I conducted this small case study of the document-based learning experience in a non-AP tenth-grade United States History classroom. Two different sections of the same class (conducted in the same classroom, with the same teacher using the same curriculum between the two periods) participated in the study. The classroom’s teacher also participated in the study by providing background information and insight on the use of document-based learning in his classroom.
With the exception of some of the background information provided by the class’s instructor (which was collected at an earlier date using a shared Google Document), all responses for this study were collected on the same day during the first approximately fifteen minutes of each section’s United States History class. Responses were collected anonymously through a Google Form, which organized multiple-choice and selected answer questions into graphic representations, and allowed me to export the results into a Google Sheet in order to more effectively analyze written responses.
I gave the teacher survey in an attempt to build understanding of the case study classroom’s general approach to document-based learning. I wanted to gain additional insight into the teacher’s implementation of DBL beyond the one day a week that I was able to observe the classroom (especially since the teacher did not utilize DBL every day that I observed his classes). In order to better understand the teacher’s decisions in using document-based learning, I asked questions falling into three categories:
- Teacher Learning: How did he learn about document-based learning, how did he learn how to use it, and how has his understanding of it changed over time?
- Classroom Experiences: How has he used document-based learning in the classroom, what resources does he use, what are the benefits and challenges of document-based learning, and how does DBL fit into a non-Advanced Placement classroom?
- Perception of Student Experiences with Document-Based Learning: What kind of progress has he seen with students after using DBL in the classroom, how have they responded to DBL, and why does he think this has been the case?
The answers to these and other sub-questions in these categories provided me with general insight into the document-based learning approach, as well as a firmer understanding of how and why this teacher in particular uses DBL in his non-AP history classroom. While I used the answers from the teacher survey to further illuminate the answer from the student survey, I did not conduct extensive analysis of these responses, and instead focused on analyzing the student responses for student perspective.
I gave the student survey in attempt to gain insight into student perceptions of document-based learning. I wanted to measure student awareness of DBL, as well as their opinions on how engaging and effective it is as an approach to teaching and learning history. I also wanted to measure how successful the document-based learning experience had been in teaching students about relevant historical skills in addition to content knowledge. The survey that I gave to students was divided into three sections:
- Student Experiences with Document-Based Learning: How did students respond to DBL in their United States History classroom, including:
- What is their understanding of what DBL is, how often it is used in the classroom, and in what forms?
- What are their opinions regarding DBL and its effectiveness?
- Historical Skills: Were students able to identify and explain some of the key historical skills which DBL aims to develop?
- Demographic Information
The answers to this survey formed the main body of the case study, as they helped to respond to my main inquiry on student perceptions of document-based learning by asking for direct student feedback which I could then compare to teacher responses and to my own observations of DBL in their classroom.