Intelligence Analysis and Teaching U.S. History

Stay with me. This is about bell ringers.

Next year standards for all my classes are changing. We are also changing from a block schedule to a period schedule. I thought I would take the opportunity to change the way I teach; to infuse new enthusiasm into what I’ve been doing the last four years. That includes using bell ringers. And I have to say I really don’t like the name “bell ringer”. It sounds so…I dunno…so…cutesy. I need something more sarcastic and real. Oh! I know what it sounds like – busy work. How about simply “Information Analysis?

SPC Turner - 1985 - 1987 10th SFG

Specialist Turner at CBTI Co., 10th SFG(A), Ft. Devens, MA doing old school intel analysis (no computers!) 1985-87

As I’ve written about before, I spent 21 years in military intelligence as an intelligence analyst. During that time, I processed tens of thousands of Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs), wrote hundreds of intelligence assessments, and edited, approved, or processed thousands of intelligence assessments and co-authored several publications within the intelligence community. It was a great job and I really miss the energy that went with debating other analysts about theories and conclusions. There was little that was more exciting than seeing your boss sitting before a congressional committee answering questions for which you had prepared answers or having a SFODA (Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha) return from a mission and hearing that your intel helped them out.


The Intelligence Process (JP2.0 Joint Intelligence 2013)

I’ve been looking for ways to integrate the concept of the intelligence process or tradecraft into the investigation and discovery of primary sources that is inherent in teaching history. I believe I’ve found the very beginning of doing that. It’s very rudimentary but it might be successful. And if nothing else, it might be interesting for students to see that what they learn in the classroom is actually used in the “real-world”. Teachers can find all sorts of great resources from the various intelligence agencies on analysis and evaluation that may help them in class.

But back to bellringers. I think what I’m going to do is the following schedule:

Mondays – Read primary source. Identify relevant and diagnostic information from the source (using the National Archives [NARA] primary source worksheet on a form MSWord I created) (questions 1-4 or 5)

Tuesdays – Read primary source second time. Process and evaluate data in source (using the NARA form [pdf] (question 6a – 6d)

Wednesdays – Evaluate what source does not answer, what questions the source creates. What are its “intelligence gaps?” (question 6e)

Thursdays – Integrate information from the primary source and secondary information sources (classroom instruction) together and predict what the outcome might be

Fridays – Write an “assessment” about the primary source(s), secondary source(s), predict an outcome, and defend your position

I won’t spend more than 5-7 minutes daily for this activity. I won’t use long primary sources; nothing more than a half page of text. I will use all sort of primary sources but start off extremely simple and use primary source documents for a few weeks before moving to other types of primary sources. This format can be used for all my social studies classes – U.S. history, world history, economics, government, and contemporary issues.

Uncertainty is built into the process. So doubt and questions are good and encouraged. It’s part of being an analyst and a historian. Being an analyst is much like being a weatherman: your prediction won’t always be accurate. I once had a commander in Kuwait tell me,” SGT Turner, don’t just tell me what happened. I can get that from CNN. Tell me what it impact it will have and what you think will happen. I don’t care if you’re right only 48% of the time. You’re being paid to tell me what is going to happen.” Realistically, I think 48% accuracy would have got me fired! But it did give a young sergeant the confidence to make the hard judgment without fear of being crucified for it.

I would appreciate any feedback, thoughts, or constructive criticism you can provide.

UPDATE: Forget bell-ringers, I’m looking at turning my whole class into a analysis section everyday, complete with “intelligence” objectives, or Commander’s Critical Intelligence Requirements (CCIRs), Primary Intelligence Requirements (PIRs), Requests for Information (RFIs), Collection Management, etc insofar as it is possible to do that in a classroom with transitory students.


2 responses

  1. I love your form! Great way to analyze primary sources.


    1. Thanks! If you’re talking about the circle form, it is actually from the Department of Defense. The only thing there that is mine is the weekly schedule.

      I’m hoping it works. This will reduce my workload.


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