If this is the first time students have examined historical documents and analyzed them in terms of credibility, the teacher will need to teach this concept using the Information Literacy: Evaluating What You Find Teacher Resource. Students should be comfortable finding Internet websites by using a search engine.
Step 1 - Explain to students that in 1994, historian Jacqueline Tobin met Ozella McDaniel Williams, an African-American quilter, in the Old Market Building of Charleston, South Carolina. Williams told Tobin a story that had been passed along from generation to generation in her family. In general terms, Williams described a secret communication system that employed quilt-making terminology as a message map for slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad (UGRR).
Williams’ story prompted Jacqueline Tobin to enlist the help of Raymond Dobard, an art history professor and well-known African-American quilter, in an attempt to unravel the mystery of Williams’ claim to an UGRR Quilt Code. Their efforts led to the publication of Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (1999). Their ideas have unraveled an intriguing topic for ongoing research but have also generated important questions surrounding the credibility of historical sources.
Read aloud or distribute copies of the Cuesta Benberry’s Foreword to Hidden in Plain View entitled “The Heritage of an Oral Tradition: The Transmission of Secrets in African American Culture” (1999, p. 1-3). Have the students summarize Benberry’s main points and discuss their findings using discussion webs http://literacy.kent.edu/eureka/strategies/discussion_webs.pdf
Step 2 – Ask students to find the best possible information they can about Quilt Codes. With electronic technology providing an overwhelming amount of information, students will need to evaluate all sources they encounter in their study for credibility.
Working in triads, have students construct a list of criteria that can be used to evaluate the credibility of claims. Some general guidelines to use in evaluating information sources would include: credibility, accuracy, objectivity and support, as shown in the following chart from Evaluating Internet Research Sources http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm
trustworthy source, author’s credentials, evidence of quality control, known or respected authority, organizational support. Goal: an authoritative source, a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it.
up to date, factual, detailed, exact, comprehensive, audience and purpose reflect intentions of completeness and accuracy. Goal: a source that is correct today (not yesterday), a source that gives the whole truth.
fair, balanced, objective, reasoned, no conflict of interest, absence of fallacies or slanted tone. Goal: a source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonably, concerned with the truth.
listed sources, contact information, available corroboration, claims supported, documentation supplied. Goal: a source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made, a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it).
Teacher Note More in-depth descriptions of these criteria can be found in the Information Literacy: Evaluating What You Find Teacher Resource. You can choose to use a student-developed handout from their list of criteria or use the provided handout to guide students in their research.
Step 3 - Share a copy of the UGRR Quilt Code article [Flesch-Kincaid readability estimate 7.2] using an overhead or distribute the handout and review the code with students. Also show students the quilt pattern illustrations from the book. Model the evaluation process using the handout Criteria for Evaluating Information or a similar student-developed list of questions with students. Students can work in pairs to supply the necessary information about the UGRR Quilt Code article. Discuss results as a large group.
Once the teacher has modeled the evaluation process, have students choose one of the selected articles listed below, find other articles from the websites provided or use Benberry’s original article. Students can choose to work in pairs or individually. Distribute copies and a criteria handout for each article. Then, ask the students to apply their criteria for evaluating credibility to the UGRR Quilt Code theory.
Putting it in Perspective: The Symbolism of Underground Railroad Quilts http://www.quilthistory.com/ugrrquilts.htm[Flesch-Kincaid 12.0]
The Underground Railroad Quilt Code http://www.ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/ [Flesch-Kincaid 12.0]
Unraveling the Myth of Quilts and the Underground Railroad http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1606271,00.html [Flesch-Kincaid 11.9]
Did Quilts Hold Codes http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/70630403.html [Flesch-Kincaid 8.8]
UGRR Quilt Code (chapter) http:www2.oakland.edu/oujournal/files/SP2005_70-79.pdf [Flesch-Kincaid 6.5]
Step 4 - Each student should write a paper to defend or refute the UGRR Quilt Code idea, using the research they have completed that met the criteria for credibility.
Teacher Note The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) http://owl.english.purdue.edu/ “Creating a Thesis Statement” will provide you with suggestions for scaffolding your student’s writing if they are unfamiliar with this particular approach.