Classroom Based Assessments – Where to start

As we reboot Doing Social Studies, we’d love to introduce you to this month’s author, Nathan McAlister.

Nathan McAlister is the Humanities Program Manager – History, Government, and Social Studies with the Kansas State Department of Education. Prior to taking his current position Nathan taught middle and high school social studies for 24 years. Nathan’s past students have created and led several civic and historical preservation projects. These include three pieces of Kansas Legislation, a Civil War mural, a Civil War Veterans Kansas preservation project, many National History Day projects, and four award-winning Lowell Milken for Unsung Heroes projects.

In 2010, Nathan was named Kansas and National History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History. Nathan has also been named a Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Master Teacher Fellow, Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, Fellow, and a George Washington Library, Lifeguard Teacher Fellow.  

So, you need to design a CBA? You have an idea, check. You have an outcome the students need to meet, check. You even have the work days mapped and planned, check. But where do I find the necessary materials to either curate the sources myself or send the students to curate sources themselves? Additionally, if I am curating the sources can I use excerpts? Still further, if I use excerpts, how much is too much to cut? My goal, for this blog post is twofold. One, offer examples of websites to use in your classroom, and two, provide a few rules to guide your excerpting of documents.

Let’s get started.

Websites, websites, websites, where does one begin? Below are a few solid go to websites for you and a few for both you and your students. Further, I will provide a few tips, that will make the trip to the site worth it.

First up, the LOC (aka Library of Congress): The Library of Congress has an amazing treasure trove of primary source materials. As you enter the home page, click on the words Digital Collections underneath the main image scroll. Once there you have access to all the digital offerings of the LOC. This includes the phenomenal Chronicling America, the enlightening Sanborn Maps, and other rare and unique collections. CitationTip: When you have found something, you wish to use in LOC, scroll toward the bottom of the page to the Cite This Item selection. You can copy and paste your appropriate citation, see image insert.

Next up an often over looked resource the National Humanities Center’s, America in Class: From 1492 to 1968, The National Humanities Center’s America in Class has a plethora of unique and wonderful primary source materials. Upon entering the site, you will be presented with a variety of themed collections. One collection, that I have gone back to time and again, is the Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763 collection. Upon entering the collection, you are presented with five tabs near the top of the page covering Growth, Peoples, Economics, Ideas, and American. Clicking the Growth topic will take you to subjects with connections to primary sources. For example, within the subject Servants and Slaves you will find stories from John Grimes and Ayuba Suleiman Diallo. CitationTip: at the bottom of each Pdf document is the necessary citation for the source.

The Avalon Project from Yale University: If you are looking for a treaty or government document from 4000bce or the 21st Century the Avalon project has you covered. As you enter the site you won’t see much it is pretty bare bones. What you will notice is the banner across the top with listings for Ancient Documents through 21st Century Documents. Below that in a smaller box are topic selections, including Document Collections to The International Military Tribunal for Germany – A Document Collection. Don’t be intimidated with a starting point. What you might not notice that can be extremely useful is the search box in the top right corner. If you search for Washington’s Farewell Address, you’ll find it. If you click on the Document Collections you will be taken to a list of collected topics all of which take you to more specific collections within your chosen topic. For example, I clicked on United States Statutes Concerning Native Americans and I have a list of full text statutes from 1789 to 1887. It isn’t a pretty website, but it is useful. CitationTip: at the bottom of each document is the necessary source information, but many of these sources will not require a formal citation.

State Archives!!: Let me say that again, State Archives!! I am linking in the National Archives list of State Archives. Access to state archives is extremely useful.

Okay, you’ve found the document, but how do you excerpt it from thousands, if not tens of thousands to a mere few hundred words? How can this be done? Let’s explore excerpting a document, using the rules below, to make the document manageable for you and your students. Please note, the rules below come from me based on my experience, they were not taken from a reputable organization.

  • First rule, READ the entire document prior to excerpting, so you know the main idea of the document and can better contend with any language issues. *It might be a good idea to read the document aloud to better grasp the prosody of the document
  • Second, DO NOT cherry pick the document to make it read the way you want it to read, leave the main idea of the document alone.
  • Third, MAKE CERTAIN the flow of the document makes sense, you may need part of a sentence you don’t need to retain cohesion.
  • Fourth, MAKE IT MANAEGABLE. Excerpting one sentence out of a four-page document is not manageable. Use your best judgment depending on your students grade level and difficulty of the text. *Chunking after excerpting can be an effective.

Let’s look at an Example Excerpt:

Original Text:

A Brief Description of New-York: Formerly Called New-Netherlands (1670)

Daniel Denton (6,466 words)

Excerpted Text:

A Brief Description of New-York: Formerly Called New-Netherlands (1670)

Daniel Denton (459 words)

“Thus have I briefly given you a Relation of New-York…Heaven hath not been wanting to open his Treasures in sending down seasonable showers upon the Earth, blessing it with a sweet and pleasant Air, and a Continuation of such Influences as tend to the Health both of Man and Beast: and the Climate hath such an affinity with that of England…That I may say, and say truly, that if there be any terrestrial happiness to be had by people of all ranks, especially of an inferior rank, it must certainly be here: there any one may furnish himself with land, and live rent-free, yea, with such a quantity of land, that he may weary himself with walking over his fields of Corn, and all sorts of Grain: and let his stock of Cattle amount to some hundreds, he need not fear their want of pasture in the Summer, or Fodder in the Winter the Woods affording sufficient supply. . . . 
Where you may travel by Land upon the same Continent hundreds of miles, and pass through Towns and Villages, and never hear the least complaint for want, nor hear any ask you for a farthing: there you may lodge in the fields and woods, travel from one end of the Country to another, with as much security as if you were locked within your own Chamber; And if you chance to meet with an Indian-Town, they shall give you the best entertainment they have, and upon your desire, direct you on your way. 
But that which adds happiness to all the rest, is the Healthfulness of the place, where many people in twenty years time never know what sickness is: where they look upon it as a great mortality if two or three die out of a town in a year’s time; where besides the sweetness of the Air, the Country itself sends forth such a fragrant smell…
Now to conclude, it’s possible some may say, what needs a Relation of a place of so long standing as New-York hath been? In answer to which I have said something before, as to satisfy the desires of many that never had any Relation of it. Secondly, though it hath been long settled, yet but lately reduced to his Majesty’s obedience, and by that means but new or unknown to the English; Else certainly those great number of Furs, that have been lately trans- ported from thence into Holland had never passed the hands of our English Furriers: Thirdly, never any Relation before was published to my knowledge, and the place being capable of entertaining so great a number of inhabitants, where they may with God’s blessing, and their own industry, live as happily as any people in the world.”

With questions added like, “What is Daniel Denton’s view of colonial New York?” or “Describe Daniel Denton’s view of New York.” or “Why is Daniel Denton colonizing?” or “Who is Daniel Denton?” and having students support their answers with evidence from the document, you have a quick activity centered on the colonial experience from a colonist point of view, that is altogether separate from the Revolution. Additionally, the excerpted passage from Daniel Denton could be chunked and/or excerpted further to make it more accessible for students in lower grades.

Researching and excerpting documents is a journey be sure to know your destination, mark the points of interest along the way, and enjoy the ride.

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