Bronxville Middle School eighth graders recently embarked on an enlightening journey through the Progressive Era, a pivotal period in American history between 1890 and 1920. Spearheaded by social studies teachers Christina Reidel and Jennifer Liberman, who designed textual analysis lessons, the students immersed themselves into historical primary resources as genuine historians.
Throughout the lessons, the students not only absorbed historical content, but honed critical skills, such as close reading and annotation. Under the guidance of their teachers, the students have become adept at dissecting source texts, isolating main ideas, expressing their thoughts through meticulous marginal notes and finding greater engagement with the topics of the past.
The Progressive Era unit has allowed students to explore how reformers sought to address political and social issues at the local, state and federal levels. It has shed light on the renewed attention to women’s rights and the suffrage movement, Populist Party’s response to industrialization, and the impactful work of reformers and muckrakers. The exploration also encompassed the responses of state and federal governments to reform efforts, including the passage of the 17th Amendment, child labor and minimum wage laws, antitrust legislation, and food and drug regulations.
“Through student-led annotations of texts, I have built a classroom culture where students are eager to question the source texts and work through their thinking as a community of learners,” Reidel said. “They are willing to take risks and be comfortable with not knowing all the answers, as I have emphasized that historians are often more interested in the questions than the answers.”
The skills of close reading and annotation have been a large focus to prepare students for the challenges that lie ahead. Professional development around vertical alignment ensures a seamless transition for students, equipping them with strong reading, writing and analytical skills expected in high school.
“Students love this work,” Reidel said. “Although it is hard thinking work, they respond with enthusiasm, excitement and curiosity. The habits of annotation and primary source analysis give students access to the deeper questions in history which they are enjoying.”
Before exploring the primary sources, the students collaborated in groups to provide historical context on significant figures or events, facilitating a richer understanding of the Progressive Era. As a culmination of their exploration, the eighth graders will use texts as evidence to craft essays that challenge them to examine how Progressive Era reformers sparked significant change through their actions and ideas.
The students’ work seamlessly aligns with the district’s Bronxville Promise dispositions. As they studied and observed agents of change from the past, they reflected on their own evolving skills as engaged citizens – becoming informed and acting to make an impact.