8th grade students at the Pioneer Charter School in Fort Collins, Colorado each created a historical character file (HCF) as part of a Learning Expedition on slavery. The process took two months and included multiple drafts of writing and art work.
As the students write in their introduction (included as the first page in each student’s “file”), each HCF is a fictionalized account of a historically/geographically accurate character. Each file contains a portrait, a narrative/biography, a character map, a bibliography, and artifacts based on their character’s life.
These HCF encouraged students to truly understand the details of slavery while acknowledging the humanness of slaves. This product/project is a means for exploring history through a deeply personalized accounting of experience.
Students used multiple sources to research their HCF including primary, secondary and expert sources. At the end of this HCF are the resources this student used.
Kurare tells the story of a young enslaved woman named Kurare who is a healer. She is 18 years old, has a son and lives with her mother. Through first-person narrative, this HCF tells the story of what life as a slave is like for Kurare, including her dreams of freedom and her deep-seated fears. Also included in this HCF are student-created historical artifacts: “wanted” posters of runaway slaves and examples of the herbs Kurare used for healing.
Models of Excellence recognizes the challenges of teaching students history that includes sensitive topics such as enslaved people, genocide, and human rights abuses. Student projects that involve topics like this should be planned with care for the emotional safety of students, respect for the people and cultures studied, and should use reliable primary and secondary sources so that content is not built upon assumptions or stereotypes. Written simulations (e.g., fictional diaries or documents) should be closely informed by student research, fieldwork, and adult experts.
How This Project Can Be Useful
- Highlights a format that allows for a deeply personalized account of an historical period
- A unique and engaging way for students to explore a topic and show the depth of their knowledge and understanding
- Format contains multiple components, each allowing for some degree of student choice, to increase student interest and input
- Contains an unusually helpful introductory project overview, which combines a few words from the teacher as well as orienting concepts from the students
- Writing style is engaging and carefully done
- Compelling combination of writing, portraiture and the creation of artifacts
- Highlights the candid exploration of troubling topics
- Portrait of historical character is very well done
- Demonstrates a format in which individual work can be assessed
Common Core State Standards
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