As experiential learning involves supplanting direct instruction with inferential facilitation, applying the experiential model to history is to subordinate the memorization of fact to the development of analytical skills—the historical product to the process.1 As VanSledright argues in his paean to primary sources, In Search of America's Past , students who engage the discipline of history in this manner learn to “sift evidence, analyze and interpret primary and secondary sources, do research, question authors' and texts' assertions, make decisions and applications based on analyses of evidence, and construct arguments.” Consequently, historical facts are given somewhat “lower-order status and pressed into the service of historical thinking.”
Not every history teacher desires to fully embrace the experiential approach due to the importance of facts in the mastering of historical knowledge and the limitations of time. More often a teacher may allot one period a week to an experiential activity. This website provides a flexible lesson plan, which, through the implementation of audio (a re-enactment of the Federal Theater Project's Triple A Plowed Under ), visual (photographs of the play and from newspapers) and primary sources (newspaper clippings), constructs a vibrant narrative reflective of 30s era American culture.
As a Living Newspaper, Triple-A Plowed Under (1936) dramatized the news surrounding the Farmer's Strike in 1931 and 32, and the subsequent repealing of AAA legislation in 1936, from a contemporary stand-point. As a secondary source, Triple-A , therefore, offers a window into America 's perspective on itself while events were still fresh in the mind. Not only a secondary source, Triple-A also provides a path to primary sources like newspaper clippings and magazine articles. The Staff of the Living Newspaper, who wrote Triple-A , cited all their sources in the text of the script, providing a means to verify and contextualize the performance.
Since multimedia technologies allow us to bring sources together to stimulate multiple senses, a lesson plan using Triple-A will immerse the student in a manner to which he or she is accustomed. As Hopkins notes,
Combining audio, visual, and primary sources allows for what Lozanov calls “double planeness” or “conveying suggestion through as many different channels as possible simultaneously.”3 Not only is this kind of saturation entertaining for the student, but it allows for the development of analytical skills. By experiencing cryptic pieces of information through a sequential layering of media, students are able to infer meaning and solve a puzzle. In this manner “an important decision in history can be brought more clearly into focus by a difficult problem-solving situation with which students must grapple.”4
The fundamental process of this exercise involves engagement and reflection. Beginning with images, the students are asked to infer meaning based on their own preconceptions. Then, the images are matched with audio, bringing the student closer to the actual event that is being dramatized. Finally, the images and audio are illuminated through the use of primary sources. Following the engagement, “the learner reflects on the activity through a personal journal, group discussion, discussion with the instructor, or by other means.”5 This step is followed by having the students dramatize there own excerpt from Triple A , thereby putting the language to use in their own way. In this manner, the activity engages “multiple intelligences:” academic, social, physical, artistic, and technological—through an active learning experience. To the student, experiential learning might appear “to simply be a series of unconnected and haphazard events” while disparate elements are, in fact, informing and contextualizing each other.6
Listening to audio induces a state that Lozanov calls “concentrative psycho-relaxation,” whereby mind and body stay focused yet are at ease.7 This state allows the student to not worry so much about having the right answer but, rather, to engage the material on an intuitive level. Since the focus is not on the answer , students may offer responses that vary from inane to perceptive. As Tom Herbert posits, “in experiential learning, the specific outcome is not always predictable. This is a result of the student's involvement in decision making and the teacher's role being that of clarifier, rather than leader, and the overall process versus product approach.”8 Creating an atmosphere where the student is not afraid to be incorrect, therefore, allows for the personal engagement of the material that, once engaged through action (listening, responding, and acting), will become engrained in the student “reality” more so than memorized facts.
1. Raymond Muessig , “Experiencing History,” Experiential Learning in Schools and Higher Education, Richard Kraft ed. (Boulder, CO: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.,1995) 244.