Even in High School, They Grow with DBQ

By Tom O’Hara, teacher, West High School, Tracy USD

I teach US History to 11th graders, and I’ve been teaching for 28 years in a school which has a large percentage of students who live in poverty. They generally don’t read, and most have difficulty writing at grade level. My classes have always been focused on developing writing skills using historical issues and content. About 6 years ago I started moving towards teaching argument writing skills exclusively, and the DBQ Project’s wonderful resources have engaged them, which has had the effect of causing my students to look into the content more deeply, and as a consequence, they produce better writing. Here’s a sample claim from a student who entered my class writing at about a seventh grade level last fall. The focus question was from the DBQ about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and asked the students “Which man’s philosophy makes the most sense for America?”

Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence made the most sense for America because he made people think about a different way to fight for their rights, and he used his strong voice to make a positive change for America. Even though Malcolm X’s philosophy of getting equal rights “by any means necessary” was justified by some as a way to protect their community from violent retaliation by racists, I reject his ideas because it encourages people to fight and that is ultimately bad for the nation because it doesn’t address the cause of the violence.

This student is now writing at about a 9-10th grade level, and I think the primary sources provided in the DBQ binders play a big part in that. More of my students are engaged with the material, in their reading they are having conversations with the text, and their writing and grades have improved.

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