Monday, January 2, 2012

History & Language Arts - Andrew Jackson: Superman or Scumbag

One of the big units that we focus on, as do many US history classes (I imagine) is Andrew Jackson and the role he played in the early Republic.  Since my first year teaching we have had the students write persuasive essays about Jackson to answer the (albeit, cheeky) essential question "Was Andrew Jackson a Superman or a Scumbag?"  Over the years this project has really grown in to a beast. As a history department we've really beefed up the historical component by adding in a lot of primary sources for the students to use. We've also put in a lot of work with the Language Arts department to make it a really strong cross-curricular assignment that even aligns with the Common Core standards (huuuuuzah!!!).  I have all the resources, handouts, primary sources, rubrics, outlines, etc...available on my class website if you're interested. Also, you can see the schedule of the writing process that we used by clicking here.

This definitely took a good chunk of class time. We had to front load the Jackson information, while Language Arts took on the task of teaching persuasive writing. Then we both dove into it, head-first.  We are fortunate to have a media center with numerous computers and open space available to us. The open space was important for the outlining and peer-editing portion, and the computers were vital to allowing the students access to complete their essays without having to do a lot at home.

Lastly, one of the perks of team-teaching this assignment is the grading. I am free to focus on solely historical content and thinking. Many would argue that in a history class that's all I should focus on, ignoring writing conventions, technique, etc...I would tend to disagree (save that for another day), but I don't have to worry about that debate with this assignment as Language Arts is all over it!

Overall we're all pleased with the outcome.  Because we teach 8th graders we had to be highly structured, which is why the outline we provide for them is so key. Students are now allowed to write until the outline is approved. This sets them up for success and saves many headaches in the long run. Another key to success is having the students type their essays in Google Docs and share them with me. Greg Kulowiec wrote a nice post on how to use Google Docs to promote the writing process and staying organized.

The essays aren't quite done yet - they're graded, and feedback has been provided, but students will be making revisions this week.  Once they're done I plan on taking Diana Laufenberg's suggestion and students will share links to their final drafts, with comments enabled, via a Google Form and I will then publish that form so the student's work will get published for all to see.

I'm curious - what tools, methods, techniques do you find helpful when it comes to teaching writing, especially as it pertains to the history classroom?


  1. Thank you for all the resources. I integrated many of your ideas with mine last year and am looking to see if some of your additions will fit. Unfortunately, our LA teacher is not working with me, but since I am an LA teacher as well (another grade level) I have always included those requirements as I feel we are all LA teachers.

    We spend almost a week reviewing persuasive writing techniques. Day 1 is a whole group activity. Day 2/3 is spent in groups of 3/4 writing an outline using the protagonist in a fairy tale as our key figure. Day 3/4 we randomly switch outlines among the groups and they make notes for improving them, and on day 5 each group writes a persuasive essay draft on their own. It us worth the week we spend on it, We are a small school, so I know what they have learned in the past, so I don't have to start at square one.

  2. Anon -

    Glad to hear that you've given this a go too - it's a bummer that you don't get the desired collaboration, but it sounds like you have the right skills to pull it off.