Reading and Rewriting History
Students can memorize historical facts, but they often lack the ability to analyze the quality of information or make judgments about its credibility. Sam Wineburg and Daisy Martin designed a 5th grade curriculum about Pocahontas and John Smith to challenge students to evaluate source materials and determine the validity of the information.
Students weighed the evidence of two conflicting historical accounts, both written by John Smith, detailing Pocahontas' alleged rescue of Smith on the eve of his execution. Written 16 years apart, the second account of the event is inconsistent with the first story. Students were asked to compare and contrast the accounts and to identify similarities and differences. They also looked at research from various historians. The activity was designed to teach the "interpretive and evidentiary nature of history," and to push students to closely read, evaluate, and synthesize information from a variety of sources.
The lesson forces students to grapple with some tough questions. "What are the facts of the story? What do these facts mean? There are no easy answers," say Wineburg and Martin.
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