Inspired by my colleagues Kerry Wynn and Kim Morse, I have been trying to craft essay questions that require very specific student responses. In theory at least, this then encourages students to write more specific, argumentative thesis statements and rely on evidence in more pointed ways. So whereas I might have once simply asked students to explain the differences between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois’s approaches to helping African Americans, for my second history lab assignment I asked them which of the two men had the most effective approach and why.
Before coming to class, students were asked to do research on their own about the backgrounds of each man. They also read excerpts from Washington's Atlanta Compromise Speech (1895) and DuBois's critique of Washington (1903). To guide their reading and hold them accountable for doing it, I asked them to complete the chart below.
In class, I divided students into groups of 4 people. I then distributed a variety of primary sources intended to help contextualize race relations at the turn of the twentieth century. These documents included
Images of lynchings
I asked every group to decide whose approach was more effective, Washington’s or Dubois’s, and to state why. They then had to write a thesis statement and make an outline for a hypothetical paper answering this question.
This assignment took two 50-minute class periods to complete. This included 20 minutes of discussion with the entire class. Overall, I felt it was a successful assignment. As before, I personally really enjoyed going around to each group and discussing their ideas. I was impressed with the insights and connections students made, especially regarding Washington and DuBois's personal backgrounds and their political positions. I was also surprised at the diversity of opinions about Washington and DuBois and the varying interpretations of the documents.