Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
SED 741 - Social Science Methods Discussion Guides:
Defining and Refining our Tools - How do we our tools of the trade in our classrooms?

Following, please find the discussion guides for this session. 

Television Statistics

In the late 1990s, according to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week or about 112 hours per month - or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). Ten years later, the Nielsen Company found Americans watched 5 hours per day - so that a 75-year-old who, at the age of 10, started watching 5 hours of TV a day will have spent a little more than 13 years of his or her lifetime in front of a television set.

A poll conducted in the U.S in the late 1990s found:

Family Life




Source: TV-Free America: http://www.csun.edu/~vceed002/health/docs/tv&health.html

Related Studies:

Defining and Refining our Tools

Topics for Discussion:

  1. How do we teach our students to critically watch television and other forms of visual media?
  2. Why and how should we use film in our classrooms?
  3. What are the best uses of current events and political cartoons in our classrooms?
  4. How can we broaden our use of primary resources in our classrooms?  (documents, oral history, photographs, etc.) And how do we footnote these resources?
  5. What is History Day and should we get involved?
  6. What are some ways to use music in our classrooms?
  7. What are some good ideas for innovative activities in our classrooms?
  8. How do we abridge primary documents?
  9. How can we use SIGHT in our classrooms?
  10. How do we use DBQs in our classrooms?

Goal #1: How do we teach our students to critically watch television and other forms of visual media?

How Student Decision-making Processes Are Influenced by Television

  1. Television programmers use short scenes which pander to or create short attention spans.  Programmers use the KISS rule - Keep it short and simple.  Students are trained to expect rapid editing with fast-paced action accompanied by simple solutions.  Students carry their short attention spans and their lack of thought about what they are seeing into the schools.
  2. Students bring their televised "education" into their classrooms.    Life and reasoning are much more complex than taught on television.  Yet young people who watch a lot of television tend to arrive at simple but fallacious solutions.
  3. Many students have concluded that thinking abstractly is much too difficult.  They erroneously conclude that if it is easier and quicker - just like television - then it must be better.  Some student capacities for abstracting, imagining, and creating are dwindling because they are choosing the passive visual experiences rather than the active experiences of reading, critically viewing, and critically thinking.  Relying on images rather than  on verified information affects student abilities to make knowledge and evidence-based decisions.
  4. Most television scripts use vocabularies aimed at the lowest common denominator.  Students who have consumed large quantities of television and have done little serious reading have no way to develop the vocabularies necessary to discuss important ideas.  The inability to use the more abstract symbols of language affects the quality of decisions.

Necessary Concepts and Skills Students Need to  Become Actively and Critically
Involved with Television Programming

Remember - the average young person spends 4-5 hours a day watching television!

  1. Because television controls our perceptions, we need to understand the technical mechanisms used to gain such control.  TV controls our perceptions in at least four ways: the angle of the camera, the speed of the cuts, the number and kind of technical interventions, and the length and time for each montage.  Let's examine the angle of the camera - If ex-Marine Colonel Oliver North is pictured during the Iran-Contra Congressional hearings with the camera pointed up toward him, this gives the viewer the "feeling" that North has power and command.  Conversely, if the camera is shooting down it gives the viewer the "feeling" that North does not have power and is not in command.  An angle from the side suggests that he might not be telling the truth.  An angle straight into his eyes gives the sense that he is being truthful.
  2. Because television controls have we "feel" about what is on the screen, we need to understand how we are being manipulated.  Pictures affect how we feel about things, and the pictorial language of television is the close-up shot.  Extreme close-ups suggest intimacy while long shots suggest a distant relationship.  A fast-paced set of "cuts" will affect how we perceive the story that is being told while a slow pace, with a lot of "dissolves," suggests we should feel something else.  Music will greatly influence the mood with which we digest the scenes - as will canned laughter.
  3. Because television is edited for an intended effect, we need to understand how it is designed to direct our feelings and perceptions. Every TV show has an intended effect - something the producers and advertisers want us to believe.  Thus, everything is edited after filming - even "live" shows - to meet that intended effect.  For instance, if in the 2003 California Recall/Governor's Election, the director chooses to "cut away" to Arianna Huffington while "Arnie" is speaking - a specific message is made.  Or if the director "cuts away" to the audience while the Green Party candidate is speaking - and the audience is showing displeasure - another message is being "sold" to the public.
  4. Because television is manipulated technically and by subject matter choice, we need to understand the tools used to keep us attentive.  In order to keep us attentive, directors must technically manipulate what we see on the screen.  The average 30-second commercial has 20 technical manipulations - cuts, zooms, dissolves, etc. - that are used to keep us focused on what is being sold.  Directors must also focus on bizarre, controversial, and confrontational subject matter in order to keep us interested.  Thus, if there is a  protest in front of the US Capitol and a small amount of violence occurs, the few minutes of violent action is what is shown rather than the hours of quiet protest.
  5. Because television is about the business of making money, we need to be aware of this influence on what we watch.  Commercial television networks pay the Nielsen television rating's service to determine the number of people who are watching a particular program.  If people are watching, advertisers will pay to reach them; if they are not watching, their profitability will be low and they will not pay.  Television broadcasters show what people WANT - we control the market!

To get an idea of how much television or other visual media your students watch daily as well as how they watch such programs, ask them the following:

Then, to get even better answers to your questions and to help students understand their relationship to television and other visual media, ask them to chart their television/computer programs viewing for a week - list all that they watched and have them keep a journal of what they thought about the programs, and how they did/did not contribute to their lives. This is a great discussion topic when they bring their journals back to class.

Goal #2: How and why should we use film in our classrooms

Why we should film in our classrooms:

  1. The film message is too important to leave to amateurs - students need teachers to help them understand the message.
  2. Some topics require the use of film.
  3. Film can communicate a moment in time with a power and precision that personal memoirs and history textbooks often cannot achieve.
  4. If we ignore the influence popular cinema plays in the lives of our students, we are also ignoring their perspectives
  5. Hollywood films provide a great new genre that Robert Brent Toplin in Reel History calls "faction" - movies that spin highly fictional tales that are loosely based around actual events. Factional movies identify some real people, events, or situations from the past but blend these details into invented stories. Or they make the leading characters fictional people who represent a composite of several historical figures.

How we should use film in our classrooms - O'Connor's Guide to Film Analysis*

Film is best analyzed using the techniques of traditional historical analysis.  This involves a two-stage analytical process:

1. Stage One:  Analyze the film in terms of:

2. Stage Two:  Analyze within three major frameworks - moving-image documents as:

These are the same questions historians ask when analyzing any document!

Source: John E. O'Connor and Martin A. Jackson, American History/American Film: Interpreting the Hollywood Image  (NY: Ungar Publishing Co, 1979).

Resources for Teaching about Film

To Read:



Goal #3: What are the best uses of current events and political cartoons in our classrooms?

A current event exercise - Understanding the history of the Boston Tea Party in context of the current Tea Party Movement. The current event question is - What was the Boston Tea Party and does it have any relationship to the current Tea Party Movement?

(Note: this information below was condensed from and informed by an article published by Ray Raphael, " Tea Party Myths: What you didn't learn in school about the legendary brouhaha in Boston that helped spark our revolution.")

Introduction: We all know that on December 16, 1773, several dozen men dressed up as Mohawk Indians and cut open 340 chests of tea belonging to the East India Company and dumped the contents in Boston’s harbor.

So let's examine several myths about the Boston Tea Party:

In short ...

Resources for teaching about the Tea Party Movement

Current Events Resources :

Resources for Teaching Current Events:

Political Cartoons: To get a better idea of how political cartoons can be used in your classroom, consult the online lesson plan: "It's no laughing matter: analyzing political cartoons" at http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/activities/political-cartoon/

Resources for Political Cartoons and Teaching with Political Cartoons

Goal #4: How can we broaden our use of primary resources in our classrooms?  (documents, oral history, photographs, etc.) And how and why do we footnote these sources?

Sources for Primary Documents

Photo of Hurrican Katrina

Photo of Hurricane Katrina

Huzzah for Footnotes! In this short video, noted historian Ray Raphael explains the importance of footnoting our resources in a way that our students can understand!

Goal #5: What is History Day and should we get involved?

History Day is the one program that always emphasizes the importance of students actually doing history!

Goal #6: What are some ways to use music in our classrooms?

Goal #7: What are some good ideas for innovative activities in our classrooms?

Mock Trials, Simulations, and other creative approaches



Goal #8: How do we abridge primary documents?Abridging a primary document

Abridging or condensing primary documents down to a workable size is an essential tool for every history teacher - especially as we perfect the art of creating history labs or teaching our students to become historical detectives. So, how do we do this?

Goal #9: How can we use SIGHT in our classrooms?


Goal #10: How do we use DBQs in our classrooms?

Document Based Questions (DBQs). The DBQ is designed to enable students to work like historians, analyzing and synthesizing evidence from a variety of sources. Further, DBQs are designed to test the skills a student historian uses in interpreting historical material. As such, it does not require that a student be familiar with the event or topic that is being presented; a student will be able to respond adequately using only the data provided.

The types of documents that might be used as historical sources include: public records; art, literature, music; maps; news articles, photographs; diaries and letters; charts and graphs, speeches; interviews; and political cartoons. In general, students read 2 to 7 documents (depending on the grade level), analyze the documents, answer a series of questions, and then write an essay using their answers to those questions.

Following are some tasks that students could be asked to do in a DBQ:

The following resources will provide further information about DBQs: