Fact or fiction teaching with historical fiction
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Fact or Fiction: Teaching with Historical Fiction. American History Foundations August 18, 2011 Fran Macko, Ph.D. [email protected] What is historical truth? What strategies promote students’ understanding of historical truth?

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Fact or Fiction: Teaching with Historical Fiction

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Fact or Fiction:Teaching with Historical Fiction

American History Foundations

August 18, 2011

Fran Macko, Ph.D.

[email protected]

What is historical truth?

What strategies promote students’ understanding of historical truth?

How does historical fiction contribute to an understanding of historical truth?

Framing the Session

What is historical truth?

  • For historians, truth is a complex concept.

  • The idea that history deals with true events and fiction with invented ones isn’t always helpful.

  • To support students in understanding what is “true” in history, they need to understand that historical fiction combines the three different kinds of truth: literal truth, artistic truth and historical trueness.

  • This process supports students in becoming critical readers/viewers of history and better historical thinkers.

What is literal truth?

  • Literal truth is an account that can be verified, such as an event that actually occurred at a certain time.

    • The Declaration of Independence was officially approved by the delegates on July 4, 1776.

What is artistic truth?

  • Artistic truth is an account that can’t be verified, but seems true based on what we know about human nature.

    • A young boy describes how happy he felt during a celebration of the Declaration of Independence, as he watched people ringing bells, marching in a parade and hoisting the flag.

What is historical trueness?

  • Historical trueness is an account that cannot be verified, but is likely to have happened based on what we know about the historical context. It is plausible.

    • A soldier overhears George Washington say that the Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest documents ever written.

Why teach with historical fiction?

  • Historical fiction:

    • Engages student interest.

    • Levels the playing field.

    • Provides details of daily life.

    • Focuses on individuals over events.

    • Presents the complexity of issues.

    • Provide multiple perspectives.

    • Bridges the gap between narrative and informational text.

What are the features ofquality historical fiction?

  • Quality historical fiction should:

    • Present a well-told story that doesn’t conflict with historical records.

    • Portray characters realistically.

    • Present authentic settings.

    • Artfully fold in historical facts.

    • Provide accurate information through illustrations.

    • Avoid stereotypes and myths.

What are the challenges of teaching historical fiction?

  • Historical fiction provides limited access to the broad range of historical interpretation.

    • Many examples of historical fiction present the dominant interpretation of history or that which is found in most textbooks.

    • This interpretation, or selective tradition, often excludes the voices of minorities, and as a result, limits student access to the truth.

  • Historical fiction is often “presentist”.

    • The authors give the characters present-day thoughts, beliefs and concerns, thereby presenting an inaccurate view of the past.

  • Historical fiction often contains historical inaccuracies.

  • Historical fiction reflects the historical context, the author’s purpose, and ideological predisposition.

    • The prevailing cultural attitudes of the time in which the novel is written may influence the author’s attitude toward the events.

  • To effectively use historical fiction to support students in understanding history, they need to:

    • understand the three types of truth.

    • understand what historical fiction is and what they can expect to learn from reading it.

    • know that historical fiction and non-fiction present history in different ways.

    • question what they read.

What are the guiding questions for reading historical fiction?

  • Guiding questions for reading historical fiction include:

    • Could the events described have happened? What evidence do I have?

    • Which characters really existed? What evidence do I have?

    • How does this book help me understand life in the past?

How can teachers use historical fiction to build understanding of history?

  • Pairing historical fiction with non-fiction on the same event allows students to experience the three kinds of historical truth: literal, artistic and contextual or historical trueness.

  • In this strategy, students read historical fiction to savor the story, and to identify examples of literal truth, artistic truth and historical trueness.

  • As they read, they sort the information into three categories: fact (literal truth), fiction (artistic truth), and not sure.

  • After compiling their lists, students work in pairs or small groups to discuss and verify, where possible, the information on their fact, fiction and not sure lists.

  • As a class, they share and discuss their lists for further verification of the information on the fact and fiction lists. Here they also differentiate between artistic truth and historical trueness.

  • Finally, they compile a class list of questions based on the items on the not sure list.

  • Using the class list, students read the paired non-fiction text and clarify the information on their not sure lists, marking the facts with a check.

  • Questions that are not answered as a result of reading the non-fiction text can be the basis of additional research.

Modeling the Strategy

The Revolutionary War

  • The Winter of Red Snow by Kristiana Gregory

  • The American Revolution by Bruce Bliven Jr.

Step One- Compiling the Lists

  • Form groups of 2-4.

  • Read the excerpt from The Winter of Red Snow

  • Make three lists based on your knowledge of the American Revolution:

    • What is factual

    • What is fiction

    • What you are unsure of

Step Two- Comparison and Discussion

  • Share and discuss the items on your lists with your group.

  • Come to consensus on what is fact, what is fiction and what remains uncertain.

  • Create research questions based on your list of unsure items.

Group Discussion

  • What did your group identify as:

    • Fact

    • Fiction

    • Unsure

  • What is your list of research questions?

  • Where might you find the answers to these questions?

  • How can historical fiction and non-fiction texts be paired in the classroom?

Classroom Application

  • Where and how could you use historical fiction in your classroom?

  • What adaptations could you make to the strategy of paired texts?

  • Turn and talk with a colleague.

Final Thoughts

  • High quality historical fiction:

    • Engages student interest

    • Levels the playing field

    • Provides details of daily life

    • Focuses on individuals over events

    • Presents the complexity of issues

    • Provide multiple perspectives

    • Bridges the gap between narrative and information text

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