Last month, I began teaching feudalism and the Middle Ages of Europe. I purposely started this new unit of study the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Going into the week of MLK Day, I gave a brief explanation of the feudal social classes. Students worked in an extended "Think/Pair/Share exercise where they were responsible for creating social classes in the school, their community and the country. Most students created groups based on popularity; as it was explained to me, "...popularity gives you power like money would have given you power in the Middle Ages". The week of MLK day I used the Civil Rights Movement and the 1950s/1960s to talk about social classes and who had the power in America during these times. As teachers often do, I assumed students had a good grasp on what life was like for African Americans during the 50s and 60s. I was wrong. We talked about the major events of the Civil Rights Movement and the beliefs of some of the key players. I also showed a movie from the Teaching Tolerance program. Like most lessons, the current day connections became more interesting and important than the historical connections.
Students had lots of questions about social inequality, enough so that I decided to spend more time talking about American history and doing history backwards (present to past). I used a great website created by the Library of Congress called Voices From The Days of Slavery
. The site contains audio interviews of former slaves. I played several narratives for the students and had them fill out sound analysis worksheets
available from the National Archives (I changed it to fit my needs). Students were captivated by these narratives. It was the first time they had "heard" history from the people that lived it.
The impact of listening to these narratives, compared to reading each narrative, was tremendous. Students became engaged in why any society feels the need to create social inequality. Several of my classes had great debates centered around the argument of whether social inequality is created by people, or naturally occurs because of human nature.
The point of all this...Students gained more depth of understanding of a topic in my class becuase of the use of technology. The video and the audio narratives engaged students in conversations, compelled them to investigate further information independently, and allowed them to use critical thinking (higher-level) skills to understand the past using the present. My students took time to think about the world and the enduring impact social classes and inequality has on the world around us.
Students are still making reference to the narratives and have even brought in articles from local newspapers with questions about the impact of social inequality on current events. I may have moved on in class, but students are continuing to discuss a topic that is over a month old.