On November 10, 2001, social studies educator Dr. Mary McFarland presented a professional development workshop, "Beyond September 11," to teachers in Boston, Massachusetts. Using media resources from public television's Frontline series, Dr. McFarland outlined 11 strategies teachers can use to help students build content knowledge and critical-thinking skills. Included here are some strategies and video segments from the workshop.
Videos can convey information quickly. Dr. McFarland recommends selecting short clips (five to 10 minutes) from longer programs to address a specific lesson goal. One strategy to use with video is guided viewing. Teachers instruct students to look for specific information as they watch a video, either through a directed question or with a graphic organizer. After viewing, the students discuss the video and what they learned from it.
To help students think critically about the news and information they are exposed to every day, Dr. McFarland uses another video viewing strategy: distinguishing fact from opinion. Using a segment from the public television program Frontline: Hunting Osama Bin Laden, workshop participants were asked to list the facts and opinions they heard in the video clip. After viewing, they compared lists and discussed as a group.
By looking critically at media sources, students can learn to identify how the content and format influence perception.
By analyzing points of view, students become aware of different perspectives and learn to identify supporting evidence. As they watch video clips, students note the points of view held by a narrator, an interview subject, and the interviewer. Through this exercise, students learn that age, nationality, gender, personal experience, and socioeconomic status may influence viewpoints, including their own. Students also learn to express their points of view and to provide evidence and examples to support their positions.
As they watched Frontline's Hunting Osama Bin Laden, the teachers in Dr. McFarland's workshop identified several perspectives on the events of September 11 (e.g., rescue workers, survivors, New York city residents, people from other countries, etc.). Working in groups, participants developed two different perspectives and supporting reasons for each.
Graphic organizers help students focus on and categorize important information as they learn. Other strategies, such as distinguishing fact from opinion, webbing, and analyzing viewpoints, incorporate graphic organizers to arrange information in relevant categories.
One strategy to help students practice metacognition -- reflecting on their thinking -- requires them to express their feelings. Using a clip from Frontline's Looking for Answers episode, workshop participants were invited to take a few minutes to reflect and then respond to what they saw, heard, or felt. They could respond in any format -- a poem, editorial, or drawing, for example. This strategy provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their thoughts and emotions and express them in a form of their choice.
A web is a graphic organizer that encourages students to create a visual of their thinking or to represent major ideas from a video clip. Webbing begins with what they already know, encourages them to identify and relate major ideas to one another, and sets the stage for further exploration.
The subject of the web in Dr. McFarland's workshop was September 11. Teachers worked individually first, then in small groups, to identify categories (e.g., people, places) that captured some of what they knew about the event. The combined class web included categories such as religion, politics, community service, perspective, and terrorism -- emanating as spokes from the main topic, like a web.
Webbing Length: 2:42
Judi Freeman, Patience Berkman, and Dr. McFarland
New subjects are often accompanied by new concepts. The goal of the unit glossary is to help students better understand a topic through its vocabulary. Throughout a unit, ask students to identify and define words associated with the topic. Glossary words are defined in context, through discussion, or by using reference material.
Providing students with an overarching question or multiple questions during an introductory lesson can provide continuity throughout a unit. This strategy can also help students organize information across various sources -- video, print, Internet, etc.
As students watch video clips or conduct research, ask them to list and then categorize their answers to guiding questions. Some categories might include politics, perspective, people, place, and religion. Students can then determine if any of these can be combined into broader categories, and how they compare to webbing categories.
Timelines underscore the connection between different events in history and illustrate the idea that things rarely occur in isolation. Timelines can also be an introductory organizer for a unit, providing context for the people, events, and discoveries that students will study throughout the unit.
Locating regions and countries on a map builds students' geography and mapping skills. This skill helps students understand the connection among geography, politics, and natural resources. Asking students to locate regions helps teachers assess background knowledge and student understanding. Using Internet maps is a good way to keep up with the most recent changes in a region.