Scaffolding to improve history reading and comprehension

Scaffolding for better history reading comprehension

I am a huge advocate of learning and teaching history through the actual activity of historians.  This means interacting as much as possible with primary sources.  While using primary sources makes the history experience real and genuine, it may be prohibitively difficult for some readers to navigate through English texts that come from a foreign world or translations of foreign language texts.

We have no intention of leaving students behind, but nor can we simply dismiss the use of the texts, so what to do?  I had harbored grand ideas of creating readers with all my primary reading texts including a thorough glossary for my community college classes.  Some day, with a month or two and nothing else to do, maybe I will finally finish the reader; in the meantime…   I assign readings that are typically accompanied with group supports and guiding sheets, while I regularly circulated to check on and assist comprehension, but AdLit.org recently shared a brilliant idea that could be adapted to history and modified for different age groups: Blending Multiple Genres in Theme Baskets | Adolescent Literacy Topics A-Z | AdLit.org.

Instructional scaffolding is the provision of sufficient support to promote learning when concepts and skills are being first introduced to students. These supports may include the following:

  • Resources
  • A compelling task
  • Templates and guides
  • Guidance on the development of cognitive and social skills

These supports are gradually removed as students develop autonomous learning strategies, thus promoting their own cognitiveaffective and psychomotor learning skills and knowledge. Teachers help the students master a task or a concept by providing support. The support can take many forms such as outlines, recommended documents, storyboards, or key questions.

~ Wikipedia, “Instructional scaffolding”

In essence, the idea is that one builds to the more difficult text by providing a “basket” of varied readings that introduce the subject matter by an easier means and building to more complex levels of reading.  This is what the article suggests for build-up to reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (keeping in mind that the context for this reading includes challenged readers, ESL students, and modern students who are unexposed to long sustained reading assignments):

Sample theme basket

Most teachers undertake the task of teaching core literature selections throughout the year. The following is a sample theme basket approach, using multiple genres, to one such selection, John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, beginning with children’s picture books and progressing through the core text and beyond.

Picture books, ages 4-8

  • Ada, Alma Flor. Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1997.
  • Altman, Linda Jacobs. Amelia’s Road. New York: Lee and Low, 1993.
  • Bunting, Eve. A Day’s Work. New York: Clarion, 1994.
  • Bunting, Eve. Going Home. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
  • Herrera, Juan Felipe. Calling the Doves. Emeryville, CA: Children’s Book Press, 1995.
  • Mora, Pat. Tomás and the Library Lady. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
  • Thomas, Jane Resh. Lights on the River. New York: Hyperion, 1994.
  • Williams, Sherley Anne. Working Cotton. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

Fiction and nonfiction chapter books, ages 9-12

  • Ashabranner, Brent. Dark Harvest: Migrant Farmworkers in America. New York: Putnam, 1985.
  • Atkin, Beth. Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.
  • Brimmer, Larry Dane. A Migrant Family. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992.
  • Goodwin, David. Cesar Chavez: Hope for the People. New York: Ballantine, 1991.
  • Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
  • Jimenez, Francisco. The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. Albuquerque: New Mexico Press, 1997.
  • Rivera, Tomás. And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him. Dir. Severo Perez. Videocassette. 1994.
  • Rivera, Tomás. Y no se lo Trago la Tierra / … And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Publishers, 1995.
  • Stanley, Jerry. Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp. New York: Crown Publishers, 1992.

High school-Adult

  • Barrio, Raymond. The Plum Plum Pickers. New York: Bilingual Review Publishers, 1984.
  • The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Henry Fonda and Jane Darnell. Videocassette. Twentieth Century Fox, 1996.
  • Morgan, Dan. Rising in the West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
  • Soto, Gary. “Red Palm.” Who Will Know Us? New Poems. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990.
  • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking, 1967.

~  AdLit.org: “Blending Multiple Genres in Theme Baskets”

In this example, it is possible to see a progression with scaffolding supports: easier literature and film provided a context for the complicated and nuanced themes of the Steinbeck novel.  If a teacher used this at the beginning of a high school literature class, it would not be necessary to repeat the same process with the next work.  If the next book was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, then the process good be revised to place emphasis on fewer picture books, introducing different types of reading, until eventually these supports would not be used at all in introduction to core literature assignments.

For history teachers, the process would only slightly resemble this process depending on age and reading levels of students.  But, similar “baskets” could be used at different levels of education.  Consider the following examples for a high school-level American History class:

American History

Goal:  Consider the competing methods of various parties in the Civil Rights era and which was most effective in creating change:

  • Non-violent resistance and awareness (Martin Luther King, Jr., SNCC–Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) –> Read the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Court cases to change unjust laws (Thurgood Marshall, NAACP) –> Read the Supreme Court Case decisions in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Black pride (Malcolm X, Black Panthers) –> Read the speeches of Malcom X
  • Media coverage (covering the civil rights era and individuals being covered in contemporary news who introduced successful images of black citizens despite the times–athletes, musicians, artists, businessmen, and politicians with increasing crossover appeal)

A.  Youth literature dealing with segregation issues

B.  Photographs from the era (some of these are graphic, but the photo quality is not as good as it is today, so it is worth it to show an honest look at the era and the build-up)

C. Newspaper and magazine reports from the era

D. (The final primary source selections referenced above.)

The example allows you to build the context, so that the more difficult texts are not as overwhelming and the vocabulary is not entirely new.

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Filed under Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction

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