This year our school has been creating space for vertical alignment meetings for each subject area. In these meetings, a representative from each grade level talks about the standards for each quarter and we start to look for ways that we might collaborate across grade levels or move curriculum around the better serve our students. One of the conversations that keeps coming up in the social studies meeting is character traits and historical figures. Every grade has a list of historical figures that they have to cover along with a list of character traits that each person represents. Students really have to understand both the historical figure and the character trait in order to connect the two. We’ve discussed looking for themes in character traits across the school curriculum so that we might feature specific traits each month with both historical figures, current figures, and ourselves.
Third grade just tried something new with their standards. They learn about Mary Mcleod Bethune, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass and how these figures demonstrate leadership, diligence, cooperation, and courage. Wow! That’s a lot to understand. I love how the 3rd grade approached this. They spent two weeks really going in depth with each historical figure. They read informational text, used the PebbleGo database, and other online resources to know the main contributions of each historical figure. Along the way, students gathered facts about each historical figure.
They also spent time learning about diligence, leadership, courage, and cooperation. With these traits, they tried to think of real world examples of how each trait was used.
In the library, each class came for a 45 minute session to comb through all of the facts collected through the lens of a character trait. Each student chose one character trait to focus on. The goal was to look back through all of the facts about Susan B. Anthony, Mary Mcleod Bethune, and Frederick Douglass and pull out the facts that demonstrated that character trait.
To setup this time, I modeled the process by using another historical figure that wasn’t part of the social studies unit: Martin Luther King Jr. We quickly reviewed the 4 character traits. I thought students would better be able to pull out facts that demonstrated a character trait if they first had a personal connection to the trait. I told a personal story about how I had shown courage. When I was in high school, I was terrified of public speaking to the point that I would shake uncontrollably and get sick to my stomach. By using courage, I have not eliminated this fear from my life, but I’ve learned to control it and now speak in front of many different groups of people.
After telling this personal story, we looked through lists of facts about Martin Luther King Jr and tried to pull out facts that matched each of the character traits. Students turned to partners and talked about which facts matched which traits and why.
Then, students moved to tables and began their writing time by reflecting on themselves and their chosen character traits. The teachers and I circulated to talk with students about this. Then, they went through each of the 3 historical figures and pulled out facts that matched that character trait.
Back in class, students continued working on this process and then crafted their chosen facts into a script where they could explain how each of the historical figures demonstrated the chosen character trait.
Students returned to the library for 10-minute recording sessions. They used Flipgrid to capture their thoughts.
I think that this was a big step toward thinking about how to make character traits and historical figures connect with our students’ worlds today. I think we have more work to do, but I love that a new process has started.