Why teach Document Based Questions?
I have had the privilege of attending some fantastic professional development sessions. The DBQ project was by far the most relevant, practical, and advantageous series I have attended in seven years. Relevant? The topics are 100% aligned with my curriculum. Practical? The creators are teachers; they get it and have created templates that are teacher and user friendly and ready for implementation with zero turnaround time. Advantageous? My students are prepared to take on DBQs at the AP level when they reach high school, my credibility has increased when I share the series with colleagues, and administration/supervisors are pleased with the skill, rigor, and content alignment.
How they work: Students are introduced to the topic through a “hook activity” which is a quick and effective. Next, students read a background essay and answer questions that guarantee every student understands what the question is asking, and, shocker, build background knowledge. Students then dissect the question and identify the key ideas. Next, students take two paths. Path 1: analyze documents without prompting, or Path 2: analyze documents with set questions. I begin the year with the enhanced version, meaning students move through a series of questions to analyze each document. Next, students “bucket” or organize their ideas to structure their essay. This is when students take evidence from each document and sort them into categories or “paragraphs” to structure their essay. We even go so far as writing the ideas on sticky notes or index cards and sticking the notes onto pictures of buckets on the whiteboard or placing the cards in an actual bucket. Each DBQ comes with an essay skeleton. I use various scaffolding depending on the class and students to reach the point where every student, then constructs an essay responding to the question.
Why they work: The directions are clear for both the teacher and the student. They are user-friendly. This is the only curriculum I implement as is, no changes necessary.
When to use them: I begin with a class example, modeling along the way. As the year progresses, I use them as in class essays (which the students prepare for as a class, in pairs, or independently – depends on their readiness), as summative assessments for units in which the students have a week to complete them. The modeling varies based on the topic and use. I am up to five per year (one in the beginning of the year as a model, and one per quarter).
How students respond: This is by far one of the most effective and valuable experiences for my students. The topics are challenging, yet accessible; engaging, yet content and skill-driven. What more can you ask for?
How they are packaged: The DBQ project consists of Mini DBQ binders (appropriate for middle school) and the DBQ binders (appropriate for high school). The topics range from civics to US history to world history. They are between $225-325 for a teacher resource kit. Any department chair, supervisor, or administrator would be sold if you show them the video and the sample materials.