(A follow-up to yesterday’s post.)
Hi, can you elaborate on a document based lesson? How much time do you spend working with a document?*
I’d love to hear others’ takes on this question. Me? I’m making my own DBQs, basically, to bring out the essential learnings and understandings key to the narrative frame that I’m building around the entire span of China’s recorded history. It’s a semester course, so much selection and rejection of textbook content is going on — and textbook coverage of those concepts is disappearing almost entirely. Other sources bring these things out so much better, and with so much more interest.
Since the Shang and Zhou dynasties are as seminal to China as the Hebrew and Christian traditions are to the West (Confucian ritual and ideology trace back to the Shang and Zhou), I’m spending a lot of time on those two dynasties in primary source work.
Long story short, rather than a paragraph from a textbook about the importance of Ancestor Rites, I lead students through a three-page essay from a secondary source about the role of music in Zhou ritual that (deliciously) includes two extended texts — one from the Zhou Classic of Odes (Shi Jing), another from a bronze bell inscription — that actually narrate the ritual performance from start to finish.
Since Confucian ethics revolve around ritual and music, not religion or rules, I spent about a half hour on these three pages in class. Procedure (and I myself wince at this too, but feel it’s justified since it’s so crucial to understanding the next 3,000 years of China’s history):
- I read aloud once, slowly, instructing students to annotate anything that strikes them (their choice), but also to double-underline any word or phrase that I pause to read twice. (Why? There are key repetitions and motifs that sleepy or inattentive students can gloss over and miss. My reading these key passages twice, I hope, forces the discussion afterward to address these key elements.)
- I occasionally pause with comprehension-checking questions (“Who is the ‘impersonator’?” “Who is the ‘revered guest’?” “Remember who King Wen and Wu are?”) along the way to keep everybody from getting lost.
- Once I finish reading aloud, students get the essential questions (E.g., “These rites, and the values in them, will be central to China for the next 3,000 years. When Christian Europe arrives 2,500 years later, how do you think Christian missionaries will react to the types of ritual worship we see here? What is ‘holy’ in China that might be ‘sin’ to Europeans?” “What do we learn about how the ancient Chinese saw the afterlife? Is it similar to Christianity, or different?” On and on.)
- We open it up and discuss from there.
- Homework is only to write on a team blog a minimum 14-sentence post about one of the essential questions of the day. They comment on each others’ posts as a way of peer teaching and, in the best cases, simply conversing about the interesting thoughts they’re having.
I’ve been timing how long it takes me to read the texts aloud before class, and planning the length of discussion based on how many texts are included in the day’s plan.
Here’s the packet with the readings I referenced for the session above (the Shang and Zhou Ritual text on the last two pages is incredibly interesting). The entire packet is a two-lesson mini-unit on the legacies of the Shang and Western Zhou. We’re on a block schedule, so that means about 2 hours in class.
*Copied from an H-NET history teachers list-serv for my own records.