This 8th grade ELA teacher is in love with Document Based Questions, formerly the territory of AP History and AP Language teachers. (Okay, I’m a recovering high school teacher who is certified to teach AP Language, so maybe it’s not a total surprise that I love the DBQ). I do know, however, that using the DBQ in a middle school classroom can be fraught with challenges and intimidating for teachers unfamiliar with the process, so here are my suggestions for taming the DBQ.
Do the Process Before Your Students Do
I actually begin the planning process for the DBQ weeks before my kids ever see it, whether I’m writing a new DBQ or using a pre-written one. I complete a close reading of all documents and annotate them. Then I use these annotations to create center cards to guide my students in their own close reading and document analysis. Following this step, I take the center cards and go through the documents again, following the student directions. This lets me see where students may bog down, where I may not have been totally clear in my instructions, etc.
My students and I are in the midst of our third DBQ this year. The first was an absolute nightmare, and we didn’t even make it to the essay. The second was better, with most students completing the essay portion. This time around, I am discovering that my students do not need the level of support I expected, so I have been able to turn them loose a little sooner. All three scenarios require flexibility on my part. I could have pushed them through the essay on the first DBQ, but why? They weren’t ready. On the second, I tried an electronic thrash-out of the essay, which did not go well. I quickly switched us back to the tried-and-true verbal thrash out. On this go-round, I could have insisted the kids follow my plan, which would have caused major student frustration. Have a plan, but be ready to deviate as needed.
Realize There’s More than One Way
All teachers who use the DBQ will develop their own habits and routines. Trial and error will lead you to the set of routines that work best for you and your students. Talk with other teachers about how they are implementing the DBQ, then incorporate the ideas that fit your teaching and your student needs.
Are you using the DBQ in your classroom? What are your thoughts on the process?