Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690

Classroom Use

Some school districts may use the toolboxes and the seminars they generate to revise unit plans or develop entirely new ones. While this is a perfectly valid application of the toolboxes, they were intended to enrich existing unit plans by increasing the amount of primary document analysis in them. They were also designed to promote seminar-style, inquiry-based teaching. We have loosely based our approach to both goals on the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in Understanding by Design.

Wiggins and McTighe focus on the creation of units through the process of "backward design." Teachers first establish an "enduring understanding" for a unit, and with that goal in mind, develop strategies that will bring students to it. We have adapted their model to the integration of primary documents into a unit plan. We recommend that participants in a toolbox seminar take up the task of integration each day through small group discussion in the seminar's afternoon sessions. At the conclusion of a morning's discussion, the seminar leaders might ask each participant to identify a text he/she plans to take back to the classroom. The leaders can then divide the seminar into small groups around common texts.

To guide discussion in the small groups, we have developed a "Primary Document Classroom Application" rubric. Very few small groups will complete a rubric in a single afternoon, but the discussion will get teachers started on the process of integrating seminar texts into their classes, a process they can complete after the seminar when they revise their unit plans.

Primary Document Classroom Application Form
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Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Copyright © National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: February 2008