Lessons from the DBQ

Thus far, the DBQ has been a very challenging, but educational, experience. I initially began this journey thinking that I would do my DBQ on Operation PB Success. However, I found that would not be feasible so I changed my topic to the Anzacs in Egypt during World War I and perceptions of the ‘other.’ Through this, I have learned how to conduct a successful history lesson without a lengthy lecture. The setup of my DBQ allows students to interact successfully with the material and make an argument without needing in-depth background on the topic beforehand. Students, therefore, practice thinking like historians and the classroom becomes more student-centered.

Another lesson I have learned from the DBQ is how to find primary sources. Finding primary sources is, clearly, very important to the DBQ process. The internet makes it possible to track down hundreds of primary sources from a range of websites whether they be from an academic institutions or a small blog. In order to ensure that my sources are reliable, I have found that government websites are really helpful in locating legitimate primary sources. While it is certainly tempting to just steal primary sources without worrying about their origin, I believe it is important to ensure that I am giving my students something that is quality and genuine.

I would really enjoy using this DBQ in a class that was exploring World War I. Race hate is a reoccurring theme in wars and this DBQ gives students another avenue in which to explore it. When we think of race hate we often think of groups such as the Nazis, but it is important to show students that there are many dimensions to history and while it is easy to villains only one group, it is not necessarily accurate. Racial prejudices come in many shapes and sizes and can be found in all eras. The Anzacs provide another perspective to historians. It is not my intent to belittle the bravery of the Anzacs in World War I. Rather, I want students to remember that history is not black and white. It is not simple and it is not static. It is fluid and gray. It is their job to sift through it and make a claim and support it with evidence as historians in training.

Content vs. Process

In addition to being practice in how to go about making a DBQ, this assignment has also been a solid lesson in how not to create a DBQ. I feel that as an actual practicing teacher, this will be easier as I will have a better idea of what I want and need the DBQ to do. I will have a topic in mind, and a message that I am trying to convey to the students, or messages that I want them to come up with on their own. There will be more structure in place. Creating a DBQ in the manner that we did for this class allowed me too much freedom, I feel. I needed a more concrete goal, as my DBQ turned into doing whatever I wanted to with it, not trying to meet specific requirements for student learning.Lady Bird and Students

Going along with that, I decided early on that I wanted to create an image based DBQ. I found my resources, and shaped my DBQ around what I had discovered. If I were to do this again, I would reverse my work flow. The topic would come first, and then I would find documents that fit with it. There would be more diversity in the sorts of documents that I included, rather than just using images.

While I do like my DBQ, and feel that it would get students to think about something that wouldn’t normally cross their minds, I am less pleased with the process that I went through to create my DBQ. My problems aren’t so much with my content as with my process. If anything, I became too attached to  my content, and struggled to make changes because of that.

Image Credit:  White House Photo Office Collection courtesy of the National Archives.

Taking Shape: Thoughts on creating DBQ’s

screenshotAfter spending a few weeks exploring the different avenues available to me for my DBQ, I am finally on a focused track to the finish.  After switching my topic from the more obscure food history topic to the much more document rich Marshall Plan, my issue was not where to find documents, but just the opposite.

There were so many great documents, I found myself following lead after lead on possible directions to take the assignment.  While I learned a tremendous amount about the Marshall Plan, the state of Europe after WWII, and the different opinions throughout U.S. and Europe about the plan, I didn’t feel like I was getting any closer to completing the assignment. But I was finding photos, documents,  and getting more information. Through this research I was able to narrow my focus and choose an angle on which to focus: the differing views on the Marshall Plan from Europe, Russia, and at home in the U.S.. My next challenge was to step away from the history and just look at the documents.  What was I trying to say?  What were the documents telling me?  I finally focused on assembling documents that could tell a story.  Once I had a clear narrative of what I wanted the students to see, the guiding questions practically wrote themselves.

Next up for me is to add the last few pages into iBook Author and begin to fine tune the look and feel.  I will have my classmates review the work to ensure the documents and questions create a clear narrative that will guide the students to address the enduring questions of the unit.

This assignment has been exciting for me on two main levels.  First learning how to write this type of assignment for my students will be something I will continue to work on throughout my career. I am a big believer in having students think like historians.  The other facet is just how much I enjoyed researching the history surrounding the Marshall Plan. Reading all the documents and seeing all the photos was like a DBQ itself.  I will continue to practice, learn, and hopefully inspire my students to do the same.

Practice Makes Perfect?

Teacher Lorraine Lapthorne

As I approached the DBQ assignment, I decided to use images and texts from a literacy class assignment I had just completed. At first, I thought I had a head start, since I had a collection already curated, but as I continued with the assignment I realized I had started in the wrong place. While it was nice to have images and text, I should have started with the essential question AND what I wanted students to experience as they worked through the DBQ.

Working backwards, one of the challenges is finding the essential question that ties everything together. My previous assignment was over a broad topic – the Civil Rights Movement – which I’ve realized is much too broad for a DBQ exercise. Finding the right essential question was key to finding a way to connect the materials together.

The next step was to really think about what I wanted my students to learn as they worked through the DBQ. My first set of materials were loosely related, but would require students to take some large leaps to find the connections. Even with scaffolding questions, it seemed like a stretch. Once I had an essential question identified, then I could focus on the historical thinking skills I wanted students to experience as they worked through the DBQ.

This experience reminds me that the only way to get better at something new is to continue to practice. I have a much better sense of how to organize my thoughts around creating a DBQ and look forward to adding this learning experience to my curriculum development skills.

Image Credit: Teacher, Lorraine Lapthorne conducts her class in the Grade Two room at the Drouin State School, Drouin, Victoria. nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24229822

Class 13: Working with iBooks Author

History of the Bassandyne BibleThis week we will wrap up our first drafts of our DBQs for inclusion into our collaborative iBook. During the first 2/3s of class students will finalize their content and be sure to have their DBQ reflection written. Then in the last 1/3 of class we will transfer content to iBooks.

Technical aspects
The iBooks will be designed using iBooks Author in the Mac lab. Students will bring digital versions of their DBQs to the lab – including all image and sound files, text files, citations and URLs. Here’s a quick guide to managing your files to get ready for iBooks Author: Get Started with IBA

I’ve created a YouTube channel with some short tutorials that students may wish to refer to. See iBooks Author Tips


Image credit: Image from page 94 of “History of the Bassandyne Bible, the first printed in Scotland with notices of the early printers of Edinburgh” (1887) William T Dobson,

Class 12: Role Playing Competing Visions of Human Rights

human rights day  Catching.LightStudents introduced to the Choices Program. The program’s curriculum units draw upon multiple primary source documents and culminate in a rigorous student-centered role-playing activity. Students will take part in a Choices lesson entitled Human Rights: Competing Visions of Human Rights – Questions for U.S. Policy. Working cooperatively, students will examine the evolving role that human rights has played in international politics and explore the current debate on U.S. human rights policy.

The goal of this class is to experience the role-play as teaching method. Students will be introduced to (and receive) a hands-on curriculum that uses primary sources, case studies, videos, and role-play simulations to engage students in an exploration of the concept of human rights and the challenges of international enforcement. The curriculum also introduces students to various human rights actors, and examines the current debate on U.S. human rights policy. Emphasis is placed on helping students develop the skills and habits needed for active citizenship.

The lesson was delivered by guest teacher – Tim Graham. Tim is currently a teacher at Cleveland High School in Portland, OR. He has taught social studies for 11 years in the Portland Public Schools district, working at Roosevelt, Benson, and Franklin high schools in addition to his current placement at Cleveland. He has attended teaching seminars with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. He is currently a Choices Teaching Fellow. Tim maintains two class blogs – Modern World History and IB HOTA.

Assignment due Nov 23

Write a reflection on your experience with the DBQ design assignment.

  1. It should be posted on this blog by Sunday 11/23.
  2. Include an image to make it pretty.
  3. Note that you are not posting your DBQ, but what you learned from your work on it.

What did you learn from the experience of trying to design a DBQ?
Here’s some prompts you might consider (but you don’t have to answer them all):

  • what was your goal? was it achieved why or why not?
  • how it might be used in class?
  • value (or lack of value) as a learning experience.
  • challenges, successes, lessons learned.
  • how you’d approach it differently the next time.
  • ways to improve or replace the assignment.

Image credit: Flickr / “human rights day”  by Catching.Light

Class 11: Using Mock Trials in the Classroom

George CoulsonI’m a big fan of using mock trials – they embody critical thinking in the classroom. Over the years I wrote a number of cases which proved to be effective tools for improving student analytic skills and Common Core skills. Here’s a few posts from my blog on using them in the classroom and a link to two mock trials and an appeals case that I developed.

This week we will be visited by Ms. Barbara Rost, program director, Classroom Law Project. She’ll provide resources for law related education. (Be sure to follow that link – loads of lesson plans!)

As a demonstration activity, she will guide us through a mock trial –Vickers v Hearst (443kb PDF) Rules of evidence here.

Barbara graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Portland State University after using the 11-year plan to earn her degree, something she does not advocate for others. Three years later she earned her J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School. She enjoys combining her interests in law and education in her work at Classroom Law Project. She is married, has two daughters in college and a really cute dog.

Classroom Law Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing civics, government and law to Oregon classrooms K-12. Teachers and students know CLP through programs such as mock trial, con team, Law Day conference (for students), Civics Conference for Teachers, court tours, weekly current events, professional development and more. CLP makes civic education fun. Its mission statement: Classroom Law Project is a non-profit organization of individuals, educators, lawyers, and civic leaders building strong communities by teaching students to become active citizens.


Image credit: George Coulson / Mug Shot / 1930s
This image is part of the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museum’s set “Newcastle upon Tyne criminals of the 1930’s.” Accession no. DX1190

This mug shot comes from a police identification book believed to be from the 1930s. It was originally found in a junk shop by a member of the public and subsequently donated to Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. No information is available to confirm which police force compiled it but evidence suggests it’s from the Newcastle upon Tyne area.