What is a DBQ?The Document Based Question is an assessment of a student’s skillset not their content knowledge. It is designed in such a way that it is meant to emulate what a professional historian would do when writing an evidence based historical essay. As a teacher who doesn’t really enjoy grinding out content and assessment or encouraging content regurgitation, I really dig the idea of teaching skills in my classroom. The DBQ speaks to one facet of my educational philosophy: teach students skills that will serve them well in the world. Does this mean that I expect all of my kids to go on to be historians? No. Critical thinking isn't subject specific, and in all honesty I think the world could benefit from a bit more historical thinking know-how.
Check out the rubric for a standard WHAP DBQ:
Let's piece together what we're seeing in the rubric shall we?
- First off, the model is broken into a core and expanded core system. In short the student must attain all 7 of the core points before they warrant expanded core consideration. What's the primary difference? Well you can see above, but in short it's the difference between meeting the standard and providing a sophisticated and excellent essay response that builds off of the standard. Why do I like this model, it provides a very concrete image of expectations, and how those expectations can be met and rewarded.
- Secondly, notice that this rubric embodies an assets-based model. In laymen's terms, assets-based equates to assessing the performance of students based upon what they do right, not what they do wrong. We read to reward a students success rather than to punish their faults. What a novel idea, right?
An assessment built on skills, what skills exactly?Another look at the rubric gives us some insight
- Core Elements 1 and 3 point to developing an evidence based argument.
- Core Element 2 addresses the skill of demonstrating understanding of evidence.
- Core Elements 4 and 5 delve into multiple forms of document analysis.
- Core Element 6 develops the skill of addressing additional evidence and arguments beyond the scope of your collected evidence.
To these points on the definition of using evidence I would only add a few observations:
- Right around this point is where my students tend to hit a wall of "Oh my goodness, this is a lot to absorb." For most of my kids up until this point they've always had the understanding of using evidence as "If I provide the evidence as a quote or paraphrase, then my work is done, it's self-explanatory." This sort of thinking is a bit one-dimensional. Bridging the divide between stating the evidence and using the evidence is key. In my earlier non-WHAP related teaching back in Philadelphia we tackled this by using a simple active reading model to highlight the importance of relating evidence back to your thesis.
- Element number 4, analyzing the point of view, is another tough skill for students. I still battle with my kids in a way that is similar to my first point. Often times they think simply stating a date for context "Oh, this document was written in 1776.", or some personal aspect such as "This document was written by a man." is enough; it's not. For some earlier thoughts on how you can approach teaching skills of POV analysis see my earlier post on the Football DBQ example. If I can impress one idea about POV analysis upon my students it's this, "Answer me this class, how does the doc's POV influence our reading of its evidence?"
- Of the various ways to use documents and evidence, the most approachable one for students to grasp is grouping. Why? I think we are all naturally pre-disposed to recognizing patterns. How do I do it, I make use of some professional advice I received a while ago:
"Kick off your shoe and present it to the students as a document."
And that's where I will start off in my next post on teaching How to DBQ.
:-) Happy teaching...
Full Disclosure: I'm a 2nd year WHAP teacher and my initial thoughts on DBQ writing were derived from some wonderful resources I've encountered through my interactions with some great educators in the WHAP teacher community. The work of Mr. Bill Strickland has been a big help to me and my students in our DBQ efforts. The tables and activities shared in this post are derived from his tireless efforts and shared works. The reflections and notes on "How to DBQ" in practice are based on my classroom and represent just one interpretation of pedagogy. It should also be noted that the active reading model was one developed in collaboration with my former teaching colleague, Mr. David Sokoloff, at Northeast High School (Hail Northeast!).