Note from the BHP Team: Roll out the red carpet. The instructional skills, pedagogy, and practices in BHP are getting the spotlight. Starting this month, a monthly Big Skills blog features one of the recurring foundational essential skills in BHP, so teachers can go beyond content and dive deeper into how to teach it. Up to bat in August: “Narrative and Thresholds: Making History Significant.” Why does narrative matter in a history classroom, anyway? To start, it’s a powerful means of helping students connect historical facts to create something more memorable, meaningful, and useful. People, places, and facts become woven together as part of the same story, instead of existing as individual flashcards to memorize.
Read on for excerpts from the BHP teacher discussion happening right now on Yammer about narrative and thresholds. Join in the conversation when you’ve finished reading. Then, learn even more about incorporating narrative in the classroom in Session 7.2: Narrative and Thresholds, in the Teaching Big History online professional development course. The learning never stops!
“The Big Skills blog, ‘Narrative and Thresholds: Making History Significant,’ helps to explain the value of the BHP perspective of history. I am thinking I will use this with parents early in the year to help them understand the value of Big History’s approach to learning history and the importance of the narrative. I can also see it being useful as an introduction for teachers in my district who haven’t taught BHP. It will help them gain a better understanding of the BHP perspective.
I really like the thresholds graphic, too. I feel like it is something I have been looking for, for a while. I usually rely on the threshold cards to transition from one threshold to the next. This graphic really helps bring it all together. I plan to use this graphic throughout the year and I want to have students continually fill it out in a “KWL/KNL” sort of way. For each threshold, I will have students make a short guess of what they think the threshold will be about based on that section of the graphic. At the end of the unit for each threshold, I will have students review their preconception and make an adjustment to show what they learned. They will proceed through the course reviewing their preconceptions and make needed changes, helping them to see if they made a good prediction and maybe how their perception of the threshold may have changed. This will serve as a sort of exit ticket for each threshold.
Zach’s mention of the butcher paper [see below] reminds me of banners we used to make at summer camp to summarize out experiences for the week. I’m thinking I may have students work as a class each threshold to create a banner for that threshold and we can piece them together throughout the year to create a representation of their understanding of Big History.”
Brian Moore, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
“Brian Moore, can’t agree more about the thresholds graphic. I think this is a great piece for visual learners. I plan on using it throughout the year with my students as an add-on to the thresholds of increasing complexity foldables we create as each threshold is introduced. One thought that I had for the graphic was to use it as a jumping-off point at the end of the year (or even mid-year) as a review activity. Giving students large pieces of butcher paper and having them create their own thresholds graphic in which they must create a visual that combines both the ingredients and Goldilocks Conditions of each specific threshold, and then write a piece that briefly explains how and why the visual explains the importance of the threshold. Still trying to work out the specifics, but have a general idea of what I want it to look like. It will definitely be a great piece to come back to as we cross each threshold.
Zach Cain, BHP Teacher, Grade 6
“…[T]he Big Skills blog will be a great piece for teachers (and parents/admin). Sometimes it can be hard to keep the narrative at the forefront as we move through the course and get into the content. This is a perfect reminder of just how important narrative is to BHP and how to connect student learning with the narrative.”
Bridgette O’Connor, BHP Teacher, Grades 6-12
“As I read the Big Question blog, ‘The Historian’s Dilemma’ and the Big Skills blog, ‘Narrative and Thresholds: Making History Significant,’ the following terms emerge for me as important takeaways, both for students and teachers: CONTENT, SKILLS, HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, UNIT 1 DRIVING QUESTION (Why do we look at things from close up and far away?), and NARRATIVE. I would like my students to know and use these terms during the first few weeks. I intend to ask them: How do you understand the study of history? Why should students from around the world study history? How is the study of history similar or different for students around the world? How is the study of history for you similar to or different from that of your parents or grandparents?
What I wish to impart to my students is that they need to think of their studies in ways different from the ways in which previous generations did. My students are high school freshmen; when they emerge as university or college freshmen, the institutions may have areas of study that do not exist today, and my current students need to be prepared for such innovations. Today we celebrate fifty years after the moon landing; fifty years prior to that we were just manufacturing cars and barely in the air at all! What will we be doing fifty years in the future? Likely something with which my generation is woefully inexperienced or incompetent. My students need better; they need more.
I think the approaches of Big History provide practice and rigor in considering these possible evolutions.”
Greg Dykhouse, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
You’re finished! Now head over to the BHP Teacher Community on Yammer to add even more to this conversation on Narrative and Thresholds in the Big History Project (and keep checking in, all year long).
Cover image: Focused adult education student researching in library © Getty Image / Hero Images.