Gainesville Daily Register

April 3, 2013

Humanities series helps GMS teacher bring history to life

By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer

Gainesville — A Gainesville history teacher recently spent a day in Dallas and left better equipped to help her  students learn.

Eighth grade teacher Heather Holt participated in February’s “Humanities Texas” workshop at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.

Holt, a Gainesville Middle School educator now in her eighth year, said the workshop focused on the standards of state curriculum regarding U.S. history and provided input on encouraging critical thinking among students.

With the help of scholars, workshop participants examined slavery and the Civil War — subjects Holt was currently teaching her own students.

“It’s very in-depth and focuses on what you need,” she said about the workshop. “History is so broad, but it keeps it very focused on what you’re teaching. They keep it alive, because they bring in primary sources so that they kids can look at it and then search for evidence.

“They’re trying to get the kids to think more critically, and they really push in trying to engage the students.”

The endowment-funded workshop was led by professors Michael Benedict of Ohio State University, Albert S. Broussard of Texas A&M University, Daniel Feller of the University of Tennessee and Jennifer L. Weber of the University of Kansas.

“Bringing teachers together to learn from leading scholars and from each other is an effective way to ensure that Texas students continue to receive the best possible educational opportunities,” Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael Gillette said in a related release.

During the morning of the workshop, participants attended lectures and presentations. During the afternoons, they joined the leading faculty in workshops that examined primary Civil War sources such as historic documents, maps and photographs.

Holt said she was later presented with a multimedia presentation to show her students that correlated to the subjects, plus special literature.

In the Gainesville Middle School classes that followed, she was able to show her students items such as an image of a vintage poster that promoted a slavery auction and included details about slave children who were put on sale.

Such artifacts, however disturbing, made strong supplements to what Holt was already trying to teach.

“It opens up what life was like during that time period and it’s something to pull the kids in and get their interest,” she said. “The instructors at the workshop teach you how to ask the questions and to pull the information from the kids; good, strong questions. Because right now, we’re going away from fact and away from the students learning to find information on their own.”

The release said the workshop was made possible with support from the Sid W. Richardson Foundation as well as from the State of Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, sponsors programs promoting heritage, culture and education throughout the state.