Best Practice: Corroboration

Common Core standards require Social Studies teachers to demonstrate how students corroborate historical details with multiple sources of information to develop a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. I use this presentation when teaching this skill in my high school Social Studies classes. This is a rigorous task that requires close reading and organization skills. My students frequently realize that they need to improve at including page numbers into their notes, otherwise this assignment requires a second or third read in order to find that information. In the examples below, I have italicized student writing and kept my comments in plain text. 

The definition I use for corroboration is the ability to compare information provided by two separate sources and find similarities between them.

corroboration

In the film, The Exception, Captain Brandt is tasked with protecting Kaiser Wilhelm II because of the fear that spies might be watching them. These are reported to the Gestapo.  In Paullina Simons’ novel, The Bronze Horseman, there is also a fear of spies in the Soviet Union, which is why citizens are told to report to the NKVD (1149).

The student below does not use parenthetical citations but instead spells out the page numbers at the beginning of each sentence. This is not consistent in academic writing as it pulls the reader out of the text

Page 19 of With the Old Breed mentions what was considered the first modern head-on amphibious assault of the Battle of Tarawa. Page 603 of The American Vision makes mention of island-hopping in the Pacific and how Tarawa was the Navy’s first target in the Pacific.

This student does not include page numbers, which is a red flag that perhaps they did not read the novel, but instead are relying on internet searches to find connections with other historical events. When I can’t find the French film available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, I really wonder if the student viewed it.

The French film, La Ralfe, was about the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of July 1942, in which roughly 13,000 Jews living in Paris (4,501 of them children) were removed from their homes by French police and sent to detention camps in the countryside, before being deported to Auschwitz. In the novel, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah and her family were part of the Vel’ d’Hiv just like the people in the movie La Ralfe.

In the book Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, the book states how Hitler signed the Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union. “During the preparations for war against Poland, and the signing of the Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union which Hitler pursued to that end, Hitler…” (“Heinrich Hoffmann’s Studio.” Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, by Heike B. Görtemaker, Verlag C. H. Beck OHG, 2010, p 20.)In the textbook, it says “In August 1939, Hitler stunned the world by announcing a nonaggression pact with his great enemy-Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator.” (“World History The Modern World.” World History The Modern World, by Ellis Esler, Pearson Education, 2007, p. 465.)

This student has gone overboard and used a full works cited reference instead of an in-text parenthetical citation featuring author last name, page number. See below for a student who has done this succinctly.

Ellis states that, “Within a few days, they were herded into ‘shower rooms’ and gassed”(472) which is supported when Keneally says that, “At last the victims were driven down a barbed-wire passage to bunkers which had copper Stars of David on their roofs and were labeled ‘BATHS AND INHALATION ROOMS’ ’’(136).

Explicitly teaching corroboration and citing page numbers in sources helps students reduce the amount of plagiarism in their work. It also teaches them the importance of reading carefully and organizing their notes. This type of work can be down with short readings and the textbook, or with longer book level or article readings that students will encounter in college.

Please note that assignments like this help prevent, but do not totally remove the risk of student cheating. I have found that spot-checking a sample of 5-6 assignments per period often reveals a student’s googling and copying someone else’s work.

For instance, this corroboration “The Japanese invaders treated the Chinese, Filipinos, Malaysians, and other conquered people with great brutality, killing and torturing civilians throughout East and Southeast Asia.” (Ellis,  2005, 473). Iris proved this by writing about the killing contest, live burials, mutilation, death by fire,death by ice, death by dogs and rapes (83-89). There is way more terrible things to explain what happened to these Chinese people, but that was enough to explain how badly they were tortured.” was done by two different students in different class periods, coincidentally reading the same book and using the same source from the internet. What are the odds?

In order to prevent copying like this, simply give students shorter readings and make the corroborations due in one class period. This way all of the readings can be done in class and students don’t have time to share their work on classroom backchannels.

CCSS Standards

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

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