Nancie Lindblom, a social studies teacher at Skyline High School in Mesa, Arizona, and winner of the Arizona Teacher of the Year award in 2013, is developing an innovative course for sophomores at her high school. This course would encourage students to explore an enduring theme of American civic life while learning how to read and interpret primary source documents.
Her idea is based on a summer seminar she took through the Ashbrook Center. The seminar explored three pivotal eras in American history by studying the documents that defined them – the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the “I Have a Dream” speech. The question addressed in the seminar—“Have we as a people lived up to the Declaration’s affirmation that ‘all men are created equal’?”—struck Lindblom as a theme that would excite high school students’ interest.
She had long sensed the need for a theme-based introduction to American history study at her high school. The Advanced Placement United States History course she teaches “races through American historical periods,” she explained, culminating in a nationally designed test requiring students “to express what they’ve learned in essay form.” Teaching to the test leaves little time during the course “to set a foundation for historical thinking and writing.” Similarly, her American government students participate in the national We the People program, a competition among district schools that tests students’ knowledge of the Constitution. Students who have not previously studied the Founding face a steep learning curve.
Lindblom continued to develop her idea for this course during her time as a student in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts program in American History and Government. This degree program – designed to prepare teachers for success in the classroom – is built around the study of original documents. Says Lindblom, studying in Ashbrook’s MA program “has revolutionized the way I teach.” Faculty in the MA program assign important primary source documents, and rather than lecturing, conduct classes as conversations about the arguments and implications of these sources. This has encouraged Lindblom to do the same in her own classroom. “As teachers, we’re often so intent on guiding the learning process that we fail to step back and allow students to exercise their reading skills. Now I have the confidence to say, ‘You’ve read the document: you tell me what you know about it.’ If given time to practice, students are more capable of interpreting texts than you might think.”
As the capstone project for the MA degree, Lindblom developed a syllabus and lesson plans for the new course. Lindblom credited the MA program for furthering what she can achieve in the classroom. “I have expanded my content knowledge, enhancing my ability to teach complex historical thinking skills through the analysis of primary documents and scholarly articles. I have been able to directly apply each course I have taken to my own curriculum, thereby impacting overall student learning and growth.” Her culminating creative project will invite students at her school to a longer and deeper exploration of America, fostering the skills their generation needs for productive citizenship.