The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards in Writing demand that students are able to write arguments on discipline-specific content, developing claims and counterclaims, while establishing a formal tone and objective style citation. Using controversial, or debatable content, teaching students to write in the third person, and using their historical content knowledge to “qualify them as an expert” may provide motivation when teaching this type of writing. Explicit instruction on these skills and displaying data that informs students as to where they rank among their peers are essential components in setting goals and teaching students new to academic writing.
Rogers & Graham (2008) found goal setting for productivity effective in a meta-analysis of single subject writing interventions. For History teachers, who are not used to being writing teachers, goal-setting may help motivate students who aren’t used to writing in class. Depending on the skill level of the students in your class, goal-setting can center on word production, number of claims, rebuttals, argumentative strategies, document usage, or citations.
De La Paz (2005) compared 8th-grade students (N=70) in an integrated social studies and language arts unit designed to promote historical understanding and argumentative writing to a control group of students (N=62) who did not receive writing intervention or instruction. Results indicated the students who demonstrated mastery of the target strategies during instruction wrote historically more accurate and more persuasive essays regardless of their initial learning profile.
Similarly, De La Paz & Felton (2010) compared 11th grade students who learned a pre-writing strategy (N=81) for composing argumentative essays related to historical events to a control group (N=79) that read the same primary and secondary source document sets. They found that the essays written by students who received pre-writing instruction were longer, were rated as having significantly greater historical accuracy, were significantly more persuasive, and claims and rebuttals within each argument became more elaborated. The word count for the pre-writing instruction group increased from 195.32 to 327.86 , an average increase of 132.54 words. Yet for the control group, word production only increased by 14.45 words.
This research suggests that writing instruction focused on goal setting strategies, argumentative claims and rebuttals, and historical accuracy may be effective when introducing common core writing tasks to students. Hence, instructional leaders should encourage teachers to design, develop, and analyze DBQs as formative assessments in common planning time, or department professional development.
Complex writing assignments, or DBQs, are essential for improving adolescent literacy (Fisher & Frey, 2007). DBQ units align with plans for increasing writing proficiency, critical thinking, and creating a college-going culture. DBQ’s can be designed to give students a preview of Advanced Placement curriculum. Increased use of DBQs should lead to greater English proficiency and help students avoid costly and demoralizing remedial coursework that has an adverse effect on college completion rates. DBQs can be jointly developed and graded by History and English teachers to ensure that students will meet the new Common Core standards for Writing. Students may be more motivated when they get credit in both classes for the same assignment. This credit should be given in multiple stages for planning, writing, and revising DBQs.
Blanton, L.L. (1986). Reshaping ESL students’ perceptions of writing. ELT Journal. 41(2), 112-118. DOI: 10.1093/elt/41.2.112
De La Paz, S. (2005). Effects of historical reasoning instruction and writing strategy mastery in culturally and academically diverse middle school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 139-156.
De La Paz, S., & Felton, M. (2010). Reading and writing from multiple source documents in history: Effects of strategy instruction with low to average high school writers. Journal of Contemporary Educational Psychology, 35, 174-192.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessment techniques for your classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Rogers, L., & Graham, S. (2008). A meta-analysis of single subject design writing intervention research. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(4), 879-906.