Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Taking Risk to improve Student Understanding of Reconstruction

By Nina Kendall

Sometimes the most interesting and relatable performance task are the hardest to explain. Most Americans spend time in high school studying Reconstruction, but few understand it well or can express why it failed to realize its full reform potential.  In a moment of creative risk-taking I found a great comparison to help students relate to Reconstruction. I described Reconstruction as a “makeover” for the nation. In the 1870s if America was a car, then Reconstruction was the Radical Republican effort to “pimp” our ride (nation). Once my students stopped giggling over their teacher saying, “pimp my ride” they dug into the material.

Their ultimate task was to make a presentation with a visual that demonstrated how Reconstruction was like a national makeover and  describe how successful the makeover or “pimping”  was at achieving its expressed goals. This was a risk that paid off in my class. Students took initiative in organizing their projects and selecting their tools. It was during this process that my students introduced me to comic creators online like Toondo or Comix.

These webtools are great tools for students to use when completing a performance assessment. Both of these tools allow student to create comics that students can be used to show their understanding of the topic being studied. My students used tools like this to create the “before” and “after” pictures of a nation that had experienced Reconstruction. 

As you plan for the semester to come follow your creative instincts.  Simple plans and unique comparisons can lead to better student engagement and understanding. I did with Reconstruction and it worked. Their images were great and the commentary the students provided about the impact of Reconstruction left me feeling like we had better met the challenge of learning this topic than ever before. 

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