Placing this historical background right at the beginning sets the stage for the argument that will occur in the body of the essay, and is consistent with expectations many English teachers have in how to write an introduction paragraph.
I explain contextualization to students by using the example of Star Wars.
Students don’t want to write a 6-8 sentence paragraph (they will want to save time for their argument in the body), but they need to do more than write a vague sentence that superficially addresses the era.
Analyze Lots of Primary Sources One of the best ways to prepare for the DBQ is for students to practice reading and comprehending primary source texts, particularly texts that are written by people who use very different language and sentence structure from today.
One of the more significant changes is to the structure of one essay on the AP exam, the Document Based question (DBQ).
The rubric for the DBQ was previously a more holistic essay that combined a strong thesis, and use of documents and outside information to support the argument.The latter sounds similar to contextualization (and it is essentially the same skill), but historical context is only focused on the specific document being analyzed, not the entire essay, like the contextualization point.For example, if a document is a map that shows slavery growing dramatically from 1820 to 1860, a student might point out that this growth can be explained in the context of the development of the cotton gin, which made the production of cotton much more profitable and let to the spread of slavery in the Deep South.In general, it would be difficult for students to earn the point if they are writing only a sentence or two.Early in the year, I assigned students a DBQ based on the following prompt: Evaluate the extent in which the Civil War was a turning point in the lives of African Americans in the United States.This helps them understand and analyze documents, but it also can be helpful in practicing contextualization.Looking at different perspectives and points of view in the actual historical time periods they are learning is key in allowing students to understand how the era can impact beliefs, values and events that occur.Use the documents and your knowledge of the years 1860-1877 to construct your response. Without any specific detail, this student could not earn the contextualization point.This was the third DBQ we had written, and students were now getting brave enough to move beyond a thesis and document analysis and started attempting to tackle the contextualization point. One student wrote: Of course this is a true statement, but is extremely vague. Another student wrote: Again, this is a drive-by attempt at earning contextualization. These are the types of details that would add meaning to contextualization. She wrote: The peculiar institution of slavery had been a part of America’s identity since the founding of the original English colony at Jamestown.It mentions things that are true, but lacks any meaningful details or explanation that would demonstrate understanding of the time period in discussion. In the early years, compromise was key to avoiding the moral question, but as America entered the mid 19th century sectional tensions and crises with popular sovereignty, Kansas, and fugitive slaves made the issue increasingly unavoidable.What led to the beginning of slavery in the colonies? When the Civil War began, the war was transformed from one to simply save the Union to a battle for the future of slavery and freedom in the United States. It gives specific details about the beginning of slavery and its development.