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Modeling Place-based Teaching

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Video Transcription

Forming Partnerships


Sarah Jencks: Talia and I got to know each other through the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative, and I went and observed her doing professional development and realized that we were both approaching the Civil War in very different ways, in terms of working with teachers, and that they were really complementary.

Talia Mosconi: We met during one of our professional development workshops, met with Sarah, and we realized that we could do a lot more for teachers if we partnered together, because previously we had just been doing kind of a one-shot come visit us for two hours and learn about the Civil War and that was it. But we realized if we did it together we could create a much richer program where teachers can actually look at the Civil War from different viewpoints, so, for example, you get the Lincoln viewpoint from Ford's. We kind of represent, since we're connected to Robert E. Lee and our inhabitant at Tudor Place was a Southern sympathizer and we also had both enslaved and free African Americans living at the site, so we present that viewpoint. And then we brought in Frederick Douglass to bring in the viewpoint of Frederick Douglass and Lincoln Cottage to further enhance the Lincoln viewpoint.

Sarah Jencks: We started off thinking that it was going to be primarily of interest to DC teachers, but we realized when we opened it up to teachers from around the country that really DC because, Washington, because of its role as the nation's capital, and also because it really is a crucible, in the story, telling the story of the Civil War, had a broader appeal. And, so, we've gotten very excited about the work that we do as a collaborative and really because now, we work so closely together, we're able to offer custom programs to Teaching American History grant groups that come to DC. We're able to work with them to create a program that fits them and their needs, and it's not a one-shot. It's multiple, it's layered, it offers multiple perspectives on the Civil War, it offers multiple perspectives on great men and not so many women, but some women, during the Civil War.

Ford's Theatre is clearly the big fish in many ways, because people tend to go there, but they don't tend to get deep in their experience there, and that's what we're hoping to get out of this. For Ford's Theatre, what is useful about this partnership is helping to deepen the experience at the theatre so it's not walk in, click your camera at the box, and walk out.

Talia Mosconi: And I think too, we've tried to structure the program so it's not just—the program we currently offer is a one-week program where you come and you go to each site, one site a day. But we've tried to structure in a way, too, to build a learning community where we can interact with teachers throughout the year, help them as they're planning their lessons. We've established an online site where teachers can actually post what they're doing in the classroom so others teachers in our network can see what's going on, what works well, and have a discussion board on how they're implementing these sources that we gave them throughout the summer in their classrooms.

Backwards Planning Template


Talia Mosconi: It's a weeklong program that we've done, Monday through Friday. This year we will be adding an evening portion on Sunday, just to give an overview of the Civil War so everyone is on the same page and comes with the same background knowledge.

Each site has their own day. They start at Tudor Place on Monday, and we bring—Tudor Place, the person that lived in the house was named Britannia, so we try to bring women's history as well as the history of the enslaved Africans and then free Africans that they hired after the Civil War into that perspective. On Tuesday they visit Frederick Douglass's house, and we have a Frederick Douglass interpreter who talks about oratory and how people can use oratory to further movements. Lincoln Cottage would be on Wednesday to give the early years of Lincoln's presidency and his trips out to the cottage. And then we end, chronologically, with Ford's Theatre with the assassination of Lincoln. We leave Friday open to give teachers time to process, reflect, and then actually start to create a lesson or some sort of activity that they can then bring back into their classroom.

In each of the days we stress both content—trying to provide teachers with enough information on the Civil War for them to feel comfortable teaching it—but our main goal is to teach techniques. So ways you can—we model the techniques for teachers on how to bring primary sources into their classroom.

Sarah Jencks: And we really encourage teachers. We introduce teachers to the "backwards planning" template early in the week and we ask them to use that template in concert with their local standards as the way to develop their program, whether it's a unit or a field trip or whatever else. Because we want to be modeling what we consider best practices. Its very interesting, many teachers are not comfortable with the backwards planning template. Asking them to think first about goals and standards, then about objectives and assessment, and then moving into activities. But they become more comfortable with it over time and for us it's okay for them to be struggling with that during the week because it's a big part of learning how to engage productively with content.

Teaching with Place


Sarah Jencks: One of the most surprising things we do—that is something people do everyday, but perhaps don't think about from a critical perspective—is that we engage in walking tours. At Ford's Theatre we have a program called "History on Foot." We commission playwrights to write pieces for historical figures that are going to be portrayed by actors. So it's a play—it really is a play—but it's a play walking through the city of Washington that tells a particular story that is connected to Abraham Lincoln's time in Washington, especially to the end of his life and of his presidency. When we do those walks what we encourage the teachers to do is think about how that walk is a primary source, how the city itself is a primary source that they're analyzing, and that they can use perspectives, like the perspectives of the people who are leading the tour (the historical characters) to enhance the learning opportunities for their students. Therefore, every part of a field study experience or a trip is a learning opportunity. And that's something that we've really come to through working in this program. We knew it to a certain extent, but I think that our understanding of that learning has grown.

Actor: The Secretary of State, William Seward, had indeed been attacked in his home in Lafayette Park. Stabbed nearly to death.

Talia Mosconi: We similarly do a walking tour of Georgetown. Looking at different places in Georgetown to get different vantage points—there were Union officers living next door to Confederate sympathizers—so looking at the same community and who was living in that community and how their different perspectives really created an interesting mix during the Civil War. So [it's] giving teachers the option [to come] and look at place as a primary source and [use] that to teach students what daily life would have been like during a specific time period.

I think the walking tour lends itself well to teachers in any community because you can take your students out just in your local neighborhood and really discover your own local history through looking at places.

Sarah Jencks: I do think in general it is one of the things that teachers find both most exciting and most daunting about their experience—because unless you experience it, it can be very hard to understand how it's going to serve the students. So a lot of our—of the teachers worry, they get very very excited for the walking and being outside of their buildings, but they also worry a lot that their administrators or others are not going to understand what they are trying to do. That's something, and even in just saying this right now I'm realizing that we need to think about how to support them and what kinds of documentation we can provide them with and perhaps what we do with them on Friday to help them to feel more confident.



Talia Mosconi: But I think the nice thing about this collaborative is the majority of us are the only educators on site. Particularly for me as the only person on site, it gives me a sounding board, so it's great as we evaluate programs [because] I can talk to other educators who are experiencing the same program and we can evaluate and improve upon the program. I think from that vantage point I think the collaboration has been very beneficial for us.

Sarah Jencks: We sort of ignored the issue of trying to develop a programmatic budget for the first two years. And that is—I don't think any of us are concerned with it all being perfectly even, we're just concerned with everyone being able to do what they can honestly, and that's a big deal. If you go into it saying, "Every penny has to be equal" it's never going to work, you're going to end up with people frustrated. And instead what we've done is we've gone into it saying, "Here's our programmatic budget from the last two years, what can you afford to do?"

Talia Mosconi: I think even extending beyond budget but just staffing the different programs, how we logistically take registrations. We've worked together to really see who can afford—who has time to take these registrations and then someone else can step in and do another job. It's balancing all that together that's made it very effective.

Sarah Jencks: I was talking to a teacher, or to a grant person, and he said, "Well, we're just running the whole time." And I said, "Well, we would love for you to have a deeper experience." And he said, "Oh, well, we're being organized by a tour group and we can't—we just want the teachers to see everything so that they can make the decision about coming back later with their students." But what they're modeling is the way that then students are going to experience it as well.