Off To Jamestown

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. 

I will post pics from the trip later today.

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“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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12 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2007 @ 7:19

    Students purchase the books at the beginning of the year. In addition, both primary and secondary sources are used throughout the year and made available to the students.

    Do I think this approach will become widespread? Tough to say, but I doubt it. Most of the people that I mention this change to just give me a blank stare, which I suspect is a function of not having given this approach any thought. Part of the problem is that the textbook approach is so engrained in our thinking. In other words, this is how we were taught so it must be the correct way. I don’t think that this approach necessarily requires more preparation, but it does demand a different mindset. The focus on secondary sources raises interpretive questions that are difficult to locate in a traditional textbook. We spend just as much time analyzing the author’s argument as we do the content. The analysis skills will surely help to prepare students to be engaged college students.

    I plan to comment on this at some point in more detail.

  • Cash Oct 13, 2007 @ 12:55


    Hope you don’t mind some rather elementary questions, but is each student responsible for purchasing the books being read, or do you provide them? Or are these excerpts from the books?

    And in a country where the majority of the history teachers go by the first name of “Coach,” since this looks like it requires more preparation on the teacher’s part, do you think it will become widespread?


  • Michael Aubrecht Oct 12, 2007 @ 11:39

    It’s almost as if your school operates like a university. But I guess you get what you ‘pay for.’

    Thanks for expanding on that Kevin. Public schools could take a lesson in allowing outside sources in the classrooms.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 12, 2007 @ 9:53

    Michael, — I am responsible for my own course curriculums. The administration here gives teachers a great deal of freedom and I suspect it is because we are hired based on our expertise. I am evaluated every other year and the Virginia Association of Independent Schools does a 10 year evaluation, but that’s about it. I don’t need an external system to know whether my students have mastered the material. That’s my job throughout the year and as you can surmise I take it very seriously.

  • Michael Aubrecht Oct 12, 2007 @ 9:10

    Wow, I’m glad to see you are not ‘handcuffed’ by an SOL, but how are your courses outlined and measured at the end of the year? In other words, what requirements are there for your teachers and how is that verified? There has to be some kind of system to evaluate what materials the kids have been taught and if they meet some level of competency. Even my home schooling friends have to meet VA specs.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 12, 2007 @ 6:40

    Hi Matt, — You probably did recommend the book, but I did read it shortly after it was published. My students thoroughly enjoyed it. Primary sources are at the center of my curriculum. We looked at a wide range of sources as they relate to both the English and Native Americans at Jamestown. Their test on the book included passages to interpret as well as the famous image of the March 1622 “massacre”.

  • Matt Oct 12, 2007 @ 1:06

    I believe I recommended Price’s book to you some months ago (although you certainly may have known about it previously). In any case, I’m glad to hear it’s going so well, and I’d be very interested in reading your future articles.

    Just out of curiosity, are you planning to use any primary sources (published diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, etc.)?

  • Kevin Levin Oct 11, 2007 @ 18:31

    I have actually never seen a Virginia SOL nor do I plan on ever looking at one. The very idea makes me uncomfortable.

  • Michael Aubrecht Oct 11, 2007 @ 18:28

    Kevin, I’m glad to see that your school has the flexibility to allow for the use books outside of the standard textbook, but I do have to ask how you maintain the Virginia SOL (Standards of Learning, i.e. High School ‘Finals’) requirements. I believe that our public school SOL tests here in Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania is directly taken from the textbook materials and associated curriculum. This may be different in Private Schools? Do you have to use special handouts in order to include their mandatory SOL topics? I’m not a fan of VA’s SOLs as I believe that the schools spend way too much time teaching specifically for them – instead of giving the students a well balanced curriculum. This is to up their budget dollars for the following year as they are based on their SOL results. No wonder we are falling behind the rest of the world.

  • dogbot53 Oct 11, 2007 @ 14:57

    You realize, of course, that the textbook publishers will be sabotaging the brakes on your car now. Careful on the drive home….

    I’ve had Masur’s book sitting around for years now but haven’t actually read it. I’ll be interested to hear how it works with students.

  • Tim Lacy Oct 11, 2007 @ 11:04


    Thanks for the post. Your no textbook approach is making me rethink what I will do when I teach a college-level, freshman survey again. Then again, I guess that will depend on how much scholarship is expected of me when and where that happens again. And thanks for the two book references: I’d never heard of Masur’s book until now (due to my scholarly period preferences).

    – TL

  • Larry Cebula Oct 11, 2007 @ 9:16

    “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.”

    Please do that! It would be invaluable.

    I have spent a lot of time with teachers these last few years as part of various TAH grants. They are full of enthusiasm and a love of history but shackled to textbooks and high-stakes tests.

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