Document Based Questions (DBQs)

Document Based Questions (DBQs) Reinforce the 3 R’s in ANY Classroom

By Ed Banks, Humanities Instructor at Bayan Bilingual School in Kuwait City, Kuwait

I hope karma isn’t real…

When I first began in education over a decade ago I loathed daylong professional developments. I was just getting a handle on teaching, yet I found myself constantly losing prep periods sitting in these darned pd sessions. Even worse, they perpetually seemed to miss in entirety my needs as a freshman educator. My primary concerns were classroom management and content mastery. Talks of student centered learning, DBQs or any other educational buzzword triggered an immediate mental checkout.

Pfft, student centered classrooms, in my mind that was precisely the problem. The darned kids kept stealing my spotlight. I was NOT turning MY classroom loose…I didn’t learn all that content to NOT teach it. My job title was teacher, with stressed emphasis on the root word. If the kids would just be quiet long enough and let me get through my content, then every class would be amazing. Student centered strategies, Bloom’s taxonomy, skills-based instruction and the like, all seemed pointless AND the professional developments were not helping. Needless to say, in my early years I was far from demonstrating best practices. Even worse, as colleagues offered suggestions in the form of professional developments I was often skeptical.

Create a Learning Environment That Is More “Doing” Than “Learning”

As institute days approached, I’d think “what a cruel irony, another lecture stressing the importance of hands on instruction.” Although a novice instructor at the time, I saw a blatant contradiction as I sat within our training sessions.  A vast majority of our institutes were “presenter-centered” and I absolutely hated it. It was during these presenter-centered training sessions that I had an epiphany. “OMG…in the classroom I AM the presenter.” I realized that I hated professional development for the same reason that students hated class. Both scenarios shared two distinct features: talkative teachers and unengaged audiences doing nada. Both scenarios emphasized a learning environment where there was more “listening” than there was “doing.” Having momentarily swapped places with my students, I understood what I did not initially as the instructor.

Fast-forward…I am now presenting in a two day long professional development. Here’s to karma.

What Not To Expect

  • A presenter-centered lecture
  • A session that doesn’t address your instructional needs/goals
  • The winning numbers to the lottery, a haiku, a surprise performance from Beyoncé

What To Expect

What is the Plan?

The plan is to show teachers how DBQs can be utilized as an effective teaching tool that emphasizes student centered learning while reinforcing the core college readiness skills of research, writing, and reflection. In this session teachers will be divided into groups based on their content, complete a DBQ, and then reflect on how it can be utilized as a cross-curricular alignment tool. DBQs are often used within the humanities department but my goal is to show that this teaching tool can be used in all content areas in order to reinforce a skills based methodology and ensure vertical as well as horizontal alignment.

What Will I Take Away?
  • A tool for self-directed, student centered instruction
  • A non-content specific strategy that reinforces Research, Writing, and Reflection
  • A strategy that emphasizes Higher Order Thinking Skills
    • Bloom’s highest levels: Creation, Evaluation, Analysis each reached
  • A Project Based Assessment tool that can be used over the course of the entire year
  • Suggestions for collaboration within and outside of one’s department
  • Sample DBQs, instructions, and evaluative rubrics

What is a DBQ?

A DBQ is a document based question which forces students to explore in depth an open-ended question of their choice. A DBQ utilizes a variety of 6-12 sources which when grouped together thematically will emphasize analysis of their question from multiple angles.

Benefits of DBQ’s

1. The first and most obvious benefit of using student created DBQs is this approach removes much of the stigma commonly associated with writing. Because students develop both the research question and compile the related sources, buy in is greater when it is time to actually write. Also, the topic is always one of interest because it’s their choice.

Occasionally, we’ll select one student’s DBQ and then debate it as a class; students enjoy this as well. With this approach students hear different perspectives besides their own while still using the same pieces of evidence. Afterwards, we debrief how their views were either changed or reinforced regarding the topic.

2. Another benefit is this approach can be used either as a short-term project done at multiple points throughout the year or as one longer, continual research project. I have personally opted to use it as at multiple points throughout the year, focusing each time on different aspects of the DBQ.

Through this approach, students can see over time: a. their growth in terms of questioning b. their growth in terms of identifying resources c. their improved ability to articulate different perspectives d. their improvement in writing. As the year goes on and we do this activity at least quarterly, sometimes more often depending on the ability of the class, students notice they have grown in all of the above stated areas.

I definitely see the growth in the students, but, more importantly, they too notice it. This too helps to reinforce buy in on research and writing, which before, was a task that seemed nearly impossible.

Learn more about our upcoming PD events here!

Ed is currently in his 11th year teaching. He began in the humanities department in Chicago Public Schools where he taught U.S. and World History for six years. For the past four years, he has taught at Bayan Bilingual School in Kuwait City. There he teaches World History, Political Science and AP World History. He also sponsors the Model United Nations and Speech and Debate club at Bayan.

Ed Banks

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