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Monday, November 28, 2016

Teaching Indian Literature and/or Literature about Indians

Should we teach fictional books about Indians by non-Indian authors? 

I believe that non-Indians can successfully write and teach about Indian history and culture. For example, there are many non-Indian historians I admire who specialize in Indian history (Frederick Hoxie comes to mind.) I know less about literature, but I'm sure there are non-Indian fiction writers who do a good job portraying tribal life. But I do think (in every case, but especially when we're talking about fictional representations) that it is important to find out what the people being represented have to say about those representations.

I would never tell you what you should or shouldn't use in your classrooms, but I do encourage you to do your research. For example, if you are considering teaching Naya Nuki, or Knots on a Counting Rope (two popular titles), you may want to read the following critiques before you make your decision:
You might not agree with these critics. Even other Indian literary critics may not agree with them. (As we know from EU2, "There is no generic American Indian," and that means there will be diverse opinions about all sorts of things, including literature.)

Or you may agree with them and decide for valid reasons to teach the books anyway (but in that case, I hope you integrate critical understandings into your teaching).

Or you may decide that they offer good reasons to choose a different book. Regardless, your decision will be a considered one.

If you are looking for alternatives (as well as information on books that the website American Indians in Children's Literature thinks you should avoid), you may want to read the post "I Is Not for Indian." 


To find vetted titles, I'd also recommend looking at OPI's IEFA Language Arts and Literature Model Teaching Units. Many of the units are posted separately by grade level. Also available are two volumes of elementary model lessons. Elementary Level Volume One includes units for The Little Duck Sikihpsis, Good Luck Cat, Jingle Dancer, The Moccasins, and Red Parka Mary. Elementary Level Volume Two includes units for Where Did You Get Your Moccasins, The Gift of the Bitterroot, Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story, and The War Shirt. Other model lessons posted on the site include at the elementary and middle school level, ones for

and at the high school level
Do you have a favorite title from this list? I confess to having read very few of them. I've got a lot of catch-up reading to do!

P.S. For more advice on what to look for when choosing materials about Indians, OPI Indian Education specialist Mike Jetty recommends this OPI resource for evaluating curriculum materials: Evaluating American Indian Materials and Resources for the Classroom.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Writing Prompts

Over the last few weeks, I've been responding to comments and suggestions teachers sent my way during our annual year-end survey. See earlier posts on this here and here.

One request seemed to merit its own post. The teacher wrote: "I could always use more writing prompts or ways of getting my students to do more reflecting/research on what we are learning/discussing in class."

If you are teaching Montana history and are looking for writing prompts, check out the "Critical Thinking" and "Past to Present" questions at the end of each chapter. Here are a few samples from Chapter 3, "From Dog Days to Horse Warriors":

  • What are the main reasons for dividing the history of the Americas into Pre-contact and Post-contact Periods? 
  • What are some of the pros and cons of the introduction of guns and horses to the Plains? 
  • The horse and gun radically changed life for the people of Montana. What changes, if any, have occurred in our society with equal impact? How has our society adapted to these changes? 

And here are a few from Chapter 22, "Living in a New Montana":

  • The present circumstances in Libby and at the Berkeley Pit represent the worst side of mining. Yet the industries there employed many people for a long time and added greatly to Montana’s economy. Is the present cost worth the past benefits? Why or why not?
  • Create a list of the five things you think have had the greatest impact on life in Montana throughout human history. Explain your choices.

For every chapter in the textbook, I hope at least one question in the end-of-chapter material resonates with you and your students and makes a good writing prompt. If not--we did something wrong.

A more general strategy to generate good discussion and reflection comes from retired Simms teacher Dottie Susag. She calls it DICE (an acronym that makes it easy to remember) and we used it in our Montana Mosaic discussion guides, among other places. I think these questions are great for engaging students’ critical thinking skills and eliciting their emotional responses:

  • What Disturbed you? 
  • What Interested you? 
  • What Confused you? 
  • What Enlightened you? 
Do you have other go-to prompts? Feel free to share

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Guest Post from Indian Education Specialist Mike Jetty


Anpetu Wasteyedo (it’s a good day).

Happy Native American Heritage Month!  I extend to you greetings from the OPI Indian Education Division.  I am writing to share some ideas and resources for teaching about American Indians and am also promoting some of our latest Indian Education for All materials.

If you are curious about when and why November was designated as Native American Heritage Month check out the following links.  National American Indian Heritage Month had its origins in 1986 when Congress passed Pub. L. 99-471 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.”  But a resource from the Library of Congress shows that efforts started back as early as 1915.

Are you looking for some curriculum resources but don’t know where to start?  I would start by going to our Indian Education website and checking out the various resources for different grade levels and content areas.  

Here’s a teachable moment: all across the U.S. we teach about Thanksgiving so why not use materials that give a more inclusive look at this event.  We have a lesson based upon the book, 1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving, the lesson includes links to these excellent resources.

This on‐line article from James Loewen highlights some of the common misconceptions associated with Thanksgiving. It is highly recommended this be read before you teach the lesson.

National Museum of the American Indian also has resources for teaching about Thanksgiving. Their website has teaching materials that offer rich Native perspectives on the history and contemporary life of many different Native tribes. 

Visit this link for ideas and activities for teaching about Thanksgiving. The article has background information and links to other resources that look at Thanksgiving from American Indian perspectives. 

Finally, here are a few newer IEFA lessons that you should check out.



Monday, November 14, 2016

Feedback, Feedback, We Love Feedback--Part 2


A few posts ago, I responded to questions we received as part of our annual year-end survey.  Below are more of your comments--and my responses, divided into categories (in bold).

Hands-on History Footlockers: Readers reported problems with scheduling and costs--and a desire to know more about the footlockers.
  • While we don't charge a rental fee, we do ask schools to pay to ship footlockers to the next venue. This averages about $40. Some districts save money by scheduling back-to-back reservations--so several teachers in the district can use the same trunk while the district or school pays only one shipping fee. For smaller districts, this takes more coordination, but if you know of a teacher in an adjacent district who is also interested in using the footlockers, consider combining your reservations, so you can drive the footlocker from one place to another and then split the actual shipping costs. You might also be able to work with your curriculum consortium to help facilitate this type of coordination.
  • All of the footlocker user guides are online. That means you can download and preview the lessons. Many of the lessons can be taught without ordering the footlockers, including one of my favorite lesson plans "Muffin Mining Reclamation" (see Lesson 4 in the "Gold, Silver, and Coal, Oh My" Footlocker.) As we revamp the footlockers, we are also posting PowerPoints will all the images we use in the lessons online, providing another good source for historical images. In addition we are noting in the Table of Contents which lesson plans can be done without ordering the footlockers. For examples of this, see "Coming to Montana: Immigrants from around the World" and our newest offering: "The Original Governor's Mansion: Home to the Stewart Family in Turbulent Times."
Remember the libraries! Several librarians wrote in to ask that we encourage classroom teachers (and their students) to use their school libraries--and the expertise of their school librarians: 
"We are 'blending' with technology, but still need lessons that remind us to  include the traditional texts - magazine references - non electric tools."
"If some can be something directed to the library it would be great. I have found that students (when I was in regular ed) do not even know the history of the area around them let alone the state, but I would love to do more in the library with it."
All I can say in response to these comments is YES. I believe that all students (4-12, anyway) should conduct research projects and that librarians are great resources! One program that almost demands that students work with their school or community library is National History Day. (BTW: If you are a 6-12 teacher and are looking for a good way to meet Common Core standards and engage students in independent research, I strongly recommend you look at the National History Day program, discussed in more detail here.)

Finally, I received this note about the first Feedback post from Denise Rutledge from the Montana School for the Deaf and the Blind: "I'm glad you mentioned Learning Ally in your email. I work with students who are blind and visually impaired, and Learning Ally is a wonderful tool for those with vision needs to listen to their material. It is also great for those who are below grade level in reading, may have dyslexia, or overall just fatigue while reading. Another great resource for any other students across the state with students with visual impairments, is BookShare. It is a free service for those with documented visual impairments, in which they can access digital downloads of many books. BookShare includes far more textbooks than Learning Ally (and also has our Montanan... book). Books can be accessed on computers, or they can be downloaded to apps like Read2Go.  The Read2Go app allows my students to increase their font size, alter their contrasts, listen to it in auditory, or pair their iPads with a refreshable braille display to read the text of Montana: Stories of the Land in a braille format. Thanks again for mentioning our special learners and how to adapt curriculum to meet their needs!"

I love having your questions and concerns guide this list, so if there are any other topics I haven't addressed, or concerns you have, please drop me a line.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Dakota Access Pipeline: A Teachable Moment?

It's Native American Heritage Month and protests continue on the Standing Rock Reservation over the Dakota Access Pipeline, so I thought I'd share some teaching resources on the topic.

In September, National Geographic Education published a blog entry, "Dakota Access Pipeline: What You Need to Know."

The Choices Program, non-profit organization based at Brown University, has a lesson plan focused on youth activism and the DAPL. (Although it does link to a CNN article, most of the sources in this lesson focus on the perspectives of native youth who oppose the pipeline project.)

The Seattle Times has gathered links of sources and background, including the tribe's website on pipeline, the developer's website on the pipeline, curriculum on the North Dakota’s curriculum for high school students on the Standing Rock Tribe and its history.

Do you use current events like the DAPL protests to engage students in serious study? Let me know how.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Teaching Montana History Online PLC

A few posts ago, I shared information about a new primary source analysis tool I discovered: Evidence Analysis Window Frames. This was old news to those of you who are participating in the Teaching Montana History Online  PLC, since I discussed these and other free tools teachers can use to improve their students' research, analysis, and close reading skills during our October meeting.
We're producing the Online PLC in cooperation with our friends over at OPI, so to view the course curriculum, or participate, you'll need to register at the Teacher Learning Hub--but that is quick, painless and free. 
We meet on the second Monday of the month from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. but you can watch the recorded videos and participate in the discussion forums at any time. For each time you participate by attending the live session or watching the video, and completing the required activities, OPI will provide you with one renewal unit.   
At September's meeting, we focused on the big picture--what content we wanted students to take away from their Montana history class. Since we spent most of that meeting writing and commenting on a Google Doc, I don't think the video is worth watching. But the Google Doc discussion and the entries in the post-discussion forum are definitely worth reading. For example, Hot Springs teacher Robin Miller shared sources I'd never seen, including  fur trader Robert Campbell's 1830 description of the role of dogs in an Assiniboine camp. 
October's meeting focused on the SKILLS we wanted students to learn. This time, I asked participants to answer the "write your way in" question ("What skills do you want your students to gain from this course?") in advance and then spent most of the meeting sharing tools that matched their goals (including the Evidence Analysis Window Frames as well as many free tools and methods.) The recording of the October meeting is rich in ideas, and the place I'd start if I were joining the course.
At our November 14 meeting, we'll focus on reading strategies. Some middle school teachers have told me that some of their students find the Montana: Stories of the Land textbook too hard--but others have reported great success using the textbook. I'm hoping those participating will share the reading strategies they use to make the textbook accessible and Christy Mock-Sturtz, OPI's English Language Arts/Literacy Specialist and former sixth grade teacher, will also be on hand to share her favorite strategies.  
Even if you can't join us live on November 14, if you have questions about (or suggestions for) ways to help students use the Montana: Stories of the Land textbook, I hope you'll take five minutes to let us know how you use the textbook in your class and what reading strategies (if any) you use to help students get the information they need, by recording your response in our class Google Doc. Christy will use your comments to shape her presentation.

This online course is an experiment, and we're shaping it as we go. So if you have suggestions for how to make it more useful, always feel free to email me.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

National History Day: Taking a Stand in History

As regular readers know, I'm a fan of National History Daya project based curriculum that has students grade 6-12 investigate a historical topic related to the annual theme, by conducting primary and secondary research. After they have worked to analyzed and interpret your sources, and have drawn a conclusion about the significance of their topics, students present their work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a web site.  

I like National History Day because I think it provides a good way for teachers to get their students thinking (and writing) like historians. (It's also a great way to meet both Montana State Social Studies and Common Core standards.)

The program is also flexible. Want students to write papers? Limit their presentation option. Want students to focus on a certain era or geographic location? You can add that requirement. The only thing that may feel constraining is the theme. But do not fear. Themes are chosen for the broad application to world, national, or state history and its relevance to ancient history or to the more recent past.  The intentional selection of the theme for NHD is to provide an opportunity for students to push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates and drill down into historical content to develop perspective and understanding. The NHD theme provides a focused way to increase students’ historical understanding by developing a lens to read history, an organizational structure that helps students place information in the correct context and finally, the ability to see connections over time. It does all this while barely limiting the topics students can address. (You can see a broad list of sample topics here.)


The 2016-17 theme is "Taking a Stand in History." Every year, NHD puts out a theme book to help students think about the theme. Although the contest allows topics from any place and time in history, we like to encourage students to think local--so we've pulled together a list of potential Montana topics, along with starting points for research. We've included bibliographies for well-known topics, like the Montana women's suffrage movement, and for lesser known topics, like the 1909 Missoula free speech fight; for nineteenth-century topics, like the Salish's attempts to retain the Bitterroot, and twentieth-century topics, like World War II conscientious objectors and the people who stood up to hate crimes in Billings in 1993. These preliminary bibliographies are great tools for any student conducting a Montana history project--whether or not they are participating in National History Day.

This year, the Montana Council for History and Civics Education is sponsoring National History Day in Montana, including two regional contests (in Missoula, February 27, and in Billings, date TBA) and a statewide contest in Bozeman on April 8.

The Montana Historical Society is sponsoring two prizes at the state contest:
  • The Martha Plassmann Prize to one outstanding National History Day project that utilizes the digitized newspapers available on the Library of Congress web site Chronicling America. The $500 prize is awarded to a project that best demonstrates a clear understanding and use of newspapers as a primary source. 
  •  The Dave Walter Travel Scholarship from the James H. Bradley Trust. This $1,000 scholarship will be awarded to the creator or creators of a Montana history project that is eligible to advance to the national contest. The project MUST be about a Montana history topic and the scholarship money must be used to pay for expenses relating to travel to Washington, D.C. 
If you want more information about National History Day, please contact the Montana coordinator, Michael Herdina.