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Students' Personal Connections To U.s. History

By Author: Tracy carter
Total Articles: 101

In Erika's classroom, however, emotional connections with the historical events were not the only avenue that brought the students into U.S. history. Connections with their own life experiences (and these also may be emotional) enabled the students to understand that their issues were also central to the citizens Cartier Replica Watches of past centuries and decades. The students in Erika's class used people and events in their own lives to inform their understandings of U.S. history.

Within two weeks of the town meeting mentioned above we, as a class, had gained our independence from England, but were mired in the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. We created them right after independence, when we were tired of heavy-handed rule and wanted no restrictions, and now we realized the need for a new document. Our Constitution came into being, but the concepts that underlie the provisions of it are difficult, according to Erika, and the class studied them via drawing.

She gave each student six vocabulary words, a square of paper for each, and directions to write definitions and draw a picture of each word: confederation, executive, judiciary, legislature, tariff, and sovereign. I immediately latched onto the possible importance of the drawings for these high school learners.

As I walked among them while they worked, I saw much variation, often related to their out-of-school experiences. I saw careful drawings of the judiciary. Some of the students told me they had been in courtrooms, and could easily draw one. Sovereign also related directly to their lives. According to Todd it meant to govern them, as can be seen in his drawing (shown in Figure 2).

These terms are not just governmental jargon; they are personal terms and drawing them helped the students create meaningful concepts for them. Plus, Erika selected key drawings to share with the class, and referred to them throughout this unit of study. When the term sovereign arose on subsequent days she briefly mentioned Todd's drawing and used it as a bridge into the aspect of sovereignty she needed to dwell on that day.

Drawing, I saw time and again, can be an important form of writing for high school students, as are the various kinds of graphics they studied throughout the year. The study of history is not only a study of words; cartoons, graphs, and photos showed the students the evolution of the United States. Plus, as Cartier Santos Replica advocated by Alvermann (2002), the students generated visual, oral, and written texts in their teacher's effort to provide them with opportunities to weave their own experiences, feelings, and interests into this history.

Now I will skip ahead to this century, to World War II. After December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that date, "a day that will live in infamy." Erika asked the students to write about a day from their lives that will live in infamy, a day that left an indelible imprint, an assignment that clicked for me. In an earlier research project (Hansen, 1998), I had seen students write essays about their own lives that connected them to history, and this brought history to life. Erika, in my current setting, had already written an essay of her own about a particular event in her life—an incident when she and her friends had embarrassed her dad, a teacher in the school. She read it to the class with a current photo of her dad behind her on the interactive whiteboard. It was now time for the students to write about "a day that will live in infamy" for them, and some of them wrote about grandparents, others about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a few wrote about newborns in their families. One student sat, staring ahead for several minutes, and then wrote the following, which I have shortened and altered slightly for publication:

A memory I will never forget is when I was six years old sitting in a courthouse all alone. My uncle walked up...I had been kidnapped by my own mom.... She had taken off with me and went into hiding. It wasn't until a year later that I found myself sitting in the courthouse. From that moment on my life would be changed forever.

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