With the APWH exam two months away, I teach very nuanced areas of growth; every point matters. The “supports thesis with evidence from the documents” part of the DBQ is where more than 50% of my students struggle. The skill actually contradicts much of what they learn in English – no direct quotes, barely even paraphrasing. When faced with 6-10 complex historical documents many of my students proceed to write a thoughtful summary of the different issues presented in the documents. These essays are heading directly for the 2-3 point range in the hands of an APWH grader.
To address this problem I’ve been telling students to “write about the history, not the documents. Use the documents to support your essay about the history.” When I reduced this to a simple Tweet this week, one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with pointed out that my advice pretty much contradicts everything I hold dear about teaching history. After a brief back and forth (about 10 minutes before class) I proposed “write an essay about history analyzing the documents. Don’t write an essay about the documents.” My students LOVED that I made them edit my handout based on advice from one of their former teachers.