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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

More Thoughts on Monica’s Point About Timeline Controversies

Monica raised an objection (or perhaps better, voiced a caution) about my last post: i suggested offering kids timelines at the start of social studies units, she said — well who gets to pick what is on the timeline. Of course that can be a vexing question for teachers and administrators every period in the history of India, China, Pre-Columbian America you add is a period of, say, European history you subtract. But it strikes me that for students that very fact makes for a great educational opportunity. What if, as I suggested, at the start of each year students were given a timeline for their yearly social studies focus. Then, during the last week of the year, the class would go back to that initial timelines and edit it — arrive at its judgement about what belonged, should be cut, should be added. That new timeline would be the initial one given out on the first day the following year. Class after class would pass the timeline baton on, and then, say, every ten years a teacher could take out the decade’s worth and line them up — for a lucky class to compare and contrast. Students would get to see, but also participate in, the creation of the backbone of history. Now if the timeline settles down, and doesn’t change much year to year — then that school at least will have solved Monica’s problem. And if it keeps changing, all the better, because that will be a sign of student engagement with history.


  1. I think it could be a great final assessment, but also would say it depends on the age of the kids and how much they know, fact wise, by the end of the year. Tricky too because can’t help, but being affected by what their teacher thinks is important.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    of course the teacher’s views would be influential — but that is part of the beauty of having next year’s class examine this year’s results — as teachers change, or as one teacher thinks in new ways, that old thinking itself becomes a historical artifact that students will begin to discern and question; and in terms of what kids know — timelines can vary, what kids in 5th grade create will not be the same as what kids in 8th grade come up with — the point is merely to set down a spine of key dates — whether that is 10 dates or 110 depends on how much kids know, and what they come to think of as important.

  3. What an interesting idea. It would be fascinating to see the results in practice.