimately answered the guiding question of the paper. I was very pleased with the results. The structure of the overall DBQ project not only provided my students guidance on how to express their understanding, but guided them to understand the subject matter.

Lastly, I was surprised how long this shorter version of the DBQ took to complete with my college level sophomores. Seven days in total, two of which were in the computer room for writing. Was it a good investment in time considering the product that the students produced? Absolutely, it was one of the most successful writing and research assignments I have ever given.

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