Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Response to Patriots by Christian Appy

Jean M. Acciavatti
Haverhill High School
May 18, 2011

Response to Patriots

Christian Appy has taken on a huge undertaking with the penning of this volume. The scores of interviews of Vietnamese and Americans- some well known, others just everyday people- is daunting. One thing is clear. Most people are very opinionated about the Vietnam War. As a child during the war, I was very aware of the antiwar sentiment- at least from the media's perception of it. One of the things I didn't know however were that there were theatre troupes whose mission it was to protest. I had no idea that many Vietnamese simply considered themselves that- not northern and not southern. I never really thought about what Vietnamese children thought about the war- but they must have had strong feelings given the part many played in both formal and informal battle. How many of them had witnessed the horrors and were simply 'playing' them out without realizing the finality of it all. Soldiers and other leaders who were merely doing their jobs suffered much ill will as did their own families. It is also amazing to me that prewar most Americans had never even heard of Vietnam and couldn't find it on a globe before the war. And most agree that nothing that was happening in Vietnam had much bearing on American life. The Vietnamese were interested in developing themselves—so --why were we there?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sesquicentennial! Civil War Letters: Sources and Ideas for the Classroom

As the nation remembers the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the web is teeming with great resources to engage students. With recent efforts to digitize archives and sources for greater public access, there are phenomenal resources that capture individual points of view…so many that you can really capture a picture of the whole war through individual voices and experiences. Civil War letters are a phenomenal way to pull students into the everyday perspective of war… North or South, home front or battlefield, male or female, white or black. Letters reveal motive, emotions, aspirations, as well as details about daily life. There are endless ways you could use letters to help students understand the Civil War. Firstly, consider the essential questions that frame your unit, what do you want students to know about the Civil War? Personally, because of the nature of the Civil War, I feel it is important for students to know why people fought…what caused this massive and tragic loss of life? It’s valuable to let student curiosity guide their inquiry as it creates a greater sense of ownership and interest. Using a generic question, such as, “What can we learn about the Civil War from this letter?” you can have students choose from any collection…one you’ve created or a data base on the web. If you want to put more time into organizing the sources, you could create stations with letters from specific regions, topics, points of view, and as the students rotate through the different stations they can treate the letters like pieces to a mosaic. One use of Civil War letters I found particularly interesting was having the letters narrated. The Patriot Ledger had a “Civil War Letters home from Quincy Soldiers” special in which letters were read aloud. Try using voicethread, or jing, to narrate your letters.

The New York Times posted several of Robert Gould Shaw’s letters in his defense of Washington, DC as a member of the elite New York Seventh Regiment, before he commanded the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. This might be an interesting connection to the film, Glory. Though these letters are before Shaw’s leadership with the 54th, they are a great resource, particularly because of his background…coming from education and wealth. The letters capture a well spoken insightful perspective of the war and his mission, to defend the capital…it would definitely make for an interesting comparison with a soldier from less wealth an education, or an African American soldier.

I really liked Maine State Archive’s Civil War Sesquicentennial. There are dozens of letters catalogued by their date, author, subject, and town. There is also a search box so you can look for certain terms that appear within letters. This source is unique in that it presents perspectives that reveal how war impacted whole communities. The organization allows one to search for specific aspects of war.

A little closer to home, I’ve also really enjoyed the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Looking at the Civil War, Massachusetts finds her voice. The selection accessible on the MHS website includes sources from many perspectives, that of MA governor, John Andrew, to a soldier’s letter to his wife. These two perspectives would make an interesting comparative.

PBS, of course, never fails. PBS has a pretty extensive lesson plan involving Civil War letters. The Civil War Trust also has an extensive bank of lesson plans, some having to do with letters as well.

Using excerpts from Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides by Christian G. Appy

Brief Overview: To supplement my unit on the Vietnam War, I shared three excerpts with my students from Christian G. Appy’s book. I used three different teaching styles with these readings and assessed their enduring understanding through their analysis of three quotes on our unit test. Included below are the three excerpts I used, the questions I posed to the class and my reflection on their use in the classroom. It is my hope that maybe you could use or modify some of this in your own classes. I would love to hear about other excerpts you have/plan to use!
Connection to MA Frameworks: US II 20. Explain the causes, course, and consequences of the Vietnam War and summarize the diplomatic and military policies of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

“Kick the Tires and Light the Fires” pgs 61-75
Method of Instruction: Informal Class Discussion In class I gave out this reading and gave students about fifteen minutes to skim. We then spent about fifteen minutes discussing the answers to these questions.
1. What did “sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem” mean?
2. Discuss JFK’s role in Vietnam.
3. Do you agree with Malcolm Browne’s idea that in the early 60’s the U.S. was waging a secret war in Vietnam?
4. Explain Le Lieu Browne’s perception of President Diem.
Connection to unit objective(s):
• Summarize Vietnam’s history as a French colony and its struggle for independence.
• Examine how the United States became involved in the Vietnam conflict.
Reflection: I think my students really understood the problems that stemmed fro Diem’s policies and the complexity of U.S. involvement at that time. They were most fascinated with Malcolm Browne’s account and we had a great discussion about the impact of the media and powerful images. Lastly, they loved the story behind Malcolm and Le Lieu. In retrospect, I think I could have saved on class time by asking them to read the account at him and coming in prepared to discuss in class.

“From Civil Rights to Antiwar” pgs 142-145
Method of Instruction: Individual Written Assignment I gave this assignment for students to complete in class on a day I was out on at a TAH seminar. Students were asked to complete the reading and answer the following questions individually and hand in for a graded assignment.
1. Describe the paradoxical relationship between civil rights and antiwar movements.
2. Analyze the following quote: “The promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam.”
3. Briefly explain the impact that the Vietnam War had on SNCC.
4. What was the controversy surround Muhammad Ali? Do you agree with his decision? Explain.
Connection to unit objective(s):
• Explain the impact of the war on American society.
• Explain the draft policies that led to the Vietnam War becoming a working-class war.
• Trace the roots of opposition to the war.
• Describe the antiwar movement and the growing divisions in U.S. public opinion about the war.
Reflection: A great deal of students did not understand the idea of a paradox. I have plenty of dictionaries in my classroom and I always stress being an active learner so I was disappointed that not many took the initiative to grab a dictionary! I also had to address question #2 in class because instead of answering the question based on the reading, they drew from prior knowledge. Most of their answers focused on funding of the Great Society being affected by the war, when in the article they suggested Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to the contradictory goals of this working-class war and the philosophy behind the Great Society. Students did seem to be engaged about brief account of Muhammad Ali and they had some questions for me the next day!

“From Cambodia to Kent State” pgs. 376-389
Method of Instruction: Jigsaw Discussion For this assignment, I asked all students to read the introduction and then answer questions 1 and 2. After that, I assigned each student one of the three primary source accounts (Anthony Lake, A.J. Langguth and Tom Grace) and assigned them the corresponding questions. After ten minutes of silent reading time, we got into groups of three and students shared their answers to questions 3-5. This took about fifteen minutes. We then reconvened as a class and shared out the responses to all questions.
1. Explain Nixon/Kissinger’s military strategy in Vietnam at the start of 69.
2. How did Nixon deal w/the media, pubic knowledge and support of the war? Give 2 examples.
3. Explain Anthony Lake’s moral dilemma when he resigned. Do you agree with is decision to resign?
4. What did A.J. Langguth find in his research about the effectiveness of Vietnamization?
5. How did Tom Grace’s experiences at Kent State shape him? Were you surprised by any of his account?
Connection to unit objective(s):
• Describe the antiwar movement and the growing divisions in U.S. public opinion about the war.
• Describe Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization.
• Explain the public’s reaction to the Vietnam War during Nixon’s presidency.
Reflection: Students did really well with this excerpt and method of instruction. We had a really active discussion on all three questions as students expressed their personal opinions about the topics. We discussed mistrust the government, the scariness of Kent State from both sides, the decision of Lake to resign and the battle for the hearts and minds in connection to Vietnamization.

Formal Test Assessment
Quote Analysis: Pick three of the following quotes. In a paragraph, briefly explain what they mean and whether you agree with the idea behind them. (5 pts each)

1. “Sink or swim with Ngo Dihn Diem.”-American journalist in regards to Washington’s policy.
2. “You could smell the burning flesh.”-Malcolm Browne
3. “The promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
4. The United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
5. “No Viet Cong never called me nigger.”- Muhammad Ali
6. “Quitting wasn’t heroic.”-Anthony Lake
7. “They didn’t want to fight.”-A.J. Langguth
8. “As much as we hated the war on April 29, we hated it more on April 30th.”-Tom Grace
Below is the percentage of students that chose the above quotes to analyze


I was pleased that all quotes were chosen at least three times and not surprised that students gravitated towards #3 and #8 since those were the ones we had the liveliest discussions on. Click here to view some student samples.

Image of book was taken from:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Focusing on the individual, not just the event

Besides my US History classes, this year I have the pleasure of teaching 9th grade World History. In Stoneham, the 9th grade curriculum focuses on the French Revolution through the modern era (or whatever that means). Every year we struggle with finishing the content, typically rushing through WW II- many of my students' favorite part of history.

This year we decided to mix things up a bit...

After reading Double Victory I realized there were so many untold stories of World War II and that I would love to integrate this idea of telling their story with my 9th graders.

Together the 9th grade teachers designed and implemented a new research project:

Unknown Heroes and Heroines of World War II

Although some are not really "unknown" to most, they were certainly unknown to my students.

Much like National History Day, students pick a topic which corresponds to a theme and then has 4 options to present the information. The options are:

1. Creating a 3-D model which depicts an important event in the life of their person
2. Write a historical paper
3. Create a Prezi or website about their person

And my personal favorite...

4. Become the person and present their findings to the class!

Although the 9th grade curriculum is not completely relatable to TAH content, the theme of an War, Society, State and Citizenship is. Many of my students only know World War II because of the violence.

With this project we hope that they will also be able to put a face and a story with the great conflict and above all else, understand the conflicts impact on the people who lived through it.

Possible options include:
Primo Levi Spitfire Women

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blogging to Teach History

I have to admit that at the beginning of this year I was struggling to come up with more meaningful homework for my 11th grade US II students. I found myself underwhelmed at the thought of end of textbook section questions yet I wanted a forum that would offer a level of consistency. It was for these reasons that, well into the school year, I started my blog: It has offered everything I was looking for and more in terms of having a consistent, flexible, differentiated, and meaningful homework. I believe this will only be more successful when I start the next school year with this tool.

I started the blog from scratch, exploring wordpress on my own until I figured out how to do what I wanted to do. In retrospect, there are a million resources out there to guide teachers through the process of using blogs and online journals with classes. The most comprehensive list of resources I have found is published on the University of Missouri website at: This only validates my opinion that this is the future of teaching.

As I have continued to learn about blogging, I have discovered how to post important dates, upload class notes, change my theme to reflect the current unit, and embed polls, video, and audio. I have assigned primary sources, webquests, oral history audio bits, primary source video clips, secondary sources, and interactive maps. I cannot say enough how excited I am about this new forum to bring history to students.

Sunday, May 1, 2011 in the Classroom

At our last school day seminar, Kara introduced two survey websites that offer free limited accounts, Polldaddy and Survey Monkey. She mentioned in her presentation that she had used it in her class and found it quite adaptable to the classroom. As I was listening to her presentation, I was struggling with a scheduling conflict at school the next day. My dilemma was that I was scheduled for the computer room for the following three days with all my classes, but my honors classes had not presented their previously assigned group posters. Although one hates to give-up valuable and scarce computer room time in out school, but the question kept going through my head, “What good is a group poster project if the groups can’t present their posters to the class”. Suddenly an idea came to me. I could have my classes present their posters in the computer room and I could use for student responses. If these survey sites were truly easy and intuitive I could set-up a free account, create a survey, and have available to my students by the next morning. I must admit, this was quite a lofty goal to achieve with no experience and less than 24 hours to accomplish. Well, the lesson went off without a hitch as proved to be as easy to use as I had hoped.

My first step was to open a free account at . Once completed I found that I could choose from three types of “polls”; polls, surveys and quizzes. I chose to create a survey as this format would allow me to create nine multiple choice questions with one space for the students’ name. The template that Polldaddy offered was a simple, multiple choice question with the possible responses to be the typical a,b,c…etc. So, I created nine questions that I wanted each student to respond to after they viewed each poster presentation. Since the presentations were in groups, I only had seven groups per class that needed to be surveyed. Fortunately, Polldaddy allows you to duplicate your surveys, so once I created a survey that I liked, I just duplicated it seven times for each class and called each one “Group A”, “Group B” and the like.

The next step was getting it to the students. Fortunately, I have a Wikispaces web page that I created from a previous school-day seminar that I could use to post my surveys for the students. Polldaddy walks you through cutting and pasting the “code” that you could paste as a “widget” on your site. If you click on the following link, you will be able to see the page my students saw as they watch the groups present their posters: From that page, you can click on a survey and see the very simple survey that I created the night before the presentations.

After the class presentations were made and the students responded to each presentation, I logged on to my Polldaddy account and cut and pasted their poll results to a folder on the computer network that all the students could accesses. This way, each group could go view how their classmates rated each of their presentations. Please note, that as I have only a free account, I can’t access sophisticated statistical information, but I didn’t need it. Here is what the students could see on their computers by just saving the results and pasting them on an accessible folder: After I cut and pasted the groups’ results and posted them for them to see, I cleared the data from each group survey so that it would be ready for the next class.

Needles to say, my students love this new electronic method of interacting with class presentations. As an audience they were attentive, and seemed to enjoy critiquing while they were listening.