Bridgette Byrd O’Connor, BHP Teacher
Note from BHP Team: This post is from Session 2.2: Teaching Coherence of our free, online PD course, Teaching Big History.
Establishing routines in the Big History course is a lot like gathering the precise ingredients and perfect Goldilocks Conditions for what you’d like to achieve. You want just enough repetition so that when you get to an activity, your students can do it without needing to hear the instructions 500 times and sending you off a cliff. Yet, you also want enough variety to keep students interested in the activities in the course.
I think of the repeating activities in the course—the routines—as the ingredients to make all this happen. There are routines that repeat in every unit— such as the DQ Notebook and Three Close Reads—that help students establish a pattern for how to approach informal writing and close reading. Writing about their thoughts on the driving question at least twice in every unit will prepare their brains for the more formal writing of the Investigation essays. Close reading skills are essential to understanding many of the texts in the course, and if practiced in every unit, this skill will improve over time.
There are also repeating activities throughout the course that improve students’ research skills and help incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to answering questions, activities such as What Do You Know? What Do You Ask? and This Threshold Today. Because Big History incorporates a set of standardized rubrics, teachers know what to look for in their students’ writing, and students know how they’ll be graded. There are no surprises. Students have the potential to ace all their assessments if you introduce and explain the rubrics early in the course. I’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is by having students use them to grade their own work as well as their peers’ writing.
Both you and your students have a clearer path to success when these routines are adopted. But it doesn’t happen overnight. We all want our students to become better readers, writers, and thinkers, and one of the best ways to put them on this path is to establish these routines and set expectations from the very beginning of the course. You’ll be amazed, as I am every semester when I watch my students’ progress and hear their intelligent, genuinely interested questions about the topics covered in this course.
About the author: The 2016/17 school year marks Bridgette Byrd O’Connor’s fifth year teaching BHP as a semester-long history course. She teaches ninth and twelfth graders at Saint Scholastica Academy, a private school for girls. Bridgette teaches her 120 students a year in three 90-minute sessions per day.