Today the entire junior class is going to Jamestown for the day. We recently finished reading the book Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price and last week my classes took a comprehensive test. I am still grading, but overall I am extremely pleased with their performance. I can say with confidence that my students know a great deal about Jamestown from both the perspective of the English and Indians. They thoroughly enjoyed Price’s book, which is reflected in the thoughtfulness and level of detail on the tests. My kids are actually excited about going to Jamestown, even the ones who have been there before. No doubt part of it, of course, can be explained by a day off from classes, but a number of them have said to me that they are interested in walking the ground on which so much of the story is centered. I’ve heard that a few of the students plan to wear costumes of their favorite characters. How cool is that?
I couldn’t be more pleased with my no-textbook approach this year. The students are much more engaged and enthusiastic. We are now transitioning into the Revolution and Constitution for a few weeks and plan to read 2 or 3 chapters in Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers. Once we finish with that we move to Louis Masur’s 1831. I don’t have any answers for the worry mongers out there who constantly bitch and complain about how little students know about American history. All I can say is that if you make history interesting and relevant they will respond. Not only will they respond, but you may even make a few life-long history readers out of them. I am starting to realize that this is not rocket science.
At the end of the school year I plan to write up this experience for a few teaching journals. I am also planning on a few presentations at various teacher conventions to introduce this approach to others.