Apply Big6™ Skills to Incorporate History Content Standards in the Curriculum

Author: Janet Murray

Identifying state and national standards and linking them to our curriculum has become increasingly important to classroom teachers and schools. How can library media specialists help the teachers they serve locate appropriate and relevant standards, and apply the Big6 Skills to teach subject specific content as well as information literacy skills?

The task of comparing the wide variety of content standards in state and national documents seems impossibly overwhelming; fortunately, someone else has already done it. You can compare your own state standards to McREL’s Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (3rd Edition, 2000) to locate parallels. McREL’s Compendium “presents a coherent set of standards for primary, upper elementary, middle school, and high school in an easy-to-read and consistent format. The compendium synthesizes information from more than 137 documents, reports, and other materials compiled by professional education organizations in the following content areas: language arts, mathematics, science, geography, foreign language, history, arts, economics, civics, health, physical education, behavioral studies, life skills, and technology.”

In this article, we focus on using the Big6™ Skills to enrich students’ understanding of history in the context of standards related to multicultural awareness at different grade levels.

[Sidebar: The McREL web site offers a detailed explanation of the procedure they used to synthesize standards and benchmarks from a wide variety of national documents; to understand how they constructed the compendium, consult McREL also provides links to state standards at]

Multicultural Awareness: K-4

Grades K-4 history standards focus on families and communities, local history, democratic values and other cultures. Having spent the last six years in Japan, I am particularly sensitive to the superficiality of Americans’ understanding of other cultures. We are all familiar with the type of elementary lesson that asks students to compare how different cultures celebrate Christmas. How can we use the Big6 Skills (or the Super3 with younger students) to broaden and deepen that activity so that students learn to appreciate the contributions other cultures have made to America and the world?

Big6 #1: Task Definition
Our task is to help students develop critical thinking skills when they consider American culture in light of other cultures. We might ask them “How does the traditional celebration of Christmas in America reflect the influence of other cultures?” or we might broaden the question to incorporate other winter holiday celebrations such as Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and the Chinese New Year. If we want students to develop deeper understandings, the way we define the task is critical. 
Big6 #2: Information Seeking Strategies
Ask students where they will look to find information. Almost invariably, they will reply “on the computer” or “on the Internet.” This is the ideal opportunity to introduce or reinforce concepts like “reliable information” or “evaluating web sites.” Of course, you will also want to highlight the value of encyclopedias as well as those books you have been systematically collecting to support this activity over the years.
Big6 #3: Location and Access
The Google directory has an ample selection of links to holiday resources under “Society.” I try to discourage my students from entering a single term in a search engine, and recommend subject directories instead.You can always count on Kathy Schrock’s Guideto collect worthwhile resources useful to schools. Her “holidays” collection includes a pointer to the Diversity Calendar, which lists world and cultural holidays by month.Again, you want to continue to encourage use of a range of sources – print, electronic sources other than the WWW as well as the WWW.
Big6 #4: Use of Information
This is the critical point at which your essential question influences how the students interact with the information they find. Help them avoid statements of fact (e.g. “the Christmas tree came from Germany in favor of reflections of understandings (e.g. “Most cultures celebrate the winter solstice because …” or “why did the Christmas tree custom develop in Germany”).
Big6 #5: Synthesis
What product does the assignment require? This is another opportunity to help teachers grow beyond the traditional “research report.” How can we engage students in the process of integrating new learning (about other cultures) into their personal knowledge framework (how their own families celebrate Christmas)? Classroom teachers and library media specialist can encourage non-traditional products that reflect the students’ acquisition of new knowledge.
Big6 #6: Evaluation
Students should be able to evaluate their end product as well as their process of working. Key questions to ask students are “where did you have the most difficulty?” “What would you do differently next time?”

The classroom teacher will want to evaluate the students’ products, and the library media specialist can help evaluate the process: how did this assignment differ from previous years? How did it help our students think about the relationship between American and other cultures?

Multicultural Comprehension: Grades 5-8

World History standards are arranged chronologically on the McREL web site but the theme of multiculturalism persists. Each era features standards that expect students to understand major movements and cultural interactions throughout history.

For example, in Era 6, Global Expansion and Encounter, standard 27 requires students to understand “how European society experienced political, economic, and cultural transformations in an age of global intercommunication between 1450 and 1750.” An associated benchmark expects students to “understand early influences on the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment (e.g., connections between the Scientific Revolution and its antecedents, such as Greek rationalism, medieval theology, Muslim science, Renaissance humanism, and new global knowledge; connections between the Enlightenment and its antecedents, such as Roman republicanism, the Renaissance, and the Scientific Revolution).” What a great opportunity to use the Big6 Skills to help students make these important connections!

Big6 #1: Task Definition
What can we ask students to do to help them connect European history with its influences from other cultures and eras? What will be our essential question? Consider, “How did the expansion of trade change the culture of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?” Think ahead to the revolutions and colonialism of the late eighteenth century; anticipate the need to reflect on “how Eurasian societies were transformed in an era of global trade and the emergence of European power from 1750 to 1870.” Although someone may have “taught” this in the schools I attended, I certainly never understood it until I lived in Asia.
Big6 #2: Information Seeking Strategies
World history texts produced in the U.S. have been criticized for the intensity of their focus on northern European history to the exclusion of other areas of the world. Can we use the power of the World Wide Web to contribute some balance to our students’ knowledge? What about using magazine articles and non-fiction historical works?
Big6 #3: Location and Access
Similar to Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators, Blue Web’n provides links to web sites, lesson plans and activities appropriate for use in K-12 schools. However, I did not find a great resource with a global approach to this time period at a middle grade level in either place. The following web sites are more likely to provide starting points for your teachers than their students:The Global History Sourcebook “is dedicated to exploration of interaction between world cultures. Specifically this means looking at:
• The ways in which cultures contact each other
• The ways they influence each other
• The ways new cultural forms emerge.”Discovery and Reformation “is designed as a learning module in the form of a ‘research textbook.’ … From a historical perspective, the module is written from a world systems standpoint. The module is designed to comparatively highlight the interactions between Reformation and discovery Europe and other cultures in Europe and the non-European world during this historical period and after.”Annenberg’s pages on the Renaissance (with links to hands-on activities) provide a more student-centered approach but their corresponding video series “The Western Tradition” is aimed at college, high school and adult learners.
Big6 #4: Use of Information
Remind students that they are looking for essential connections between different cultures in this time period, not just a rehash of exploration and trade routes. What happened when people of diverse backgrounds came together? What goods and stories did they trade?
Big6 #5: Synthesis
Since I did not find a great resource with a global approach to this time period on the World Wide Web, perhaps you and your history teacher will create a WebQuest worthy of inclusion in Tom March’s “Best WebQuests” to help your students understand the cross-cultural implications of the internationalism that arose in the mid15th to mid18th centuries.
Big6 #6: Evaluation
Whatever activity the library media specialist and classroom teacher design to address this standard, they will want to evaluate both the student product as well as the process of working together and working with students. As always, we believe in involving students directly in the evaluation process.

Multicultural Appreciation: High School

Among the World History standards listed on the McREL web site is one from the same time period above that expects grade 9-12 students to “understand the role of the Enlightenment in shaping European society (e.g., the impact of Europe’s growing knowledge of other regions on the development of concepts of universalism, tolerance, and world history; the connection between the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, and arguments supporting the notion that one was dependent upon the other).”

To start, ask yourself how well our students understand the concepts of universalism and tolerance. One would hope that by the time they reach high school, students have internalized the multicultural values reflected in the sample lessons above. I don’t see it in my students, though. Perhaps, if we use the Big6 Skills to incorporate curriculum standards like these, both the knowledge students acquire and the approach to information problem solving they use will have more lasting effects.

Share Your Good Ideas
Do you have an activity or lesson plan that focuses on incorporating history content standards with the Big6™ Skills? Please let us know. Send e-mail to info(at)big6(dot)com.