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Opening Up the Textbook: Rosa Parks

Using a textbook passage and two primary sources, this lesson engages students in using historical evidence in order to critique a textbook passage. In this way, it also allows teachers to introduce the textbook as one source among many, rather than the final word on historical events.

screenshot, historicalthinkingmatters.org

This easy-to-follow lesson cuts to the heart of historical thinking. Its strength is that it requires students to go to the sources in order to develop historical knowledge. Not only does it show students how public memory and history textbooks can oversimplify complex events, it gives students the means to craft their own textbook passage by drawing on specific textual evidence, including sources that contradict one another.

The simplicity and clarity of the lesson make it ideal for introducing both historical thinking in general and the Civil Rights Movement specifically. More experienced teachers may chafe at the lesson's tight structure—so, they can create their own lesson by using the website's multiple resources regarding the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Of the two suggested writing assignments, Prompt One, which asks students to rewrite a standard textbook account, is particularly good. Prompt Two asks students to take a position for or against using a standard textbook. While this may prompt students to consider the implications of the traditional Rosa Parks story, it is also problematic. Would it be possible for a student to argue for and still receive a good grade?


You will need to download both the lesson plan and the documents. The latter are available in original, easy-to-read, and Spanish language formats. (Find the Durr and Robinson documents under "Document Sets." Download a "complete version" and find Documents C and D. Find the textbook account under "Organizers.") Additionally, the Historical Thinking Matters website includes a variety of materials for students and teachers of U.S. History.
See more about this topic elsewhere on this website.

Teachinghistory.org Lesson Plan Rubric
Field Criteria Comments
Historical Content Is historically accurate?

Current historians highlight both Parks's training as an activist and the fact that she was part of a broad, well-organized movement in Montgomery.

Includes historical background?

The point of the lesson is to look at students' and textbooks' assumptions about Rosa Parks, and so the lesson purposefully does not offer extra background. However, resources are available at the website.

Requires students to read and write?

The lesson includes reading one secondary and two primary sources. Teachers can choose from two suggested writing assignments.

Analytic Thinking Requires students to analyze or construct interpretations using evidence

Students create their own interpretation, and they question a textbook interpretation.

Requires close reading and attention to source information?

Through looking closely at sources, students arrive at a complex understanding of events.

Scaffolding Is appropriate for stated audience?

The lesson is appropriate for high school students and with modifications could be used with younger students.

Includes materials and strategies for scaffolding and supporting student thinking?

If analysis stalls, teachers could prod students to look at the documents' dates and to identify the contradictions among the documents.

Lesson Structure Includes assessment criteria and strategies that focus on historical understanding?

Assessment strategies are included, but not assessment criteria.

Defines clear learning goals and progresses logically?

The lesson states its goals, and it progresses in a logical, linear fashion.

Includes clear directions and is realistic in normal classroom settings?