Thanksgiving is the holiday that seemingly offends no one. It's an American tradition that summons the image of Pilgrims and Indians feasting in harmony, Norman Rockwell's iconic, "The Thanksgiving Picture" painting, and watching football games before or after the big meal. And, as of the last few years, shopping has even crept onto the scene on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving is the holiday that seemingly offends no one, however, is untrue. I discovered this long ago upon completing a social studies course focused on alternate perspectives in American History. This class caused me to look critically at the well-known events in our history. The Native American perspective on Thanksgiving is loaded with controversy.
While researching an impactful video for this lesson, I found even more hostile information than expected. Although many of the video shorts were fascinating, in no way were they something I'd show my students at the 5th grade level. I chose a less meaty, but more appropriate short from CBS This Morning's interview with Kenneth Davis of the Don't Know Much About History series of non-fiction books. It's a more positive spin on, "things weren't exactly as we've romanticized them," that actually discounts some myths and brings in interesting information. At nearly five minutes, it isn't too long, so the kids will stay focused. They're told to take Notes on anything they hear that's new information or the opposite of something they've learned in the past.
Following the video, I ask the kids to identify some of the misconceptions that were mentioned during the interview. They're favorite misconceptions are that the Pilgrims didn't dress in all black and white; they had mainly seafood (eel) for Thanksgiving dinner because they were right on the Atlantic coast; and FDR moved the date"of Thanksgiving to accomodate shoppers. It became a controversy of the time called, "Franksgiving." More about Franksgiving
The students will look critically at three different accounts of Thanksgiving using picture Books. The first is a typical Thanksgiving holiday book, Thanksgiving A Harvest Celebration by Julie Stiegemeyer. At under twenty pages, and few only illustrations, it's a quick read. It begins with a family coming over on The Mayflower, then follows the family through their difficulties. Samoset befriends the daughter, and they end up celebrating a wonderful Th-day feast. The second book is the popular, Squanto's Journey by Joseph Bruchac, an award winning author of Native American descent. It is also a rather fast read, but is a story with depth. It's marketed as a true account of the first Thanksgiving and tells about Squanto's many horrors before he returned to his old village, now called "Plymouth." The final book, is 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace and contains reenacted photographs by the National Geographic Society. It is a longer book, not easily read after the first two, which I'll address in the next paragraph. It provides both the Native American and Pilgrim points of view, and is also billed as a true account.
After trying this lesson in one class setting, it's certain that all Three Thanksgiving Books can't be presented during the same period for the meaning of the lesson to have an effect. I do want them read in the same day, however. This is achieved is by reading the first two in the morning and asking the kids to write their notes in the Thanksgiving Interpretations worksheet, and sharing the final book in the afternoon when they'll complete their interpretation page. Additionally, although I read all of the captions, I only select sections significant to the theme of thinking critically about Thanksgiving, for a full read. The sections I use are: Forward p.7, A Bountiful Harvest p.9, Making a Myth p.27, Evolution of a Holiday p.40, and A Broken Peace p.43.
The Thanksgiving Interpretations worksheet directs the kids to list the titles and authors of each book, and I instruct them to write their point of view of the story on the "website lines".
There are three thought questions to help them examine each text. The first asks them to use their own words to tell how the author tells the story of the first Thanksgiving. This questions is usually completed fairly easily.
In the next question on the worksheet, students are asked to find the sources of evidence the authors used to support their version of the story, and this is the toughest because two of the three books are fictional. Before reading each of the fiction books, I give my kids the clue to the where the information in the book came from and I tell them that this is information they will want to remember for later in the assignment when they complete the worksheet. I share that the book Thanksgiving: A Harvest Celebration is a retelling of the story that's been passed down for generations and the author added a fictional family to the story, the author of Squanto's Journey spent time in the rebuilt Wampanoag village outside of Plimoth Planatation with current Wampanoag people who contributed their knowledge to his book, and 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving is a non-fiction book containing factual information. 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving is a great book to use because it directly connects with RI.5.6: (analyzing multiple accounts of the same event)...Thanksgiving from the Pilgrim and Native American perspectives in the same book.
The final question is my favorite about how the writer's point of view determines their interpretation of the story. The students will think critically about each book.
Smart Board Screen Shot of Book Information: student notices the same last name on two of the books.
The Thanksgiving Virtual Field Trip is a unique way for the kids to visit Plimoth Plantation in MA. It is where the 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving's pictures were taken and is inviting to watch. Watching the virtual field trip. Both points of view, the The Wampanoag virtual field trip and the Pilgrim views, are given their own video and the balance is welcome.
It's interactive, The Plimoth Plantation virtual field trip, which is fun for the kids after working so well on the critical thinking pages. When the students conclude this lesson, they will feel mutual respect for all parties involved in the "First Thanksgiving" regardless of how that day actually went down.