Teaching 9/11: Using Task Rotation for Analyzing Artifacts and Primary Sources
- Grades: 6–8
For people of each generation, there are historical events that will haunt them forever. For me, these are the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle during elementary school, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing when I was in high school, and the events of September 11, 2001 in adulthood. I remember, like it was yesterday, being called into my elementary school gym, seeing a TV sitting atop a rolling cart, the staff beside themselves as pieces of spacecraft fell down from the sky. I also recall racing home to my son after being evacuated from work one crisp September morning, sobbing and trying to make sense of the world as it literally crumbled around me.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of September 11, and although a decade has gone by, an indelible impression has been left on our country forever. It is almost impossible for our students to understand the magnitude of what happened on that tragic morning. Therefore, it is up to us as educators to convey the depth and breadth of the issues surrounding this event in our nation's history. Since middle school is a time of uncertainty and doubt, my lesson focuses on fostering feelings of empathy, making interpersonal connections, and understanding different perspectives about the same event.
Task Rotation, one of several Thoughtful Classroom strategies, is an effective way to differentiate instruction, and in my September 11 lesson, I teach students how to analyze primary sources and historical artifacts. Below you will find ways to implement Task Rotation into your classroom instruction, along with a specific lesson plan. I've also included options to allow for differentiation in your instruction to fit higher- and lower-level learners.
What Is Task Rotation?
This differentiated teaching and learning strategy allows students to show what they have learned with activities that focus on each of the four learning styles: Mastery, Understanding, Self-Expressive, and Interpersonal. Students can expect to see a lesson that moves or "rotates" them through a series of tasks rooted in each area of learning dominance.
Benefits of Task Rotation on Student Learning
Task Rotation addresses a number of student learning goals. Among its benefits are depth of student comprehension and knowledge of new material, because students will examine content from different perspectives. In addition, students will become more proficient in four distinct styles of thinking: remembering, reasoning, creating, and relating.
Task Rotation is also a perfect way to increase motivation due to the changing nature of each activity in the lesson. An added benefit of Task Rotation as I use it is it provides opportunity for physical movement, which is ideal for students who struggle with attention deficits and hyperactivity.
Step One: Planning the Lesson
Choose which state/common core standards you want to focus upon and write them down on the classroom whiteboard. Then identify the "learning window" of your lesson: What do you want your students to know and understand? What student skills need improvement or development? Since there are so many aspects of September 11th to focus upon, choose a topic that provides exposure to new material. Considering that most students learn about this event annually, spark their interest with a powerful multimedia presentation that matches their grade level. I recommend checking out the 9/11 Memorial: Teach and Learn website for ideas.
Step Two: Setting Up the Room
The ideal setup would be to have desks facing each other in groups of four, with a copy of your Task Rotation assignment on top of each desk. Let your students know they will have no more than eight minutes to complete the activity within each rotation. You may want to use an online timer projected on the board or have an alert system for each grouping. You should also have the specific website for your lesson already up on the computers. This lesson is based upon the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History exhibit, "September 11: Bearing Witness to History."
Step Three: Student Activity
Now that you have generated interest, explain the process of task rotation. Each student should work towards the goal of the rotation as directed (either individually or collaboratively) and then proceed to the next station once time is up. I tend to create heterogeneous groupings to level the playing field and encourage cooperative learning. You should also review the concept of "DEPTH" before they begin the assignment.
Differentiated Instruction Tip: Place students in homogenous versus heterogeneous groupings. You may also pass out different Task Rotation sheets beforehand that are leveled to each group's learning.
Step Four: Teacher Assessment
Activity time is ideal for assessing behavior and quality of student work. Pay particular attention to the tasks that students gravitate to versus ones they display less interest in. Make notes on what you would change when incorporating Task Rotation in the future, but celebrate the learning that took place within your assignment.
Step Five: Student Reflection
At the end of the lesson, be sure to give opportunities for self-reflection. I use an "Ask it Basket" where students can give honest responses without judgement. You may want to ask them to focus on what they learned about the given topic, discoveries made about their own learning styles, and suggestions for how they would like to see Task Rotation implemented in the future.
For more information about Task Rotation and other Thoughtful Classroom research-based instructional strategies, visit Thoughtful Classroom's website or consult these texts: Task Rotation: Strategies for Differentiating Activities and Assessments by Learning Style (2011) and The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson (2007).
For more teaching ideas, visit Understanding 9/11 where you will find articles, lesson plans, videos, and book lists.