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Day 117: DBQ Practice
By Mark Heintz
Feb 25, 2020

Day 117

Student contribution provided by Brian

I need more help with Dbq practice because when I take the dbq, sometimes I do good and sometimes I do bad. 

That’s about how I sum up twelve years of teaching the DBQ. Every time I think I understand it, there is another layer. I’ve graded the DBQ at the national reading. I worked with others across the country. I’ve worked with teachers in the district and building on it. It’s a struggle.

The students are given a prompt and have to use seven documents to answer the prompt. They have sixty minutes to complete the task: write a thesis, a paragraph giving global context to the events leading up to the time period, use all seven documents to defend their thesis, give outside evidence, and analyze the tone, point of view, or audience of the documents.

It’s not an easy task. Even when the documents are straight forward the time constraint makes it difficult. When the students are prepared, and we write every day to prepare for it, the documents and the prompt can lead students to think that success feels random; that it can depend on the prompt and the documents are given.

That’s not entirely wrong. Reading is inherently cultural. People read differently and bring with them their own unique background information to help understand what is in front of them. In doing so, certain topics will be easier for people familiar with the subject. What makes this challenging, the documents the students are given are typically documents no student would have used. This is in the name of fairness so no student has early access and an edge over other students. While that may be the intention, people still read by bringing with them what they already know.

This is why students must embrace the unknown and be okay with what they don’t know, at least for this class. I try to teach in a way that allows the students to do that. Reading and writing in my class is a collaborative process that gives students the ability to make mistakes and learn by doing.

I gave a pretty standard DBQ on WWI and made a few modifications to help the students get at what is needed for the test.

In the response, the student understands the basic idea but more would be needed to fully craft an argument. That is part of the difficulty. The students need to express themselves and be okay with expressing themselves. When they work together, they focus on writing and getting their ideas onto the paper. It’s not perfect, but over a semester, the students begin to be able to express their thoughts. And that is a huge win. In a class that could be incredibly standard, the students need to overcome that fear of not being perfect and write what they know. The more they write, the better chance they have of making themselves heard.

Working with our peers to reach our answers. We do a lot of written practice so we can apply what we know to a prompt.

In the end, I want them to feel their opinions matter. That they can have arguments I don’t agree with as long as they are willing to work through them. If anything, the DBQ is that skill. Something that will continually work on.

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