The Work of Historians: Biographical Line Graph

Biographical line graphs put students in the role of historical biographers. The critical thinking and reasoning needed to justify and debate decisions make these graphs one of the most powerful activities we do in US History.

The topic for this line graph is Andrew Jackson. I selected 7 life events and gave students the task of combing through previously analyzed documents and readings to write highlights and low lights of the events.

Students created line graphs based on their notes. The graph's range was from -6 to +6 and reflects both positive and negative life events. When line graphs were complete each student needed to prepare for a graph justification discussion.

This discussion is powerful both academically and social-emotionally. Students are doing the work of historians when they present and discuss their findings. One needs only to search major historical people and events to discover complimentary and disparaging works on the same subject--the difference may be due solely to the historical interpretation of the events. Students were required to explain why a positive event they ranked a +3, for example, wasn't quite a +6 in their eyes but also wasn't a negative event. This is sophisticated reasoning and made this task challenging and intriguing for the students. 

This discussion was also challenging on a social-emotional level. Students were taking great risks when they presented their findings. Middle School is a time that students crave the need to fit in and be like everyone else--publicly displaying a unique graph could be difficult in an environment that wasn't nurturing and didn't encourage risk-taking. I was so proud of the respect my students showed one another each hour as they worked through their graph comparisons. Their questions showed genuine interest in wanting to know why they might have viewed the same subject so differently. These presenters "owned" their answers and held firm when pressed on differences. That takes courage! 

Biographical Line Graphs help hone critical thinking and character building skills. 


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