Causes of Conflict
Vancouver, WA, area teachers are expanding their knowledge on the legal, economic, and social aspects of the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and civil rights movement. This exceptional grant program, Causes of Conflict, introduces teachers to preeminent scholars, as well as providing numerous History on Location site-centered learning opportunities.
One of the most exceptional aspects of the program is its design transparency. The website clearly shows a directorial interest in what teachers need and want to know. A thorough survey inquires about interest level in various time periods, units which are most difficult to teach, interest in various ways of looking at history (tracking the influence of an event over the course of years, global relations, local history, history through key individuals, primary document interpretation, etc.), and which skills teachers wish to develop, as well as demographic and logistic questions.
Clearly, from the above, this grant program is carefully constructed, with a true interest in classroom results. Being a Washington state program, the focus is on the Classroom Based Assessments, a regional tool which measures content and accountability against area standards, known as Grade Level Expectations or GLEs. With this in mind, the program set out to create "before" and "after" measurement tools of student knowledge.
A recent watermark, or initial, evaluation (part two, part three) for middle school students (all evaluations are under constant scrutiny and revision) consists of an extended DBQ worksheet series. These pages ask students to list what they know of slavery and slave response to slavery, as well as their questions concerning both. Next, students analyze several documents, and answer a series of related questions. These start as simple as naming the author and type of document, and increase in complexity to reasons for creating the document, the larger ideas contained within, relationship to slavery, and questions which the document raises for the individual student.
Students then look at the six documents in relation to each other, seeing how the readings answered their earlier questions and highlighting and presenting evidence from the documents in a graphic organizer. All quotations chosen as evidence are analyzed for motivation and for precisely how they support the answer to a question created and selected by the student. Thus, the student is researching and analyzing documents to answer his or her own historical questions—thinking like a historian.
No "before" is complete without an "after." The program's corresponding post-program evaluation asks that student performance, collection of evidence, and growth all be rated (from overall understanding of the Civil War period to items such as "Considers previous learning/experiences to develop a foundation for reading a set of documents"). Each number between one and four is given an assigned meaning for each separate category (overall performance, evidence, and growth) to avoid arbitrary assignation of rating numbers. The evaluation is based on the initial DBQ activity, another Classroom Based Assessment conducted near the end of the program, and student work completed in the interim. Evaluators include both participating teachers and a team specifically designated for rating.
Remember that what makes this evaluation process even more remarkable is that it itself is actually under constant evaluation. As the grant program matures, improvements are made to the system—making this an excellent example of the benefits of continuous learning on the teaching and administration side, as well as that of the students.
In addition to providing outstanding evaluation examples, the grant program also makes content material available to the wider public. The Past Programs section makes the greater program available to teachers outside of the immediate Vancouver area. Topics available online range from Using Primary Documents to Teach the Transformation of Antebellum America and History on Location: The Civil Rights Movement in Alabama to What Is It? A Constitution & A Bill of Rights. Session coverage varies, but these archived sections tend to include an overview of the talk and links to suggested reading and/or primary documents.
The site also provides more than 60 lesson plans, ranging from elementary to high school level. Elementary offerings include topics such as Influences of Black Oregon Trail Settlers and A Helping Hand: The Role of Guides during Western Expansion, which involves a writing project in which students respond to prompts as if they were mountain men.