Gary and I are high school teachers, but as we’ve been expanding our 4QM work we’ve been doing more with the middle and elementary grades. This post describes some great 4QM curriculum written by Alex Hoyt, an award-winning fifth grade teacher in Hudson, Massachusetts. Read on to see how the Four Questions can make the American Revolution come alive for ten and eleven year olds, and to get links to Alex’s materials!
“The Swiss Army Knife of History Teaching”
Hudson is an economically diverse suburb west of Boston that has embraced 4QM training for its social studies department. Alex describes the Four Question Method this way:
“The Four Question Method is the Swiss army knife of history teaching. It gives me four tools, each with multiple uses. It cuts through all the red tape I have in my head about planning, and gives me and my students a clear and smart way to think about what we’re learning.”
Not surprisingly, we love this quotation. We especially like the metaphor of “cutting through all the red tape” around planning. Alex explained that planning lessons can feel treacherous, especially when you’re new, because you feel your responsibilities deeply — and you have a lot of them. You’re supposed to address your state content standards, and one or more lists of “historical thinking skills.” And don’t forget to emphasize civics (very hot these days!), and make sure you design lessons that are student-centered and engaging. In Alex’s experience, the Four Question Method allows him to meet all his responsibilities without having to overthink. If you plan your unit around the Four Questions, you’ll be teaching historical thinking skills. If you design lessons in which students do the intellectual work of actually answering the questions, your lessons will be student-centered and engaging. If you have them discuss their answers with each other while reflecting and debating, you’ll be teaching civic dispositions. And of course you’ll address your state content standards, because 4QM teaching always starts with a story.
What Was King George Thinking?
This spring Alex created a 4QM style unit on the lead-up to the American Revolution. He decided to tell the story of the events between the French and Indian War, which the British won in 1763, and the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major military engagement of the revolutionary war. His clever hook for the unit was to put the students in the position of British King George III. In each lesson he would teach them a little bit of the story (each called “the situation” in the attached materials), and then ask what they would have done if they had been King George III. He then taught them what the King actually did, and asked them to consider Question Two: What was King George thinking?
The summative activities for the unit included activities for Questions One, Two, and Four. For Question One, Alex had students retell the story they had learned using a storyboard. He gave them a choice of words or pictures for their storyboard boxes, and introduced a fun new twist for this assignment: he would roll a die to determine how many boxes each student got to tell the story. The minimum allowable number was three, so he simply rerolled if the die came up one or two.
The Question Two activity was a writing assignment that asked students to sum up what they had determined about what the King was thinking at the start of the conflict, and then after the Battle of Bunker Hill. And the Question Four activity was a class discussion about the question, “Did King George do anything wrong?”, followed by individual writing in response to the question. Check out Alex’s materials here.
4QM In Grade Five
Alex took about a week to teach this unit; three days for the situations and King George’s responses, and two days for the storyboards. He reported that “It was fun, and according to the products kids made, effective as well!” This is a great example of how the Four Question Method can help teachers and students in the elementary grades make social studies memorable and meaningful. Over the next year, we’re planning to produce more 4QM teaching and learning materials, focusing on grades four through eight. Hopefully we’ll see more from Mr. Hoyt!