Student Semester Reflections, Part II

Note: What follows is the second in a three-part series of posts based on recent reflections on the fall semester from my students. The first post contained reflections from my students in American government (mostly seniors), while these are from my students in American history (juniors). Later this week, I will post my own thoughts based on these reflections.

1. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned about history this semester?

The valuable lesson I have learned about history this semester is simple: everybody has different stories, different backgrounds, different thoughts, and therefore different perspectives.

History should not be accepted without a doubt by people; we have to question the validity of all claims in history in order to find the truth. There were many topics we discussed in class, specifically the Salem Witch Trials and the Civil War, that were much more complex than I had thought before entering this class. It was valuable to me to realize that a person cannot just read the textbook to get an understanding of what actually happened. It is important to compare many different sources to figure out what happens in history.

Throughout this course, I have become much more aware of the idea that no one will ever know the “answer” to history. This is something I am still struggling with, but it is also one of the things I find most intriguing about history. There are so many opportunities to make assumptions about history and trying to approach it as objectively as possible can be like a game and even fun. . . . [O]ne of the most valuable lessons I have learned about history is that being a well-rounded and critical reader provides for having the best understanding of history, but this is much easier said than done.

Through discussing and looking at different views of history, I have learned that for much that has happened in history, many historians have very different views and write completely different thoughts according to each particular topic. Through this, I learned how truly debatable history is. With every subject being debatable, I have realized how important it is to look at many sources for each particular topic.  Because many historians and people in general disagree, I see now how important it really is to gather reliable sources, and think while reading each of them, even if some of the sources disagree with one another. Then from this, take an educated position based off of the many sources that are viewed. History is a very subjective subject, and I have learned that it can change in the eye of each beholder.

History is not about remembering dates and facts; it is about the development of mankind and humanity. This is the most valuable lesson I have learned this semester. . . . Now, at the end of the semester, I understand history should be objective but it does not mean history cannot have emotions in it. History records tragedies, wars, revolutions and prosperous of mankind. . . . It does require proper amount of emotions to fully understand the truth about our ancestors and truly appreciate the life we have nowadays.

The most valuable lesion I have learned about history is there is no standard answer to most of the historical questions. In my previous studying of history, I was supposed to memorize the exact answer as it was given on the textbook. Now I learned that textbooks are written by people and it is just there might be more people who agree with the opinions so they make that text book. But I acknowledge that there are other opinions; history is not about standard answer it is about what I want to choose to believe. History is not as simple as standard answer it is really complicated. So I need to read more, learn more in order to pick or form my opinion. I think that is why I need to study.

The most valuable lesson I have learned about history this semester is the importance of knowing the background information of a source. Before taking this class, I thought most sources to be unbiased and would have never thought to question where the source came from to see if that in any way influenced what it says. I know now though that where a source was written, by whom, and what the author was involved in can let you know just as much as the source. . . . Before Honors US, I did not realize that when you read a document it is necessary to look up information on the author and do more than just read the document if you want to fully understand it.

The most valuable lesson that I have about history this semester would have to be that history is more than just a list of dates and events. History is what helps shape our future. . . . I’ve never really thought of the idea that right now I’m living in the present, but to someone else in a hundred years they will be thinking of my time as the past( history).

The most valuable lesson I have learned about history is that it is not dependent on facts and dates.  Before this class I dreaded history, because I am not the type of person who can memorize.  I have begun to realize that there was not just one cause that resulted in an event, but rather history is actually a story much like a spider web where many things can lead to one and also to others.  Much of this is based on interpretation of text.

The most valuable lesson I have learned about history during this semester is not to everything you read about history for face value. I never really thought of biases in writings in class before this year. Usually when a teacher gives you a document, you assume that it is reliable, unbiased and that all the information given is fact based. I have learned to not just look at the information the author gave to learn more about a time period, but to look at the author and who the author was to grasp knowledge of a certain point of view.

2. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned about writing this semester?

The most valuable lesson I have learned about writing this semester is that you can’t put a bunch of “fluff” into your essays.  When I say “fluff”, I mean random facts that are somewhat related to the topic, but are not necessary to the essay.

Clarity, Focus, and Organization. I had been developing this habit of starting a paper by just haphazardly writing and then rearranging what I had written into something semi-legible and organized. I did not even think of my thesis or supporting evidence before starting a paper, literally trusting myself to come up with those cornerstones in the middle of writing. Through repetition, practice, and lots of 2’s and 1’s from you, I was given a “reality check” that my method of writing was not the most effective way of producing a good paper.

Writing papers or essays is the hardest part of my being international student. . . . It was burdensome for me to get a good grade but I learned that the way how I write essay was wrong. During the DBQ class essay, I was surprise that writing theses takes forever. Before I usually just go head and write a paper. Also revising essay was much important as writing thesis. I never ever re-read my essay before I turn in despite I should had been doing that. However, now, I know the process of writing essays. It is still hard but more confidence than before because I know what I am doing. Re-reading essay is best thing for international student to improve her writing skills. I can easily find errors while I re-read my essay.

The most valuable lesson I have learned about writing this semester is the value of editing and not using unnecessary information or “fluff” in my writing. One way I have realized the importance of editing my writing was having shorter length requirements for essays so I was forced to put in only the significant information. . . . Revising papers was one main way that I realized where editing was necessary and the best way to edit my papers to make them better and more argumentative.

The most valuable lesson I have learned about writing is that revision is an ongoing process that is truly never finished. . . . Before this class I never truly went back and revised my papers, but now I revise them several times in order to catch and improve things I would not have changed before.  The revision of papers as part of the class has really encouraged me to revise my essays and always make them better.  Writing is a constant process.

The most valuable lesson I have learned about writing this semester is that sometimes it is not what you say; it is how you say it. By saying this I mean that arguments are stronger and more likely to influence someone if you write in a professional tone and back up your claim by using reliable sources. If a forceful tone is used that gives off ignorance, it is not likely to persuade anyone. By acknowledging the other sides’ points and disproving them, it creates a better sounding argument.

3. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned about yourself as a student this semester?

The most valuable lesson I have learned about myself as a student this semester is that I tend to say the phrase, “I agree” whenever I start to talk about another person’s opinion.  The reason I saw the phrase is because I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, so I tell them that I agree with them if I don’t.  The reason this is valuable is because I have learned that I can challenge other’s opinions without offending them.  Before learning this lesson, I wouldn’t challenge others ideas, which is important to make them really think about what they are saying.

Throughout this semester, I have learned instead to approach my point from multiple ways and try to manipulate my words according to how they would be best received by my audience. This is interesting because how I discuss with my classmates compared to how I write for the general reader is so different, but I have learned the value of being intentional in communicating and expressing myself.

It has never been a secret that I have a very dominating personality in a group setting. If you take being an only child, the youngest on both sides of the family, mixed with two loud, crazy sets of aunts, uncles, and cousins, you get someone who has had to fight to maintain any semblance of control or comprehension- and that’s just trying to ask someone to pass the salt at the dinner table, much less have an in-depth discussion about history! Nevertheless, I do fight against my dominating nature, and can only hope some of that has shown slightly throughout the year. The most valuable lesson that I have learned, however, is the fact that I am able to participate in a group class setting- that I have the potential and the ability to. Instead of writing my inability off as an absolute, this class and your guidance has taught me that I can, in fact, sit in a room for two hours and have an educated discussion without getting frustrated or taking over the conversation. That, in itself, is very valuable to me though it may seem trivial.

Unlike any other class’ discussion, I need to actually analysis the document in details to prepare for good discussion. In this class, every student put in to charge to participate in discussion and also lead the discussion. . . . Honestly, history is not my favorite subject in general so usually I put less interest and effort in history class but in this class I spent most of my studying time for this class. I was also charged for part of the discussion so there was no way I can just pretend that I prepared. As I preparing the discussion, I had to actually get the documents in details. So I had to research more to understand fully.

I have more potential than I think I have. Four months ago, if I was asked to read a ten-page history reading material in English and understand it in order to discuss it in class, I would say: “I can’t do it.” However, I have been doing that for the past four months. It was really hard at first, I spent about two hours to read and understand an eight-page reading material and felt frustrated when discussed it during class because I could hardly speak out. Then as time went by, things were getting better. I can finish reading a lengthy material around an hour and able to offer some profound ideas. I was worried about this class when I chose to have it, but now I am really glad I did because it did help me a lot on English, both speaking, writing and reading skills. . . . After this experience, I will give everything a try before I say I can’t because I have more potentials than I think I have. This is the most valuable lesson I have learned about myself.

The most valuable lesson I have learned about myself as a student is that I am capable of making good points and of speaking up in class.  I have never been a student to speak up in class all the time, but since this class depends on participation, it has made me speak up. . . . I think I have begun to branch out and give my opinions on interpretation of texts rather than sit back and watch others do it.

4. What is one unexpected lesson you have learned this semester?

I unexpectedly learned that I did not know what I thought I knew about history. I understood prior to this class that sources were crucial for understanding events in history, but I had never considered that a textbook, a learning device used by my own teachers for the last 10 years, could possibly be incorrect. My unexpected lesson was that even textbooks might not consider all the evidence and that I need to look at outside sources rather than what is just said as fact. . . . Another unexpected lesson I learned was how similar the processes of establishing historical event are to the scientific method. I have always seen a bold line between the two subjects.

One unexpected lesson that I learned this semester is the benefit of having international students in the classroom. With their different culture and views from their countries, I found it very interesting their stances and thought processes on different topics. . . . Before having several international students in my class, I did not know if there would be a language or thought barrier between students from the United States and the students from other countries. I was wrong in my forethought because throughout the year during discussions, I have realized how crucial it is to have thoughts and opinions of different cultures contributed to the average thought process and culture of the United States. I unexpectedly learned how important opinions of those whom have of different ways of life and experiences can truly be.

This semester in US I have unexpectedly learned that I work best with others in a classroom that is set up like our US class. When we first began class, the table felt like an awkward piece of wood between us, and I did not think I could work well in a class where I did not have my own space. I also did not think we would be able to make it through the year in a discussion based class without some space between us. But, now I realize that I do work best in a place where it is easy in interact with my classmates and we are forced to talk to each other. . . . I think we feel more comfortable because we share this common space and that gives confidence when we want to speak up or object someone’s idea. I think the table was one of the best things for our class and I never thought I would ever be able to use it efficiently, but surprisingly, I have been able to.

That sometimes it’s okay to not know the answer. In a way I already knew this, but I didn’t expect for this class to really help me understand why it’s okay. When you don’t know the answer, you just have to ask questions. That seems obvious, but sometimes we get caught up with having to know the right answer, but when it comes to history the real truth is different for everyone. It just depends on that person’s perspective and this course helped show me that.

Similar to the lesson I learned about myself, I found that the Harkness method and using my peers as references was very valuable to what and how much I learned this semester. I found that not only did I feel obligated to speak up at the table; I also wanted to share my thoughts. The table allowed me to pay more attention to my classmates and their thoughts more than I would have in a normal classroom set up. At first I felt uncomfortable being at the table facing everyone but quickly I realized how much I took from the discussions and how much I like the table. I also found that learning more from my peers with a teacher’s assistance was more valuable than listening to a teacher lecture with little peer interaction. I have really enjoyed using the table for class and I think that it really did contribute to the amount I learned this semester which I did not expect.

I have truly learned about the power of ideas and confidence. During a discussion about William Brown I was thinking about the idea of Transcendentalism during the discussion and I thought more to myself if I should or should not speak up and share. Why did I have the anxiety of sharing an idea to the class? I think that I wasn’t sure if it would be correct, or if it made sense. I continued to think about it and to me it made sense, but would others? I found out that I brought another idea to the discussion and a couple of my peers added on to the idea. It’s a great feeling and a boost of confidence to experience the power of an idea.

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