Using Norton's Text Discussion/Aug 1997


Using Norton's Text Discussion/Aug 1997

Query From Stacy A. Cordery <> 06 Aug 1997

Dear H-Women Colleagues:

I'm teaching U.S. Women's History this fall and using Mary Beth Norton's text, the "Major Problems in" series by D.C. Heath. In the past I lectured on Tuesdays and we discussed one chapter (documents and articles) on Thursdays. That was frustrating because there wasn't enough time to discuss everything. I've also tried assigning an additional textbook (like Glenda Riley's) for background so that I wouldn't have to lecture. It worked out better, because then we discussed the documents on Tuesdays and the articles on Thursdays. As you might guess, though, not all students read the textbook and thus we still had to do some filling in that took time away from the topic at hand.

Since I'm not thrilled by either of those options--I don't like lecturing in upper division classes, but they don't read the textbook AND the Norton book (unless I become draconian)--I'm wondering whether any of you have used Norton's text in a different way. I do have 25 students in the class, which is a mixed blessing, obviously, but hardly the perfect seminar size.

I guess I'm asking for suggestions on how to structure a Tuesday-Thursday class in order to get the most out of the Norton text for the students' benefit. Thanks in advance for your help. Cordially.


From Gayle Veronica Fischer 07 Aug 1997

Stacy, I have two suggestions, although I haven't used either with the Norton. I was once told to always go into class with the assumption that mu students had not done the reading and plan accordingly--a pessimistic attitude yet helpful when planning what to do with a class. Role plays are great, for someone who always hated acting I have been amazed at how well these work--the key is not to put students on the spot in front of everyone. Break students up into small groups and they role play within their group, often as the semester progresses they become more comfortable and some are willing to "perform" in front of everyone. An example of how you might do one with Norton (I am looking at the first edition): use the witchcraft trial. Write up short character sketches and assign parts to students, the students who don't have an official part can sit on the jury (this is a case where you could role play with the entire class). At the conclusion of the exercise you could point out the characteristics of the women accused of witchcraft, the conflicting evidence, etc., tell them what was important about what they did.

My other suggestion is have the students lead discussion. I had problems in a class which was divided talker and non-talkers and so one day I announced a new policy--students would lead for a minimum of 15 minutes class discussion and they could not lecture--then I called on two non-talkers and "volunteered" them to be first. I made up a list of dates and had students sign up to lead class (I gave them extra credit points) anywhere from 2 to 4 students led-- often taking over the entire class period. They were clever and we had formal debates, game shows, small group work, an amazing variety. You could have four students lead discussion--two responsible for one of the scholarly articles, two for the other, but they have to all get together and agree on how they are going to present the material to their classmates.

The hardest part for me with these student-centered exercises is giving up control, so keep the last ten minutes for you to debrief and reinforce what you think is important--they always want to know what you think. I have been amazed at how well these types of exercises work--I also have a wonderful suggestion if you want them to do a research paper without them realizing they are doing a research paper. I hope you find this helpful.

From Lisa A. Cochran 08 Aug 1997

This is an addition to Gayle Fischer's response...I don't know what the original question was, but in regards of a more student-centered class discussion, I have used something that some teachers at UIC use (I heard they use it a lot in Iowa, too), called the QHQ. The second day of class I have students sign up to do one QHQ during the semester. This is a written oral report (they can read it or paraphrase it for the class--but they turn it in at the end) that is meant to lead class discussion on the reading for the day. It begins with an interpretive question (Q) they have. Then they offer their own hypothesis(H). Finally, they ask another question (Q) that moves toward issues not addresses in the H and opens it up for class discussion.

Of course, any part of the QHQ can be discussed, but this format of questioning seems to work well in my classes. My students take it very seriously and I grade it. I have been amazed by the quality, to be honest. Sure, there are occasionally people who sort of blow it off, but the majority ask great questions. I ten to run the discussion after the report. Sometimes a student takes charge if they have the gumption. I usually ask the students to repeat their main questions and I try to paraphrase their main point, asking if I got it right. Then they clarify it and we discuss. As Fischer was saying in her response, when you do stuff like this you have to be comfortable with letting go of control over the subjects discussed. I used to only feel comfortable talking about things I knew for sure, and now I just go with the flow.

From Allison Hepler <> 15 Aug 1997

I used Norton's text about 3 years ago and students found the reading overwhelming, and I was not judicious in trimming, being my first time teaching. I also used Sara Evans' Born for Liberty, A Midwife's Tale and Arn't I A Woman.

The next time I taught US Women's History, I didn't use Norton but used Sara Evans, which I have found to be a good synthesis and also a way of discussing with students about some of her perspectives. Students really liked it. I also used A Midwife's Tale and Arnt I a Woman and Countercultures. The reading was pretty balanced but I found that I missed the primary documents that Norton provided. I'd bring some in periodically. For group research, I had several students use Norton as a reference because it is so good at presenting the different perspectives. The new edition also has great Native-American sources.

I suppose you could also have certain students be responsible for certain readings, sharing the work, or doing it in groups and then leading discussion.

For next spring, I am thinking of using another primary source document reader, and using one or two of them in each class because I think they are real valuable. Of course, I have to be concerned about costs for students, so I think this time I'll use Evans, a reader, and 2 different monographs.

Any suggestions for a primary document reader?