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Professional Development Center for Educators

Teaching Perspective “Out There”

During our Teaching American History workshops, teachers revealed that their students often struggle to understand how there can be conflicting but accurate accounts describing a single event. How is it possible that there are different views of say…a major battle in American history?

Part of the explanation lies in a student’s inability to grasp the concept of perspective–an expectation embedded in Delaware History Standard 3.

To help your students find a way to understand perspective, try this “out there” experience. Break your students into three groups. Ask each group to go outside and create an accurate sketch of the school.

Prior to class, you will have created three different sets of written instructions (so that the students are unaware that they are receiving different sets of instructions). Ask them to follow the instructions silently (wishful thinking here). Instruct:

  • Group 1 to exit the front doors of your school and go to the right side of the building.
  • Group 2 to exit and go to the left side of the building.
  • Group 3 to exit and go to the front or rear of the building.

Give students 10-15 minutes to complete their sketches or representations of your school.

Bring students back into your classroom. Place them in mixed triads with one student from each of the three groups, and have them share their sketches. Ask them if the drawings are all of the same building. Are they all accurate (within reasonable parameters of artistic skill)? Are they all consistent?

How can they account for the differences? Perspective, of course.

Now, ask them to apply their new understanding. How might three different accounts of a single major battle in American history have surfaced? Might they have come from individuals positioned on separate sides of a mountain? Are all but one necessarily inaccurate?

Teaching perspective in this manner helps students get beyond the notions that history is “just a bunch of facts” and that there must always be a single correct account somewhere “out there” to be uncovered.

Fran O’Malley. Ed.D
Policy Scientist, PDCE

200 Academy Street · University of Delaware · Newark, DE 19716
Phone: 302-831-1279
Fax: 302-831-2708
E-mail: PDCE-CEHD@udel.edu