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The students summarized them (they did "plot summary") but did not explain how the document helped prove their thesis, or how it helped them to make a particular argument.
These are sophisticated levels of analysis (inferred meanings and POV) that students cannot just "pick up" on their own.
For POV analysis, offer the students the following aid: ask why would the documents.
(In the 2003 document-based question, practically no student knew what the verb "to raise" meant in relation to "soldiers." We got thousands of essays in which students wrote about raising children to fight!
) Students also often failed to "read between the lines": they missed implied information.
Interpreting documents and using them in analytical essays or papers is one of the most basic and yet one of the most intricate skills that historians employ.
As teachers, we need to be more explicit and more "transparent" when we teach students how to analyze documents.
They did not do as well when the meaning of the document was shrouded in higher-level language issues: students regularly missed the meaning of documents in which sarcasm, irony, or rhetorical questions were used.
They often have insurmountable problems with archaic vocabulary.
Most students read a document as if they were reading a paragraph in a narrative text.
Students have to be shown that historians often read documents "backwards," so to speak: we look at the author and the date of composition, and form a quick conclusion about the context in which the author’s comments might have been made.