Academic Skills, Grading, Rubrics, teaching

“Gettin’ ‘Bric-y Wit It”

If this post’s title made you think of the canonical Will Smith song, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” then congratulations, you got my terrible allusion! You now likely have that song stuck in your head. As recompense for suffering that indignity, you might just find an exciting surprise if you read through this post to the end.

But Will Smith isn’t really the point of this post. Rubrics are! (That’s the cruelest bait-and-switch of all time; I’m sorry).


“Rubrics, you say? Now I feel like this!” – via GIPHY

In my last post, I wrote about using a learning goal-based rubric as a formative assessment technique. In that case, I used a rubric focused on five writing skills to first evaluate sample essays with my students; then I used it evaluate my students’ own writing on a similar prompt.

That process worked pretty successfully, I think. Although I’ve not had a ton of follow-up conversations with students about that first assignment, those few chats that I have had focused on how the student did in terms of those specific learning goals. Furthermore, we ended those conversations with the student have clear and specific ideas about how to improve on those skills moving forward. In other words, they weren’t just “bottom line” conversations about the grade on the assignment, which is what I’d hope to achieve.

As a way to carry this momentum forward, I wanted to make a rubric for one of the types of assessments I use most frequently in my history classes: ID Terms.



“…and I’m historically significant because:”


I remember ID terms as a central feature of my own history classes in high school and college. The guidance I received about how best to approach these terms remained pretty consistent both in my own education and I’ve carried those guidelines into my own teaching. For over a decade now, I’ve explained that good ID term responses should do two things:

  1. Explain WHAT the term is.
  2. Explain WHY that term is significant.

However, I’ve always verbally articulated those expectations to my students. After that discussion, I’ve then given students practice in writing IDs, using their sample IDs as fodder for feedback about the ways in which their responses are strong and how they could improve.

However, in the hopes of providing students with something more codified to use in the process of studying and writing ID terms, I thought I should put those general expectations into a rubric framed around what I perceive to be the main learning goals of historical ID terms.

So, below is my first draft at a rubric that captures the two key elements of ID terms, puts my expectations into (hopefully) clear language, and gives students clear guidance on what they’re striving for when writing ID terms and conducting historical analysis in general.


As you can perhaps tell from the screenshot, I’ve built this rubric in Canvas with the hopes of using it frequently to give students feedback on practice ID terms they write and submit digitally. As of yet, I’ve not figured out how to use multiple versions of this rubric on a single assessment, which would be helpful, for instance, if an online quiz or test included multiple ID terms.

That issue, however, is a problem for another day, so in the meantime, I’ll leave with a request for feedback and suggestions:

  • What language am I missing in this rubric?
  • How could I reframe these criteria differently or more effectively for students?
  • Are the distinctions between the various levels of mastery clear enough in the language?
  • Any other thoughts?

And now, I’ll really leave you with what you’ve been hoping to get to this whole post!

Academic Skills, AP Skills, Writing

“Flipped Tutorial” Entry #2: Writing AP European History DBQs

As my AP European History students have their first full-length DBQ essay coming up this week, I had a few requests to make a video about approaching and writing those essays as I did for the AP European History FRQs.

While we’ve done a bunch of practice and discussion of this skill in class, I thought the suggestion was a good one, so I went ahead and created a video that students can consult not only in preparation for their essay this week, but also as we move closer to the exam in May.

One of the suggestions that I got in the comments to my FRQ video tutorial post was to break down the video into shorter segments so that students can focus in on the areas where they’d like additional clarification and review. I thought the suggestion was a good one, as navigating even that nine minute video can be a hassle, so I broke this video tutorial into a five-part playlist with each video focused on one of the steps of writing the DBQ.

I used the released question about the German Peasants’ Revolt for my examples in the video, as we had used those documents in class and it addressed a topic that we’ve already studied in-depth by this point of the year. As I do in class, I frame the approach to the AP European DBQ as almost like putting together a puzzle — an analogy one of my students used this week that I think it really apt. While I didn’t use that analogy explicitly in the video, I think it carries through in the way I’ve structured my explanations and broken the process down into “steps.”

As with before, I welcome any feedback or thoughts on how to further improve this type of “flipped” instruction.

Academic Skills, Historical Thinking

Making SHEG HATs a bit more bespoke

Dave Salmanson, over at his blog, has just written a post serving notice to Sam Wineburg and the Stanford History Education Group about their omission of recent historiography in many of their historical thinking activities, particularly their most recent one about Columbus Day.

I’ve used (and extensively adapted) materials from Wineburg and SHEG over the years and like the ways that many of their “Reading Like a Historian” lesson plans emphasize the conflicting narratives of the past, thereby pushing the student to act as the historian and give shape to the messy reality of the past. Many of these lesson plans subtly push students to prioritize paying attention to a source’s attribution and then keeping those external details in mind as they then make sense of the source and understand its content in relation to its author, audience, historical context, etc. These lessons also push students to synthesize multiple sources and integrate those into an argument, so I’m all for the historical thinking skills underlying these lesson plans. Wineburg deals with a lot of these concepts and how to foster them in his book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, which I’ve read and enjoyed.

SHEG also has another project called “Beyond the Bubble,” which offers shorter assessments focused on analyzing one primary source and addressing some question about its sourcing. SHEG calls these activities “Historical Assessments of Thinking,” or HATs for short — therein lies the title of this post.

For me, these are less substantive activities, not only because they only address one source, but also because they often lack substantive attributions that would, for example, allow a teacher to foster a class discussion about authorial background and its influence, or consider the role of print publications over the course of the nineteenth century. As a result, I’ve used infrequently and rarely check the site to see what new materials they’ve posted.

So after reading Dave’s post tonight, I was reminded of an incident last year where I sought to adapt a HAT about the execution of Louis XVI for my Western Civilization classes and gained some insight into the sloppy and (ironically) poorly sourced lesson plan material that actually made meaningful historical analysis less possible as a result of the assignment’s structure.

In checking back on the Beyond the Bubble site tonight, it looks as if SHEG has since removed the HAT in question, but I fortunately downloaded the assessment, so below is a screenshot of the image and the prompt:

"Death of Louis XVI" HAT, screenshot of SHEG "Beyond the Bubble" Activity

“Death of Louis XVI” HAT, screenshot of SHEG “Beyond the Bubble” Activity

So, not to ruin the surprise or anything, but the HAT wants students to focus on the chronological gap between the event presented by the image and the date of publication. Ideally, this prompt pushes students to consider issues of historical context and whether the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century context of this image shaped the presentation of this event and, if so, in what ways.

I was, however, bothered by the fact that this activity had no author listed. So, I decided to do a little digging and see if I could flesh out this attribution to help my students offer a more nuanced analysis of this source.

Finding another version of this image proved to be pretty easy. Simply searching for the title took me to the Library of Congress page for this image, which is clearly where SHEG drew its attribution info.

“Mort de Louis XVI, le 21 janvier 1793 Place de la Concorde – on voit à gauche le socle de la statue de Louis XV déboulonnée” courtesy of the Library of Congress

While these images seem essentially identical, I quickly noticed that the SHEG version of the image cropped out the original title, caption, and parenthetical reference to its original source. So, it turns out that this image does have an author (or at least a place of publication) — a newspaper called Révolutions de Paris. That piece of information seems like some pretty low-hanging fruit that would have been helpful to include in the HAT’s attribution.

A quick search for the name of the newspaper yielded a link to Dartmouth’s digitization project for that publication, which revealed some useful context about the newspaper, its dates of publication, and its context:

Révolutions de Paris was a weekly newspaper published and edited by Louis-Marie Prudhomme. It began publication July 18, 1789; its final issue is dated 10 ventôse Year 2, i.e., 28 February 1794. This run of over four and a half years, a total of 225 issues, makes it one of the longest running Revolutionary newspapers.

And because we know the date of the event depicted in the image, we can then check out the publication from that week and see what they published the week Louis XVI was executed. Lo and behold, look what Révolutions de Paris ran in Issue no. 185:

Screenshot of _Révolutions de Paris_, Issue no. 185, courtesy of Dartmouth University:

Screenshot of _Révolutions de Paris_, Issue no. 185, courtesy of Dartmouth University:

Unsurprisingly, discovering the context of this newspaper provides students with much richer material for analyzing this image. Furthermore, considering (or even including) details about Prudhomme would enable students to grapple with the complex array of conflicts and agendas that shaped the various stages of the French Revolution. It might even be possible to make something of the fact that this image did get republished over one hundred years after its original publication, but that analysis can’t happen meaningfully without the original contextual details.

While I still think that many of the SHEG assignments have value in the classroom or as quick assessments, teachers need to be really on guard about how these primary sources get presented and what details SHEG includes or omits. And if nothing else, working to clean up the (in this case quite sloppy) attribution details helps teachers keep their own historical research and thinking skills sharp!

Academic Skills, Presentations

A Foray into “Flipped” Tutorials: Writing an AP European History FRQ

This week is a busy one for a variety of reasons, but part of that busy-ness involves missing school on a day before the first test I’m giving in my AP European History classes. While much of the review activity is material my substitute can help cover, I have planned a discussion about how to approach and pre-write Free Response Questions that will be hard to do in my absence.

Given these circumstances, I thought I’d revive a tactic I’d used previously in case of absence: making a tutorial video!

I find these types of videos, where I’m focused on explaining a skill or intellectual strategy, to be more compelling to make (though perhaps not to view…you’ll all have to be the judges of that) than ones that focus on conveying content. I make that assertion largely based on the fact that I’ve only ever been compelled to make “flipped”-style tutorial videos for skills like these and not for content-heavy lectures.

Given that AP European History has a variety of skill sets, writing strategies, and essay approaches that are unique to the exam, I think this genre of video might be one that I’ll continue working on (though given the changes coming to the exam next year, that effort might be in vain).

I’ve posted my video below and would welcome any feedback! If I find more energy and time to continue adding to this series, I’ll pass them along here (and thereby avoid having this blog turn into a 1990s-Angelfire-esque wasteland of disused internet).

Academic Skills, Historical Thinking, teaching

Teaching Mind Mapping

As I’ve written about before, (many-a-time, in fact. See: this, this, and this), I believe that really gaining a clear understanding of historical concepts, events, sequence, themes, etc. comes from actively reshaping the information in some manner. History lends itself well to this because it forces one to think chronologically (timelines), comparatively (comparison charts or Venn diagrams, for those who like to write in tiny oblong spaces), or thematically (color coding major categories).

Personally, I’m a big fan of mind mapping, as the process of putting down terms, events, places, etc. and then linking them up and figuring out why they’re important can be a really effective way to understand the material in terms that resonate personally. Moreover, this approach doesn’t require a set formula, end result, or appearance; instead, it can go wherever a student wants to take it. And perhaps most importantly, it helps students understand that history isn’t a memorization challenge – one simply cannot do the analytical work necessary of a historian (or anything that requires critical thinking, for that matter) if rote memory is the lone approach to understanding the material.

In fact, I used this technique a fair amount early in my teaching career to help me figure out how to sequence material within a unit, what major themes I wanted to emphasize, and how I could make effective transitions between the content. But I had first learned about mind mapping during my own sophomore year of high school and found it to be a really valuable way of making sense of the material we were studying. When I was early in my teaching career I scoured through my old high school papers (what I aspirationally like to call the “Presidential Archives”), and discovered this mind mapping artifact from my past:

Mind Map – 19th c. Ideas


I’ve redacted both my name and the grade, but I’ll let you all know that it was quite well received.

This past week I introduced the concept and approach of mind mapping to some of my classes and thought I’d pass along my general guidelines here:

Mind Mapping Guidelines


  • Reorganize information → breaking from pure memorization.

  • Articulate and understand connections between key terms in your own words.

  • Identify the dominant themes and patterns in the material we’re studying.


  1. Start with a list of ID terms and pick any one of them to begin and put it on your sheet of notebook paper.

  2. Add other terms (one at a time) that connect to that initial term and link them with arrows.

  3. **On the lines of the arrow EXPLAIN the connection between these terms by writing a description of that link ON THE LINE.** ← This is the most important part of mind mapping and is vital in terms of accomplishing the above goals.

  4. OPTIONAL – you can add colors/highlighting to indicate major categories of information (e.g. Social, Political, Religious, Intellectual, Technological, Economic).

These are (as with all things posted here) a continual work in progress, so if anyone has suggestions about how they introduce this concept or present other ways of getting students to meaningfully reorganize information, I’d be thrilled to hear about those in the comments.

Academic Skills, Research, teaching

New Assignment Alert: Wikipedia Historiography Paper

Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

This trimester I’m teaching a senior elective entitled, “Slavery in the Atlantic World.” We’re using a class blog extensively to conduct a discussion prior to meeting in person to them follow up on the readings. In designing the course, I drew extensively (and with great gratitude) from Ben Wright at Rice University, who generously offered lots of advice and ideas about how to structure and conduct this type of course (which he ran in the Spring of 2013) effectively.

One of these cribbed ideas was a “Wikipedia Historiography Paper” assignment that asked students to do the following:

Using the “View History” function of Wikipedia, students will write an 800–1000 word historiography of a Wikipedia page relevant to their subtopic. We will spend time in class discussing how to think about and trace the historiography of a topic, what to look for within this “View History” page, and collaboratively decide how this assignment should be evaluated.

In asking Ben about this assignment, he explained that he didn’t have a formal instruction sheet as his class spent a lot of time discussing it face-to-face before they embarked on the research and writing process. As I noted to my students in my follow-up post about this assignment, however, our meeting constraints don’t allow for this type of extended discussion, so instead I wrote up an assignment sheet that I hope will be of use.

So, below the line I’ve reproduced my post to my students. I’m passing it along here to get any feedback, suggestions, reactions, etc. that people may have so I can refine it for future classes (or improve it for this current one).

As a reminder, historiography is essentially the study of how writing history changes over time. As historians develop and embrace new approaches, encounter new sources, and perceive the world in new ways given their present circumstances, the way they analyze the causes of past events change significantly. Wikipedia (what a shocking source to draw on here, I know!) has a nice encapsulation of how these changes have been seen in the historical profession in the past 40 or so years:

So, in order to assess these types of interpretive changes for a Wikipedia page, here’s a list of questions to consider as you read through the “View History” tab of your selected topic.

  • Who created the page and when? Who are the major contributors?
    • What can you find out about these people and their educational or professional backgrounds
    • What other pages or types of edits have they made on Wikipedia? Do they seem to have an academic or topical specialty? Do they tend to make particular types of edits on all the Wikipedia pages to which they contribute?
    • What sources do these editors cite? What can you tell about the quality of their research and the sources on which they draw?
  • What are the major sources of disagreement about the page? Where do the Wikipedia contributors seem to go back-and-forth the most?
  • What images have users added to the page and how do these contribute to its usefulness and/or the argument that it conveys?
In terms of then structuring your paper after you’ve done a close and thorough reading of the “View History” tab, you might consider the following framework (though it is not set in stone):
  • Intro ¶
    • Brief overview of topic and its origin on Wikipedia
    • Structural thesis statement (e.g. clear argumentative claim and a roadmap/blueprint for your body paragraphs) establishing the most significantareas of interpretive controversy or debate AND/OR the most significantcontributions to the page.
  • Body ¶s
    • Elaborate on each of the points from your thesis and provide evidence from the page about the interpretive debates AND/OR contributions.
  • Conclusion ¶
    • Evaluation of the page’s value/trustworthiness as an introductory source on this topic.
    • A consideration of how the page’s transformation fits into some of the major trends about historical interpretations and arguments about transatlantic slavery that we’ve read about thus far in class.
NOTE: Please use footnotes in your paper. If you’d like to use full Chicago Style citations for all URLs you may, but you can also just footnote the URL by itself.
I hope this set of questions and potential structure prove useful in guiding your research and helping you organize the evidence you encounter. Please post any questions you have in the comments so that your peers, who may have the same concerns, can also see my response or provide feedback and guidance of their own.

And for good measure, I’ll include my favorite historiography-related cartoon below (because there are sooooooo many to choose from):

Academic Skills, Technology

Timeline Wizardry!

External Timeline

External Timeline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been searching for an easy, collaborative, and sharp-looking timeline generator for a number of years now and hadn’t had success in finding anything until a few weeks ago. Previously I checked out Dipity, XTimeline, and some clever solutions for using Google Spreadsheets to create a visual timeline; however, all the commercial sites had limitations in terms of number of users and I didn’t (at least when I experimented with it last spring) have the technical horsepower to make Brian Croxall‘s Google Spreadsheets approach work.

So, when I encountered Timeline.Verite.Co‘s timeline website and their Google Spreadsheet template I was really intrigued. Not only is the end result of their timelines stunningly attractive, but the process for inputting the data that then gets visualized is also very intuitive. The other major bonus, as I realized, is that this was my solution for a truly collaborative timeline generator, as I could have all my students simultaneously adding data, links, analysis, and images to the timeline and then get Timeline.Verite.Co‘s embed generator to spit out the final version with a minimum of technical haggling.

I experimented for the first time using the Google Spreadsheet template with my classes last week as they worked collaboratively to build a chronology of the European Age of Exploration and Colonization in the late 15th and 16th centuries. For the most part the data entry worked well and the end result was visually appealing as the students selected some nice images and maps to highlight the new nature of Atlantic and global interactions that emerged in the wake of these voyages.

Here’s what the raw material of the spreadsheet looks like:

Google Spreadsheet data for timeline

And here’s what Timeline.Verite.Co turns it into:

Screenshot of one date from student timeline of exploration and colonization.

However, in the midst of working on these timelines, I made some discoveries that might make using them in class easier.

  • I broke up sections from the reading and had small groups working on different sets of pages at the same time. However, I didn’t cordon off any specific areas of the spreadsheet for each of those groups to input data into. In a few instances this led to different groups trying to enter data into the same rows in the spreadsheet, which created confusion and slight consternation. I’d suggest designating specific sets of 10 rows for each different group.
  • Initially a few of my timelines didn’t generate in Timeline.Verite.Co and I couldn’t figure out the problem. It turned out that (after reading the very accessible FAQ), that if there are any blank rows between sets of data, the timeline generator won’t create a timeline for all the dates. As a result, I found myself having to go back once the students had finished adding the data and deleting any blank rows in order to get all the dates to appear on the timeline.
  • Related to that last point, it doesn’t matter what order you input the dates in the timeline, Timeline.Verite.Co will end up re-sequencing them automatically, which is really nice.
  • In the “tags” field, Timeline.Verite.Co allows you to select up to six different labels to categorize different events. In lieu of any specialized labels, I think it might make sense for students to use some of the popularly-used historical categories to label different events and construct further significance. Thankfully, the Gods of Historical Acronyms seem to believe that six is the perfect number for such categories, so using either SPRITE (social, political, religious, intellectual, technological, economic) or PERSIA (political, economic, religious, social, intellectual, artistic) would work well with Timeline.Verite.Co’s tagging features.
  • The “headline” column lends itself well to identifying the event, while the “text” column seems perfect for identifying significance. One of the nice things about being able to watch students build the timeline collaboratively and in real time is seeing how well students are doing with explaining the historical significance of each of these events. If some of the explanations are lacking, it’s easy to check with the student working on that event to push them to add more analysis.

I’m talking about the Thirty Years’ War with my classes this week, and as it’s an event that has a lot of different players, a number of distinct phases, and a complicated set of momentum shifts amongst the different combatants, I thought that a Timeline.Verite.Co-generated timeline would be a good tool to use in our discussion. To that end, I scoured the reading I assigned on the Thirty Years’ War from Richard Dunn’s The Age of Religious Wars, 1559-1715 and used it to create this timeline.

Here’s a look at the opening event in the chronology we’ll be discussing:

Screenshot of Thirty Years’ War Timeline

Finally, for those who are interested, here’s the link to the full version of my timeline for the Thirty Years’ War based on the Richard Dunn reading. I’ll hopefully be able to pass along a follow-up on how this activity worked, but in the meantime I hope that this advice is helpful for some others as I think Timeline.Verite.Co visualization tool is a really great one for history students and classes.