Keeping Focus: a Reflection on Writing DBQs


(Link to DBQ: Images and Emotion – World War II Propaganda.)

When I began this project, I expected that choosing documents for a DBQ would be easy, while writing the text and questions to accompany them would require the greater effort.

As it turns out, the effort came in keeping myself terse. The fundamental question in this project was “what do you want the reader to do?” Once I decided that the reader would examine propaganda posters and analyze what emotional impact they had, it became clear that my main task would be curating the posters themselves. Too much text would only distract from the real focus of the DBQ. Thus, I tried to limit myself to minimal introductions to set the frame, and one or two open-ended questions.

It seems to me that simplicity is at the heart of the DBQ format. As long as the reader is oriented, the documents, visual or textual, should speak for themselves. I’ll keep this principle in mind not only when designing formal DBQs in the future, but when presenting primary documents to students in a classroom context.

I’m satisfied with the final project: its narrow focus has allowed it to stake out its own niche. There are many DBQs out there relating to World War II propaganda, but few ask the reader to look across cultures for parallel concerns. Still, this project only scratches the surface: the five propaganda themes I included are hardly the only possible points of comparison. I hope readers find this to be a source of ideas and inspiration for other projects.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced, multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes

Image Source: Miami University Libraries

Post-Peer Review Thoughts & Bill of Rights Lesson

At this stage in my teaching career, I found it valuable just to articulate my lesson thoughts to another person. Just like when writing a paper, a certain amount of myopia sets in for me when planning a lesson. My closeness to the material might make me overlook otherwise obvious concerns. For example, I decided to have the students evaluate each other’s presentations by a rubric. However, I hadn’t included any assessment requiring the students to demonstrate that they understood the content of those presentations.

Similarly, when listening to other people’s plans, the first questions to pop into my mind were about the practical execution of their lessons, not the fundamental ideas underlying them. For example, Stephen’s Civil War tug-of-war lesson sparked my (and others’) interest and led to lively discussion about how to make sure it would go smoothly.

Let’s not limit ourselves to our peers for feedback, however. Whether or not a demonstration like the tug-of-war went as planned, I’m sure it would be engaging for everyone. If we then explained to the students what it was intended to show, and asked the students of ways to improve it, I expect they’d be full of suggestions. Indeed, as long as we’re transparent about what we hope the students will learn, students should always be available as a source of feedback about an activity’s efficacy. That, more than anything, is what I see Professor Pappas modeling in our course.

Following is the lesson outline that I brought to class for peer review. It’s intended to be one component of a ten-lesson unit on the Bill of Rights. The students will have already been introduced to the content of the amendments, and will have been studying the Constitution as a whole in the preceeding unit. I want to provide the students with an opportunity to engage with a specific topic a little more deeply, and perhaps learn about the process of legal reform inductively through it.

If anybody would like to take a look at it, I’d be much obliged!

-Aram Glick

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