A View from the Community: Frames in the Classroom

A View from the Community: Frames in the Classroom

Who Framed Alphonse the Camel?

World history is pretty big. If you’re new to WHP, you might feel like Alphonse the Camel, straining under the weight of human history and the need to teach it to dozens of expectant students. In WHP, we’ve provided our three course frames (communities, networks, and production and distribution) to lighten the load. The frames are meant to help you and your students make sense of all the dates, facts, and events coming your way. However, sometimes the challenge of understanding how to use frames in the classroom can feel like the final straw that broke Alphonse’s back. But, of course, Alphonse was too proud to ask for help, and camels (as we all know) are too selfish to work together.

Thankfully, WHP teachers are very different from Alphonse, as evidenced by the WHP online community. If you’re struggling with how to use frames in the classroom, you’re not alone. Below, we’ve compiled a few of the many posts and replies from the community. (Please note that some of these posts have been edited from their original form for length and clarity.) Of course, there’s a lot more that we couldn’t fit in this blog. We encourage you to log in and add your own experiences and questions about using the frames. Our community search bar is a great place to start looking for answers:

What’s in a Frame?

The metaphor of frames and framing can be a bit vague—but it is so often used that I can see why it's been adopted. As a way of explaining frames, try having the students take a photo of a mural with lots of action in it (like this Diego Rivera), then crop out all but one section of the mural where there's a particular type of activity, and focus on that. The crop acts like a frame—focusing on one part of the story. It helps to explain that the frame is not the whole story, but a focus on a theme that helps us understand the story from that point of view.

To get a sense of how well my students understood the three frames, I had different table groups rewrite the Alphonse the Camel story through the three different frames. Though not perfect, here are three examples:

They had a great time. We'd watched The Danger of a Single Story, and the Framing videos with Bob. Then we did the Rivera mural as a way of illuminating the concepts. They all got the idea quickly.

Dabney Standley, WHP Teacher
Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory
San Francisco, CA

Introducing the Frames to Students

In response to one interested teacher’s four questions, the WHP community shared 1) how they introduced the frames to their students; 2) how students responded; 3) what they will change next year; and 4) their recommendations for new teachers. Here’s how one teacher responded (see the full conversation here).

  1. We worked through the four videos and then did the Draw the Frames activity. That went fine.
  2. Students grasped the idea pretty quickly, and when we started discussing different themes, they were able to find the appropriate frame in which to place each one. We continually reinforce the frames in discussions.
  3. I don't think I would do anything different next year, and would continue to use the video as and the draw the frames activity. The consistent reinforcement throughout the course is important.
  4. Pilot the heck out of it! Figure out what works best for you and your kids as you go along, and then share.

Mike Burns, WHP Teacher
Concordia International School Hanoi

Picture Frames

WHP teachers recommend pairing our Draw the Frames activity with the Framing concept videos featuring Bob Bain. Some have gone a step further, customizing the activity for their classrooms.

I wanted to share some student samples from the Draw the Frames activity. I thought the activity went well and I got a lot of variety! I hope that the students really understand the frame concepts now, and I am excited to see their ideas progress throughout the year. It would be interesting to do this at the end of the year and compare to these September versions.

This first drawing is by a student who is taking Big History at the same time… Do any Big History teachers know if corn is discussed this early? I'm so curious about why this student chose corn!

These next two samples are from ESL students (the first is Guatemalan and the second is Costa Rican). I loved that they were able to get involved so early in the year and incorporate their native countries.

This last one is a local example. This student did a nice job with the details!

Thanks for the feedback, everyone! Update: I gave an anonymous survey today to end my Era 1 unit. Many students reported that this activity was one of their favorites. (Although one student requested less drawing, but we can't please them all!)

Angela Flakker, WHP Teacher
Somerville High School
Somerville, NJ

We have been planning for next week: Joe Baginski and I are going to draw the frames as per the activity instructions. They are then going to watch Bob's intro video to refine their definitions. We are then going to have each group take a frame video...and map it through the eras using the video. They will then create a visual diagram/infographic that tells the story of world history through their frame.

The students will then gallery walk and circle/highlight where there is overlap between the events on their poster (say, the community frame) and another (like production). The idea is for students to see that an event like the Industrial Revolution can occur in multiple frames. 

Here is the document we created: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VIBdDuZwt57VM3g55opCrq5U-C0hKjUGY7YAXYPJEAI/edit

Ben Tomlisson, WHP Teacher
Mount Si High School
Snoqualmie, WA

Check here for more examples of student illustrations that came out of Ben’s expanded Draw the Frames activity.


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