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Volume 12, Number 2
March/April 1996

Creating Family Stories Leads Students to a Richer Understanding of U.S. History


An experiment in enlivening the study of United States history at our school this year, involving the writing of detailed, extended journals about made-up families, has succeeded beyond our best expectations. The project was informed partly by new research into the nature of learning and intelligence and by ideas like portfolio assessment, but in many ways it recaptures a kind of learning that goes back to the progressive educators of the 1920s.

In brief, each student generated a sustained story about a single mythical family from the early Colonial period onward. Through journals, letters, and meetings in which the students played the roles of characters they had created, they used the voices and viewpoints of family members to interpret great events and trends in American history in the context of the lives of individual people of the time. As we found while researching a history of Beaver Country Day School for its 75th anniversary this year, this is precisely the kind of learning the founders had proposed for our original curriculum: "hands-on learning" through a process of research and re-creation that would engage both the creative spirit and the analytical mind.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    ATLAS Communities Project, Education Development Center, 71 Chapel St., Newton, MA 02158.

    P. Elbow. Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

    The Principio Project. The Peddie School (S. Main St., Hightstown, NJ 08520; 609-490-7500), January 1994.

    G. Wiggins, J. Browne, and H. Houston. Standards, Not Standardization. Vol. 3: Rethinking Student Assessment. (A video and print curriculum on performance-based assessment.) Geneseo, NY: Center on Learning, Assessment, and School Structure, 1993.