Okay, we finally made it! Waldorf schools are probably the only place where people still tell stories to eighth graders. My students loved a good story and I could still captivate them with a gripping tale right up to graduation. The history curriculum in eighth grade is “Revolutions” and traditionally the French, American and Industrial Revolutions are covered. Some teachers in the US have narrowed it to cover only US history in eighth grade. Though I think it is important to stick with the “revolutions” theme, I can understand the impulse to stick with just US history, as there is so much material to cover. One of the things I regret about my eighth grade year is that we only got through the Civil War in the timeline of US history. When I compare that to the breadth of US history I covered in my own education, I find it sorely lacking. But, we must make compromises, and my students will get a healthy dose of US history in high school.
So, what resources to use?
The Age of Revolution by Charles Kovacs — By now you should know that anything Kovacs gets my highest stamp of approval. Again, this book is great for covering the content in a succinct way. Following this book you could easily make your history blocks economical when it comes to time. It might even be possible to cover the Industrial, French and American Revolutions in one three week block, and then dedicate the second history block to the rest of American history. Hmmm, I might do it that way myself next time. The sacrifice, of course, is having the time to go into depth, but much depth is gained simply by working in blocks and immersing yourself in history for three full weeks. It could very well be enough.
1776 by David McCullough — This was another over-the-summer read for me that really helped me when it came to building a feeling for the American Revolution. It goes into so much detail that it’s hard to use as a resource for teaching directly, but there were definitely parts of it that I used for telling stories during the block. Looking back, if I had taken better notes during my reading of it I would have been able to teach from it very well, but instead I lazily read it by the lake during the summer, absorbing the feeling of the revolution, not so much the details. Still, I highly recommend it.
John Adams by David McCullough — Okay, I confess, I watched the mini-series. But it was so good, and you know when you’re teaching and you really want to watch a movie but you can’t justify spending the time? That’s what historical dramas are perfect for. Actually, watching the mini-series really helped in teaching this block. I took my telling of the Boston Massacre straight from the movie. Terrible, I know.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — You must, and I mean MUST, assign this to your eighth graders to read. It fits in so beautifully with American History but it is also such a compelling story. Every eighth grader should be presented with Atticus Finch as the representative upright human being. I noticed my students sit up a little bit straighter in their chairs after reading this book, and I myself stood before them with greater presence. Makes me want to reread it now.
For this block I also used countless resources from the public library. Great biographies to tell include Benjamin Franklin, Sojourner Truth, Fredrick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Abigail Adams. . . . the list goes on. I found the biographies in the juvenile section of the library perfectly acceptable for these stories. AWSNA has recently put out a book on biographies to tell in 8th grade, but I’m not familiar enough with it to recommend it.