July 21, 2008

Teaching Content -- the Dred Scott Decision

We all can agree that history instruction should not be a parade of facts; however, facts will need to be learned, at least temporarily, to give the student something to think about. Here's one way to make that process less painful and boring for the student.

To facilitate learning, most of the instruction should relate to big ideas. Big ideas are the ideas that summarize content, are applicable again and again, can generate predictions and hypothesis, can be used to help structure the details of content, and help in remembering and reconstructing through inference content details. Most of the instruction should revolve around the big ideas. (Crawford 2004)

Students should be able to fluently articulate the knowledge they learn so that the knowledge can be used in higher-order activities, such as essays, comparisons, application, synthesis, evaluation, and the like. (Crawford 2004)

Here's an example of a big idea from a middle school history textbook that precedes the teaching of the Dred Scott decision.

The sectional disputes about slavery that began during the Constitutional Convention ended with two compromises. One compromise was that the Constitution said that slaves were to be counted for both representation in Congress and as property, but at three-fifths value. The other compromise kept Congress from stopping the slave trade until 1808, but allowed Congress Control over other aspects of trade. The northern and southern states had equal numbers of representatives in the Constitutional Convention and chose to reach a compromise. When each side is evenly matched, there is a balance of power. An example of balance of power is when two teams have the same number of players and the players have the same skill level. If one team gets a chance to put one extra-good player into the game, then the balance of power is upset and that team will probably win. That team will dominate.


University of Oregon (1995), Understanding U.S. History: Volume 1—Through the Civil War, Chapter 13: The Road to the Civil War pp. 318- 328.

The big idea of the unit is balance of power which gives the student something to think about as the material is learned and by doing so helps him integrate the material being learned.

By using the big idea of Balance of Power, the congressional compromises of the period, the Missouri compromise and the compromise of 1850, can be learned with some meaning, rather than as a mere parade of facts. For, example, here is how the Missouri compromise might be taught:

In 1819, the balance of power in the Senate was equal with 11 free states and 11 slave states. Adding new slave or free states to the United states could be thought of as adding extra players to a game—if one side got too many new players, the balance of power would shift to that side. But adding new players was exactly what was about to happen to the U.S. because the country was growing. It looked as if the balance of power might change.

In 1819, the people of the Missouri Territory asked to join the United States as a state. A territory was a region that was a part of the United States but not yet a state. Most of the white people living in Missouri wanted slavery. Northern Senators were against adding Missouri as a state because then there would be more slave states than free states with representation in the Senate. In 1819, the northern senators would not agree to let the South have a majority in the Senate. They argued for months against adding the Missouri Territory as a slave state.

After several months of debate, the people of Maine, which had been part of the state of Massachusetts, asked to join the United States as a free state. This opened the way for a compromise to be worked out. Henry Clay, a senator from Kentucky, proposed the compromise plan, called the Missouri Compromise. Henry Clay was one of the War Hawks who boasted before the War of 1812 that the Kentucky militia could conquer Canada. He also worked out a compromise for the Nullification Crisis.

Clay’s idea was to admit both states into the United States. One state, Maine, was free state which did not allow slavery. The other state, Missouri, did allow slavery. That maintained the balance of power.

The Missouri Compromise was a plan that drew a line across the Louisiana Purchase territory, south of which slavery would be allowed. Slavery would be outlawed in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase lands north of the imaginary line. The Missouri Compromise Line was drawn at the southern boundary of Missouri. Areas south of the Missouri Compromise line could become slaveholding states, but the land north of the line was to remain free from slavery. In 1820, the United States had not acquired the land west of the Louisiana Purchase. At the time it was passed, the Missouri Compromise established rules for all the land in the United States.


(Understanding U.S. History)

Now, see if you can answer the following question to see f you understand balance of power and how it affects the admission of territories as states.

Q: Arkansas was the next state to ask to join the United States. Arkansas was below the line of the Missouri Compromise, so it would be added as a slave state. What factors might influence Arkansas' admission as a state?


The same big idea can get you through the admission of Florida and Iowa, the election of President Polk, the concept of Manifest Destiny, the admission of California, New Mexico, Texas and the Oregon Territory, the Compromise of 1850, the South's attempt at seceding, the concept of popular sovereignty, and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Laws which culminate in the end of the balance of power era:

Although the Compromise of 1850 solved the problem of the southern states seceding from the United States, the solution was only temporary. Enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law and allowing popular sovereignty to decide about slavery only made the issues about slavery more difficult for Congress to solve. The ability of the Congress, the political parties, and the country as a whole to make any more compromises on the issue of slavery was coming to an end.

...

Until 1850, a balance of power between slave states and free states had existed. That balance of power resulted in compromises being made between the North and the South for many years. In the 1850s, three factors ended the ability of Congress to make compromises about slavery: (1) the idea of popular sovereignty, which began with the Compromise of 1850; (2) the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which led to violence and 200 deaths in Kansas; and (3) the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857.


(Understanding U.S. History)

The Dred Scott decision wasn't important because of the specific holding with respect to the slave Dred Scott (though I'm sure it was important to him), but was important becuase it eliminated Congress' ability to maintain the delicate balance of power that had existed and threatened to allow the unhindered growth of slavery:

The Dred Scott decision. The third factor that completely ended the ability of Congress to compromise on the issue of slavery was an 1857 Supreme Court ruling on slavery. The Court ruled that slaves had no right to sue in federal court because African Americans could not become citizens of the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that someone who owned slaves could keep slaves in any federal territory. The decision basically made slavery legal in any territory. The Supreme Court also ruled that there was nothing in the Constitution that allowed the federal Congress to outlaw slavery in any territory, and that only states could decide for themselves about slavery. That decision was the end of Congress’ ability to make compromises about slavery because Congress couldn’t pass any laws that limited slavery.

The Chief Justice who wrote the court’s decision was a southern Democrat who had always supported slavery. He felt that the decision in the Dred Scott case would end the debate over the expansion of slavery. He thought that once the court had decided to protect the property rights of slaveholders, the country would accept this decision. He was mistaken.


(Understanding U.S. History)

The challenge for techers is to teach all this material so that the students know it well enough to explain it without the referring to the textbook. This is the first prerequisite for knowledge to be used flexibly in higher order activities such as essays, comparisons, application, synthesis, evaluation, and the like.

There is no golden road to learning. Deep understanding in a domain (such as pre-civil war history) is not going to happen in a fact vacuum. You need something to think about first, before you can think about it deeply, i.e., understand the abstract functional relationships inherent in the material. If the student's "inquiry" hasn't led the student to learning the facts, at least temporarily, deep undersatnding isn't going to follow. This is what happened to the SLA student.

20 comments:

Oldtimer said...

Nice job, Ken.

Establishing a context or framework that lets a student make sense out of individual teachings is always a good classroom strategy. Learning in a vacuum where nothing seems to be connected to anything else is almost always temporary.

I think if teachers gave it more thought...and presented the context before delivering the information, they would be pleasantly surprised at how much more students retained and how much more they really understood.

Every subject has context. Nothing occurs in a vacuum.

Parry Graham said...

Ken,

I agree with everything you said above about the importance of content knowledge in history and the importance of teaching content knowledge within the context of big ideas. I guess what I am missing is how inquiry-driven, project-based (or problem-based) education is incompatible with your description of appropriate history instruction, which I thought was the purpose of your original post.

I also believe that we are in a difficult position to evaluate the 9th grade student’s work without having more information about the context of the assignment. When the teacher developed the assignment, which specific state standards was he hoping to address? What scoring criteria were in place (e.g., rubric) to evaluate the student’s work? What “big idea” was this assignment intended to relate to? You have placed the assignment primarily within the context of the “balance of power” idea, which was clearly not substantively addressed in the student’s work, but it is entirely possible that the work was intended to address a different big idea. For example, if one of the course’s big ideas is understanding history through the personal lens (i.e., being able to see, interpret, and understand historical events through the perspectives of people living at that time), that might change our interpretation of the quality of the student’s work.

Without having additional contextual information about the purpose of the assignment, I think we are in a difficult position to adequately evaluate it.

Parry

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Ken,

Thanks for the History lesson and for the beautiful example of the interplay between facts and context, between data and theory.

KDeRosa said...

I guess what I am missing is how inquiry-driven, project-based (or problem-based) education is incompatible with your description of appropriate history instruction, which I thought was the purpose of your original post.

Parry, I didn't mean to suggest that PBL et al. are incompatible with this. I believe they are much more difficult to pull off properly and in practice compromises are usually made. Often what gets the short shrift is the content which I think is what happened in the SLA axample. This is why I stated that the example "shows [] that the 'pedagogical' tail is wagging the 'student learning' dog.

For example, if one of the course’s big ideas is understanding history through the personal lens (i.e., being able to see, interpret, and understand historical events through the perspectives of people living at that time), that might change our interpretation of the quality of the student’s work.

This is a perfectly valid objective, but do you think that the student's letter demonstrated a deep understanding and interpretation of the Dred Scott decision under this rubric? I still don't think that I do. i still think the analysis was superficial: abolitionists are against slavery, Dred Scott is a slave, the Dred Scott decision negatively impacted the slave, therefore we should be against the decision, and show our disdain by protesting to the legislature's judiciary committee. Even if you can get by the factual inaccuracies, you are still left with a superficial analysis that misses the big issue.

My point is that there are many possible objectives for this lesson; however, if you're are looking to achive deepe understanding in a history class, then the fulfillment of those objectives must contain a deep undestanding of the releveant historical content. In this case, regardless of the objective, this didn't happen.

Tracy W said...

For example, if one of the course’s big ideas is understanding history through the personal lens (i.e., being able to see, interpret, and understand historical events through the perspectives of people living at that time), that might change our interpretation of the quality of the student’s work.

How would it change our interpretation? The student's work does not strike me as displaying an interpretation or an understanding through the perspective of people living at the time. The abolitionist cause is the cause that totally won on a moral level. Most students nowadays know that slavery is bad. The student then writes the letter from the perspective of someone like themselves. A real test for understanding history through the personal lens would be to see and interpret the Dred Scott decision through the perspective of a supporter of slavery, or someone who, while opposed to slavery, also supported the right of the slave-owning states to secede, or some other view more particular to the location in history.

Also, the student proposed a remedy (petitioning the legislature's judiciary committee) that would be ineffective.

If one of the course's big ideas is understanding history though the personal lens of people around at the time who happened to have the same values as us but weren't very effective at political lobbying, then of course this letter is a good quality letter. But in that case, I think the objectives of the assignment were pretty pitiful.

(Please note, I agree that slavery is evil. I think it is important to understand why other people have done evil things, in the hope that then we will be better prepared to stop evil in the future, and, at least as importantly, not to do evil things ourselves).

Anonymous said...

Individual events, including Polk's presidency, are also easier to remember once they have been related by some concept. Dred Scott forms a very strong peg because the topic of slavery evokes strong emotions and is very memorable.


ari-free

Tom Hoffman said...

Since you and Dr. Carnine are such strong advocates of scientific based research, I look forward to seeing your evidence that the text you quote produces student work of a depth you find satisfactory, in particular from students fitting a similar demographic profile to SLA's incoming ninth graders.

Otherwise, this is more dead reckoning on your part.

Brett said...

Ken - thanks for the example - for me (a social studies teacher) it was an enjoyable example.

Your outline of teaching this topic certainly helps a student have access to many of the relevant facts surrounding the Dred Scott decision and its importance. I particularly liked the example of adding new players to the game and upsetting the balance of power. Tug-of-war immediately came to mind as a type of activity in class to help illustrate visually for students what adding new states to the nation might have done for the slavery issue.

Whether or not a deep understanding of this concept is reached is still in question, even if they understand that the Dred Scott decision upset the balance of power. The higher order understanding here comes when students can take the big idea concept of balance of power that is illustrated in the Dred Scott decision and apply it to other current or past situations. If they can then use this idea and perhaps refer back to the example of the Dred Scott decision as way identify or offer predictions about other issues or problems, then I feel a student would qualify for a deep understanding.

Tom Hoffman said...

Also, how does one do this exactly: "The challenge for techers is to teach all this material so that the students know it well enough to explain it without the referring to the textbook."

Really well written lectures?

KDeRosa said...

Tom,

I look forward to seeing your evidence that the text you quote produces student work of a depth you find satisfactory

I didn't claim that it necessarily would. What I said was that it was "one way to make [learning facts] less painful and boring for the student." Whether the student acquires a deep understanding will depend on much more than the textbook text.

I do suspect that a student, like the magnet students at SLA would be able to perform an analysis of similar depth as the one I provided since the lesson directly taught the analysis and then some.

Also, how does one do this exactly: "The challenge for techers is to teach all this material so that the students know it well enough to explain it without the referring to the textbook."

Lots of well designed practice which the teacher's guide explains how to do.

Tom Hoffman said...

What kinds of practice?

KDeRosa said...

1. Preteaching of key vocabulary terms and their definitions that are simple enough to be learned, but that won't be contradicted by the text.

2. Preparation of interspersed comprehension check questions to ask while students are reading aloud the text to monitor their comprehension.

3. Preparation of summarization questions to ask while students are reading aloud the text to give them a chance to begin practicing summarization of the key ideas in the section.

4. Preparation of essay questions. If you want more than rote recognition of facts you will need to prepare essay-style questions, such as one or two good summative question(s) whose answer will capture the important idea(s) of the whole section and require some integration of these ideas.

5. Create a graphic organizer that summarizes the key information for students to study from the graphic and practice how to explain it for answeringthe essay questions.

6. Identify which questions above must be studied by students to prepare for the unit test. Put these onto a study sheet or help students to do so. For essay questions these can be broken into prompted parts.

7. Prepare some challenging questionsthat will extend the thinking of the high performing students in the class.

8. Use a game, such as a baseball-style quiz to help students: learn how to tell if they really "know" the material, begin to practice study habits, and feel some social pressure to learn material.

Do I also need to explain why practice is important for short and long term retention and for developing "higher-order" analytical skills or I can I trust that you already know these concepts being an educator?

Tom Hoffman said...

So, basically, a traditional history course, except apparently with students spending a lot of time listening to each other reading aloud in class?

If this is all we need, you should be able to find plenty of examples of excellent freshman writing, because this looks to me like the way most high school history classes are taught.

KDeRosa said...

Yes, except for the big idea part, the distributed practice part, and the making sure all students are actually learning what's taught part. But for all those things it's exactly the same.

Tom Hoffman said...

"Big ideas" is not a particularly innovative or non-traditional concept. I don't know what "distributed practice" is... perhaps there is something about this reading aloud that I don't understand. And what does one do if the students aren't learning what's taught? Slow down and do the same thing again? Repeat the grade?

KDeRosa said...

The concept of Big Ideas aren't exactly new, but its actual use isn't exactly widespread.

Distributed practice is a concept of mastery learning which is what separates this history curriculum and other DI programs from a traditional curricula.

Part of the reason for the read aloud (which doesn't necessariy have to be aloud or whole-class) is to obtain immediate feedback from the students to see if they understand what they've just read. That's why summative and comprehensive questions are prepared.

The specfics of mastery learning as employed in DI can be found in Student-Program Alignment and Teaching to Mastery.

Tom Hoffman said...

I don't see any evidence whatsoever that direct instruction in high school history class will lead to the kind of analysis you're looking for.

Nor, for that matter, do I see any reason to think that you know or don't know if "big ideas" or their equivalent are a part of most high school history curricula.

Nor do I think that distributed practice requires or implies a change from the traditional history curriculum. It is a different learning strategy.

I don't think you have any evidence whatsoever for your claims about high school history education. You're just guessing.

KDeRosa said...

Tom, you are arguing points that I didn't actually make. Go re-read the first paragraph and try again.

Tom Hoffman said...

The first paragraph of this piece? You think the DI approach would be less boring?

KDeRosa said...

Yes. I do, the charge that DI is soul-killing drudgery is an old one. Unfortunately, the research doesn't validate that charge. From Adam's review of theProject Follow Through data in which the DI intervention had the highest affective scores:

"Critics have often complained that the DI model was a pressure cooker environment that would negatively impact students' social growth and self-esteem. As the Abt Associates' authors note:

Critics of the model have predicted that the emphasis of the model on tightly controlled instruction might discourage children from freely expressing themselves and thus inhibit the development of self-esteem and other affective skills. (Stebbins, St. Pierre & Proper, p. 8)

Because of this expectation, the affective scores are of interest. Three of the five lowest scoring models on the affective domain were models that targeted improving affective behavior; none of the affective models had positive affective scores. In contrast, all Basic Skills models had positive affective scores with the Direct Instruction model achieving the highest scores. The theory that an emphasis on basic skills instruction would have a negative impact on affective behavior is not supported by the data. Instead, it appears that the models that focused on an affective education not only had a negative impact on their students' basic skills and cognitive skills, but also on their affective skills.
"

The take-away is that when children are learning they feel good about themselves.