Fact Checking our Textbook- Source Analysis and Critical Thinking

When I think back to how I used to use worksheets and textbooks in class I am a little embarrassed.  I hand them the book, they move info from the book to a sheet, then I collect the sheet. Awesome, now we are all smarter and I have a pile of grading to do.  How could I have ever thought that was ok?

In the last few months I have focused on creating frameworks that create opportunities for critical analysis in class.  I want them to be generic enough to be applied to different content. I’d like to have several but have the students repeat each of them enough that the students can become efficient in each process.

When I arrived at my Chinese Revolution Unit in early May, I decided to try a Textbook Fact Check.  At this point we had already studied several revolutions. I felt comfortable letting the students gather and process the facts of this unit.  I wanted them to use those facts to evaluate how history is written.  I began this Fact Check assignment by asking the students if the person telling the story matters?  I talked about some current events and how political parties have different views about the same facts.  Students brought up examples of competing perspectives on facts. Some of the things they mentioned were Holocaust deniers, groups in the Middle East, different religious views about the truth, and people testifying in court.  Once we had talked about these competing perspectives I asked so “What is the textbook’s perspective?”

Then we looked up who wrote each chapter and briefly searched their background.  Then students were grouped and assigned sections of the textbook to fact check.  I gave them this guide for what they should look for:

Bias- either positive or negative.
Errors- anything that could be shown to be false or is presented in a misleading way.
Omissions- Things that were left out (but explain why it might have been left out.)

The students were to collaborate, create a presentation of their findings via Google docs which they would share with that class.

Here are some examples of the final products they produced:

Example 1
Example 2
Example 3

These aren’t necessarily the best but represent a variety of ways the students went about the assignment.

I was very pleased with this assignment because it made clear which students were thinking critically for themselves and which students were simply repeating information from the book.  The class discussion was full of unanswered questions and avenues for further learning. There was debate about the conclusions that were made.  Students did a lot of in depth reading and had the freedom pursue avenues of thought that interested them.  I did not lecture. We had long discussions about our sources and which ones were trustworthy.  The lesson took us to places we hadn’t been that the textbook hadn’t taken us before.

I still have a lot to do in order to put the students in charge of their learning.  I realize I will have to work more on evaluating sources and more activities on identifying perspective but this was a step in the right direction.

A helpful book in this process has been “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel Willingham.  It discusses the cognitive processes involves in learning and memory. It will get you thinking about the work that you assign and how you structure your lessons.  

3 thoughts on “Fact Checking our Textbook- Source Analysis and Critical Thinking

  1. This is a great idea. I am not using a text for US history but rather a book by Robert Remini – A Short History of the United States. The fact checking activity would be great for this. I am working to incorporate regular history lab classes, and this would make an excellent lab. Thanks for the inspiration!


  2. Good stuff, Shawn. I do a similar assignment where students compare multiple secondary sources on the same topic.

    For the critical thinking structures you’re looking for, I’d highly recommend the book Making Thinking Visible (there’s a companion website, but I found the book far more worthwhile). It’s a collection of exactly the type of routines you’re thinking about.


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