Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 179
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom 4 “They Thought the World Was Flat?” Applying the Principles of How People Learn in Teaching High School History Robert B. Bain For at least a century, educational critics and school reformers have pointed to high school history teaching as the model for poor and ineffective pedagogy. Consider, for example, the introduction to a series of nineteenth-century books on teaching written by psychologist G. Stanley Hall: History was chosen for the subject of the first volume of this educational library because, after much observation in the schoolrooms of many of the larger cities in the eastern part of our country, the editor … is convinced that no subject so widely taught is, on the whole, taught so poorly, almost sure to create a distaste for historical study—perhaps forever.1 History education, Hall observed, involved generally unprepared teachers who used ineffective methods to turn history into the driest of school subjects. “The high educational value of history is too great,” Hall explained, “to be left to teachers who merely hear recitations, keeping the finger on the place in the text-book, and only asking the questions conveniently printed for them in the margin or the back of the book.”2 In a call to instructional arms, Hall and other late-nineteenth-century reformers urged teachers to move beyond lecture, recitation, and textbooks, asking them to “saturate” history teaching with more active historical pedagogy. Most subsequent educational critics have shared Hall’s concerns about the quality of history instruction and embraced the recommendation that teachers reform history teaching to make it more effective and engaging. However, critics have disagreed vigorously about the goals and features of an improved pedagogy. The language of reform reflects these disagreements, often urging history teachers to choose either student-centered or teacher-
OCR for page 180
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom centered pedagogies, an emphasis on facts or concepts, hands-on learning or lecture, textbooks or primary sources, depth or breadth, inquiry or direct instruction. History teachers know that the choices are neither so dichotomous nor so simple. Framing the instructional situation as a set of either-or choices, such as abandoning textbooks in favor of primary sources or substituting student inquiry projects for teachers’ lectures, ignores the perennial challenges that history students and, consequently, history teachers face in trying to learn history and develop historical understanding. History is a vast and constantly expanding storehouse of information about people and events in the past. For students, learning history leads to encounters with thousands of unfamiliar and distant names, dates, people, places, events, and stories. Working with such content is a complex enterprise not easily reduced to choices between learning facts and mastering historical thinking processes. Indeed, attention to one is necessary to foster the other. As How People Learn suggests, storing information in memory in a way that allows it to be retrieved effectively depends on the thoughtful organization of content, while core historical concepts “such as stability and change” require familiarity with the sequence of events to give them meaning. Moreover, learning history entails teaching students to think quite differently than their “natural” inclinations. As Wineburg3 suggests, historical thinking may often be an “unnatural” act, requiring us to think outside familiar and comfortable assumptions and world views. Such work, then, requires both substantial knowledge and skill on the part of the teacher to help students learn historical content while expanding their capacities to use evidence, assess interpretations, and analyze change over time. This chapter addresses the challenges high school history teachers confront every day when, facing large classes, predefined course goals, and the required use of textbooks, they try to engage students in the intellectual work of learning and “doing” history. Given the demands on history teachers and the intellectual challenges students face while learning history, how might high school history teachers use the ideas found in How People Learn to construct history-specific instructional environments that support students as they work toward deeper historical understanding? As a veteran high school history teacher with over 25 years of experience, I begin by showing how I cast traditional history topics and curricular objectives as historical problems for my students to study. Reformers have long argued that historical inquiry ought to be part of history teaching, but often teachers see it as something either on the margins of instruction or as a replacement for traditional teaching. This chapter takes a different approach by building upon traditional curricular mandates and pedagogy to place inquiry at the heart of instruction. Using a case study developed around my students’ studies of Columbus, exploration, and the concept of the “flat earth,” I focus on ways
OCR for page 181
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom teachers can restructure familiar curricular objectives into historiographic problems that engage students in historical thinking. Formulating such historical problems is a critical first step in history teaching. But it is not sufficient simply to add problem formulation to the extant history curriculum and pedagogy. This chapter goes beyond problem formulation to suggest ways teachers might design history-specific “tools” to help students do history throughout the curriculum. These modest cognitive tools—“mindtools” as David Jonassen4 calls them—provide useful ways to help students grapple with sophisticated historical content while performing complex historical thinking and acquiring substantive knowledge. Again drawing on my experiences with my students, this chapter makes a case for transforming lectures and textbooks from mere accounts of events into supports that help students grapple with historical problems as they learn historical content and construct historical meaning. WHERE TO BEGIN? TRANSFORMING TOPICS AND OBJECTIVES INTO HISTORICAL PROBLEMS History begins with—and often ends with—questions, problems, puzzles, curiosities, and mysteries. Historians frame and build their historical research around problems emerging from a complex mix of personal and professional interests, unexamined and underexamined questions, gaps in established literature and knowledge, and recurring puzzles and issues. Like detectives working intently on solving the mystery at hand, historians face questions and puzzles that direct their scholarship, giving it meaning and providing coherence.5 Seeking the answers to perplexing questions does more than simply make history an engaging activity for historians; working with problems also helps historians select, organize, and structure their historical facts. It is no surprise, therefore, that most attempts to reform history education urge teachers to begin with “big” questions. If historians are driven to learn content by their questions, so, too, might students find history engaging, relevant, and meaningful if they understood the fundamental puzzles involved. Students, like historians, can use historical problems to organize data and direct their inquiries and studies. Therefore, creating and using good questions is as crucial for the teacher as it is for the researcher. However, much as high school history teachers might wish to frame their instruction around the historical problems arising from compelling interests, gaps, puzzles, or mysteries, they must deal with a different set of constraints from those faced by historians. History teachers are charged with teaching their students a history that others have already written; thus they typically begin with course outcomes in hand, determined by curricular mandates (i.e., district or state) or the imperatives of external testing (i.e.,
OCR for page 182
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom state exams, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests). Using the normative discourse of curriculum and standards documents, history is cast into discrete behavioral objectives and measurable student outcomes, readily used by the bureaucracies of schooling, such as testing and textbooks. Although the authors of those outcomes often started with compelling questions, central ideas, and enduring problems, the bigger issues gradually fall away as the curricula are written, reshaped, vetted, voted upon, and adopted. History, then, arrives at the classroom door as lists of things students must learn and, thus, teachers must teach—missing the problems and questions that make the content coherent, significant, and even fascinating. Of course, beginning with measurable outcomes helps teachers establish targets for teaching and learning. However, curricular objectives rarely connect outcomes to their intellectual roots, that is, to the historical problems and questions that generated such understanding in the first place. Whatever their value for conducting assessments, lists of curricular objectives do not (nor are they intended to) provide the disciplinary connections, patterns, or relationships that enable teachers and students to construct coherent pictures of the history they study. Lists of instructional outcomes rarely frame history as an unfinished mystery that invites students to join the investigation or points teachers toward historiographic questions that might begin and sustain instruction. Nor do curricular lists help teachers anticipate students’ preinstructional understandings, develop a reasonable and educationally sound trajectory of lessons, or build connections across content objectives. Yet the knowledge base summarized in How People Learn suggests that these are critical to effective teaching and learning. Given the form of most standards documents, history teachers must offer the intellectual and historical context necessary to provide meaning and coherence across discrete objectives. One way teachers can build instructional cohesion, as suggested in How People Learn, is to organize the curriculum around history’s key concepts, big ideas, and central questions.6 Teachers can provide instructional substance by grounding the abstractions found in standards and curriculum documents in meaningful historical problems. But how do we move from lists of loosely connected objectives to central historiographic questions? How do we transform inert historical topics into historical problems? In a sense, history teachers in the United States must play a form of instructional Jeopardy by inventing the big questions to fit the curricular answers. Like historians working backward from given events to the questions that precipitated them,7 history teachers work backward from given objectives to the big historical questions. Unlike historians, however, who work only along historical lines of thinking, teachers must be bifocal by pursuing both historical and instructional lines of thinking. History teachers must go beyond merely doing history or thinking historically themselves;
OCR for page 183
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom they must be able to help others learn history and learn to think historically. Therefore, history teachers have to employ an instructional as well as historical logic when designing history problems, moving beyond historiographic issues to consider their students and the context within which their students learn history. What does this mean in practice? First, teachers should try to design historiographic problems that provide links across objectives to connect the multiple scales of instructional time that teachers and students share: activities, lessons, units, and courses. Ideally, each scale is clearly nested within and connected to others, so students can see how activities become lessons forming coherent units that combine for unified courses. Unfortunately, students rarely experience such coherence in their history courses, as reflected in their belief that history comprises lists of facts, packaged in chronological containers—such as textbook chapters—that have little discernable connection to each other. Unifying problems, if well designed and historically interesting, can provide a larger frame to help students develop meaningful connections across activities, lessons, units, and courses. Second, in creating instructional problems, teachers also must pay attention to the multiple facets of historical knowledge—history’s facts, concepts, and disciplinary patterns of thinking. Aiming for instructional coherence does not mean that teachers will sacrifice the substance and rigor of the discipline in crafting problems to study. Good problems look to both the contours and details of historical stories, asking, for example, “How has democracy in the United States changed over time? What explains differences in mobility or technology over time?” Working with such problems requires students to grapple with important historical details while extending their understanding of and skill in using key historical concepts, such as significance, cause and effect, change and continuity, evidence, and historical accounts. Further, in creating instructional problems, teachers must carefully consider the hidden challenges their students face when studying history and employing historical thinking. For example, extraordinary knowledge and skill are required to “put oneself in another’s shoes,” for the world views of previous generations of people were profoundly different from our own. Ninth graders can “imagine” what it felt like to be a European explorer or Native American, but their natural inclination will be to presume more similarity than difference across time. Students find it difficult to imagine a world not yet shaped by science or the Industrial Revolution, a world in which there were no social services and running water, a world in which U.S. citizens did not take democracy for granted. Students’ historical present—recognized or not—shapes their understanding of the past—another dimension for teachers to consider in designing historical problems for students to study.8
OCR for page 184
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Thus, in constructing problems or questions, high school history teachers must work on multiple instructional and historiographic levels, crafting historical problems that are transportable across scales of instructional time—activities, lessons, units, and courses—while capturing the factual, conceptual, and cognitive processes central to generating historical understanding and challenging students’ assumptions. In framing these problems, history teachers must ask, “What historical questions will connect the course activities and provoke my students to learn content as they extend their capacity for historical thinking?” The following case study embodies this question by first describing the complex historical problems I used to organize my high school course and then creating a related problem for a unit within that course. “Problematizing” Historical Accounts to Raise Year-Long Historical Questions Creating central questions or problems challenges teachers to work at the intersection of two separate junctures—what is historically significant and what is instructive for and interesting to students. In my high school history courses, I often met this challenge by “problematizing” historical accounts—history’s stories, interpretations, narratives, and representations. Focusing on historical accounts gave me material to create a robust set of problems that stimulated, organized, and guided instruction over an entire course. What do I mean by problematizing historical accounts? At the unit level—instruction ranging from about a week to a month—it means raising questions about particular historical stories, narratives, or interpretations. At the level of the whole course, however, it means raising questions that are fundamental to historical understanding: What is the difference between historical accounts and the “past”? How do events that occurred in the past and the accounts that people create about the past differ? If the past is fleeting, happening only once and then disappearing, how is it possible for people living in the present to create accounts of the past? How do historians move from evidence of the past to construct historical explanations and interpretations? How do historians use evidence, determine significance, structure turning points, and explain continuity and change within their accounts? Are some historical accounts “better” than others? Why? By what standards do historians assess historical accounts? Why do accounts of the same event differ and change
OCR for page 185
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom over time? Does it make a difference which version of the past we accept? Such questions touch upon every facet of the discipline of history, constituting the foundational problems historians confront when doing history. Though it might appear obvious, focusing on historical accounts would already represent a major break from traditional history instruction. The accounts that historians write and adults read—such as the currently popular biography of John Adams or the groundbreaking Cheese and the Worms9—are typically too rich and deep, too complex and time-consuming, to find their way into textbooks. Students do not read about John Adams’ life, his relationship with his wife, his travels to Europe, his passions and enthusiasms, but rather read that he was President, that he held certain positions, and that he died on the same day as Thomas Jefferson. Only these discrete bits of information, the traces of historical accounts, make their way into textbooks or into curricular objectives. Raising questions about accounts helps students see the water in which they are swimming. Historical accounts—or rather, the vestigial remains of historical accounts—are ubiquitous in high school history courses. Textbooks, media, handouts, lectures, classroom materials, technology, and teachers surround history students with fragments of historical narratives and interpretations, yet rarely do students see the nature and structure of these interpretations. Much of high school history finds students exploring vast evidenceless and authorless expanses of curriculum that promote, as historian David Lowenthal10 asserts, a “credulous allegiance” to some version of the past: Historical faith is instilled in school. “Youngsters have been taught history as they were taught math as a finite subject with definite right or wrong answers,” frets a museum director. Most history texts are “written as if their authors did not exist….” High marks depend on giving the “correct” gloss to regurgitated facts. Textbook certitude makes it hard for teachers to deal with doubt and controversy; saying “I don’t know” violates the authoritative norm and threatens classroom control. Problematizing historical accounts, then, makes visible what is obscured, hidden, or simply absent in many history classrooms. It helps move school history beyond reproducing others’ conclusions to understanding how people produced those conclusions, while considering the limitations and strengths of various interpretations. By making historical accounts our essential historical problem, we can help students develop familiarity with historical writing; identify ways in which people have interpreted past events; recognize, compare, and analyze different and competing interpretations of events; examine reasons for shifts in interpretations over time; study the ways people use evidence to reason historically; and consider interpretations in relation-
OCR for page 186
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom ship to various historical periods. Indeed, all of the familiar features of history classrooms—textbooks, lectures, primary sources, maps, time lines, and even worksheets—take on new meaning for students when viewed as historical accounts. This approach does not preclude using themes, such as changes in migration, ideas, or political culture, but rather forces teachers to anchor their themes in the issues of historical representation and interpretation. Nor does a focus on interpretation favor process at the expense of facts. In looking carefully at historical accounts, we must teach historical facts; more important however, we must also raise questions about why we should (or whether we should) consider particular sets of facts important. The study of interpretations demands that students look carefully at the ways people use facts to form and support historical accounts. Indeed, factual understanding becomes even more significant as students grapple with how people use facts in representing the past. Moreover, a focus on multiple, shifting accounts does not mean students will hold all accounts to be equally compelling or plausible; rather, like historians, students must develop tools to evaluate and access competing stories of the past, considering evidence and argument while learning to judge what constitutes sound historical reasoning. In systematically questioning historical interpretations over the course of a school year, we can help students understand that accounts differ, and that those differences lie in the questions authors ask, the criteria they use to select evidence, and the spatial and temporal backdrop people use to tell their stories. Therefore, I placed the fundamental questions about historical understanding cited earlier at the heart of our study for the year. In creating historical stories or interpretations, what questions were the historians trying to answer? How did the historians, typically not present at the events they were studying, use evidence from the past to answer their questions and construct explanations or interpretations? Within their accounts, how did the historians determine significance, structure turning points, and explain continuity/change over time? Why do accounts of the same events differ, shift in interpretation, or come into and out of fashion? Are some historical accounts “better” than others? Why? By what standards are we assessing historical accounts? Does it make a difference which version of the past we accept? Teachers will need to explicitly introduce and help students frame central problems and concepts at the outset of a course and use them regularly, even before the students fully understand them. That is what I did, using the distinctions between “the past” and “history” to introduce students to the problems involved in creating and using historical accounts. On the surface, the difference between the past and history appears to be an easy one for students to perceive and understand. But high school teachers know how
OCR for page 187
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom long it takes for students to fully understand and employ such distinctions in their thinking. There are many ways to introduce these ideas, but a particularly powerful one is to have students write a short history of an event they all shared and then compare their respective histories. For example, an activity I often used was to have students write a history of the first day of school that they would read aloud on the second day. The great variance in students’ choice of facts, details, stories, and perspectives revealed differences between the event under study (i.e., the first day of school) and the accounts of that event. This simple activity helped reveal the distinctions between events and historical accounts because students experienced the differences when writing about and comparing their shared pasts. The most significant instructional goal and feature of the activity involved our naming these distinctions by creating two new and key terms—“H(ev)” and “H(ac)”—standing for “history-as-event” and “history-as-account.” Why make up such new historical terms? Students typically enter history class with established conceptions and assumptions about history. They use the word “history” in two very different ways: (1) history as a past occurrence (“Well, that happened in history.”) or (2) history as an account of a past occurrence (“I wrote that in my history.”) Their everyday and common-sense uses of the word “history” blur the distinction between the past and accounts of the past and reinforce typical conceptions that history is but a mirror of the past. A crucial instructional move, therefore, involves creating a language to help students break out of their ordinary, customary use of “history” to make fundamental disciplinary distinctions. Once defined, the phrases “history-as-event” and “history-as-account” or the invented terms H(ev) and H(ac) were used almost daily by students to name and frame materials commonly encountered, including textbooks, films, and class lectures. This simple linguistic device helped them situate accounts, regardless of how authoritative, in relationship to the events described by those accounts. This, in turn, heightened students’ sensitivity to and awareness of when we were discussing an interpretation and when we were discussing an event. In exploring the distinction between history-as-event and history-as-account, students generated questions they used to consider the relationship between events and the accounts that describe them. For example, one class produced these questions: How do accounts relate to the event they describe? Do the accounts capture the full event? Is it possible for accounts to fully capture events? How and why do accounts of the same event differ? Do they use different facts? Different sources? Different pictures? Different language? Do the accounts identify different turning points or significant events in the game?
OCR for page 188
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Are the accounts connected to each together? Are there other possible accounts of the event? Do accounts serve different purposes? What explains the fact that people studying the same event create differing accounts? Can one account be better than another? How can we assess competing truth claims? Does it matter which version of an event we accept as true? What makes one account more compelling than another? How does an account use evidence to make its claims? These questions, initially discussed in relationship to students’ history of the first day of class, formed a valuable backdrop for each successive unit. Initial distinctions, introduced and then used regularly, helped students demystify historical accounts by constantly reminding them that historical texts are products of human thought involving investigation, selection, evaluation, and interpretation. Establishing these initial distinctions provided students with the beginnings of a new conceptual map for the discipline of history, a map we used regularly to locate their position in historical territory. “So, were we just now working with events or accounts of those events? Who constructed the account? What evidence did they use in building the narrative or interpretation?” No one should think that merely pointing out conceptual distinctions through a classroom activity equips students to make consistent, regular, and independent use of these distinctions. Established habits of thinking that history and the past are the same do not disappear overnight. Merely generating questions about historical accounts did not mean that my students developed the knowledge and skill needed to answer those questions, or even to raise those questions on their own. In making conceptual distinctions between the past and accounts of the past, it did not follow automatically that students developed the intellectual skills to analyze, evaluate, or construct historical accounts. Indeed, students did not even fully grasp the distinctions represented in the new linguistic conventions they were using, such as history-as-event/H(ev) and history-as-account/H(ac). Still, while not lulled into thinking that introducing concepts meant students had mastered those concepts, I expected students to use these terms regularly. In subsequent activities, the terms served as intellectual “mindtools” to guide student thinking, helping and, at times, forcing students to analyze their everyday uses of the word “history.” Thus in building on students’ nascent historical thinking, I tried to push them to develop more refined and nuanced historical knowledge and skill while framing a historical problem large enough to inform our entire course.
OCR for page 189
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Accounting for the “Flat Earth”: Building a Unit-Level Problem How might we create a problem for a unit of study that would engage students, assist in posing the larger disciplinary questions about accounts noted above, and meet curricular objectives such as those that characterize the traditional topic of European exploration of the Americas? Early in the school year, I asked a class of ninth-grade history students, “What do you know about Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492? And what do you know about the people of Europe on the eve of Columbus’ voyages? What were they like? What did they believe and think?” Ben Well, people of Europe didn’t know anything about the United States or Canada, because people had not been there yet. They wanted to get to China to trade, but most people were scared to sail across the Atlantic. Teacher Why? What were their fears? Ben The world was flat and you could fall off it … Amanda People would not give him money for his ships because they figured he would fail. But Columbus proved them wrong…. Ellen Not really. Columbus never really went all the way around the earth. Teacher So? Ellen Well, people could still believe the earth was flat, just that there was another land before you got to the end of the earth. Teacher Oh, then, people would have to really wait until someone sailed all the way around the world before they changed their ideas? Ellen Yeah. Teacher Well, for how long did this idea exist? Bill All the way back to earliest times. Everyone always thought the world was flat. Ellen Except some scientists, right? With some gentle questioning on my part, the students collectively told the standard and widely accepted story of Columbus, an Italian sailor who received funds from the king and queen of Spain to go to the east by sailing west. Europeans thought this was “crazy” because people had thought—forever—that the world was flat. Columbus, motivated by his search for
OCR for page 204
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom The key here was a discipline-specific division of labor whereby I assigned each student or pair of students to “become” a particular type of historical question or questioner. For example, some students were assigned to ask “What other sources support or contest this source?” and thus became “corroborators”; others were assigned to ask about the creator of a source and thus became “sourcers.” Within specific roles, students questioned classmates about the documents we were reading together, and so the discussion unfolded. Some students posed questions reflected in general reading strategies and asked classmates to identify confusing language, define difficult words, or summarize key points. However, the remaining roles/questions—e.g., corroborator, sourcer, contextualizer—were specific to the discipline of history, encouraging students to pose questions expert historians might ask. Using historians’ strategies—such as corroborating, contextualizing, and sourcing—students asked their classmates questions about who created the source, its intended audience, the story line, what else they knew that supported what was in the source, and what else they knew that challenged what was in the source. Thus, having equipped each student with a particular set of questions to ask classmates, we reread the accounts of Columbus and the flat earth (Box 4-1): Teacher Does anyone have any questions for their classmates about these sources? Let’s begin with maybe a question about vocabulary or summaries, ok? Who wants to begin? Chris I guess I will. How would you summarize these stories? Teacher Do you want someone to summarize all the stories, all the excerpts? Or, maybe an aspect of the stories? Chris Ok, I guess just an aspect. What do you think these say about Columbus? Ellen? Ellen He is smart. Chris Anything else? Ellen Brave? Aeysha Chris’ question has got me thinking about my questions. What do all of these stories say about the kind of person Columbus was? Do they have [some] agreement … with each other about him? Teacher Let’s stop and think about this question and use our journals to write a “2-minute” essay
OCR for page 205
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom about what these tell us about the kind of person Columbus was. The journal writing gave students time to work out an answer informally on paper before publicly talking about their ideas. After a few minutes of writing time, the students had worked out more-detailed pictures of Columbus as represented in the accounts. For example, Ellen wrote: In these stories, Columbus appears to be smart. He is a real individual and pretty brave. Everyone else was just following the ideas of the day and he was a protester, a rebel against everyone else. These glorify him. After reading a few students’ journal entries aloud, I asked whether anyone else had some questions to ask classmates about the sources: Sarena I do. Does anyone notice the years that these were written? About how old are these accounts? Andrew? Andrew They were written in 1889 and 1836. So some of them are about 112 years old and others are about 165 years old. Teacher Why did you ask, Sarena? Sarena I’m supposed to ask questions about when the source was written and who wrote it. So, I’m just doing my job. Andrew Actually, I was wondering if something was happening then that made Columbus and this story popular. Did historians discover something new about Columbus in the 1800s? Rita How do you know they were historians who wrote these? Andrew Because the title says “Historian’s Accounts.” Rita Yeah, but Washington Irving wrote about the headless horseman. Was he a historian? And he wrote stories for kids. Were these taken from books for young kids? Maybe that is why they tell such stories about Columbus, like he was some big hero? As they asked questions, classmates returned to the documents, made journal entries, and discussed their answers. Thus, in this structured manner, the class raised multiple questions that guided everyone’s reading and discussion of text. And students raised a number of questions that could not be
OCR for page 206
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom answered from the sources in front of them. They offered conjectures and speculations that we would explore through later resources, including primary sources, secondary sources, textbooks, and lectures. This reading activity was initially awkward and time-consuming with its role assignments, complex questioning, journaling, and discussion. It differed from cooperative activities whereby a group divides a historical topic, such as European exploration, and then researches a particular component of the topic, such as Spanish explorers or English explorers or natives’ responses to exploration, before reporting to classmates what they have learned about their piece of the content. In this example, the division of labor occurred along the lines of thinking needed to read and analyze a historical text. The facets of the complex historical thinking—not merely the topical features—then defined and divided the students’ intellectual work. By using these roles to read and then question each other, the students avoided their habit of treating historical text as they would other text, merely as a place to find “authoritative” information. I used this structured reading and discussion activity because I did not initially expect individual students to be capable of performing a complete, complex historical analysis of a document or a document set. Paradoxically, however, from the beginning students needed to do such analysis to work on the historical and instructional tasks I assigned. Rather than lower disciplinary standards or allow novices merely to mimic experts, we used this reading strategy to enable students—as a group—to participate in this complex, disciplinary activity. Initially, the designed cognitive tools (e.g., group reading procedure) and the teacher carried most of the intellectual load that enabled students to participate in the activity.22 As How People Learn explains, history teachers need to design student-, content-, and assessment-centered learning environments to support students’ historical study. In a sense, teachers work to build a history-specific culture that, through its patterns of interactions, instructional tasks, and artifacts, assists students in thinking historically (for more examples see Bain, 2000). In designing this environment, teachers try to make the key features of expert historical thought accessible for students to use as needed—during class discussion or while working in groups, at home, or on exams. “You’re giving your students crutches,” some teachers have told me, “and you should not let students use crutches.” However, I like the analogy because I know few people who will use crutches unless they need them. Once able to get around without them, people cast the crutches aside. So it has been with the history-specific tools in my classroom. Once students have internalized the distinctions between “past” and “history” or the multiple strategies designed to help them read sources with more power, they find that our classroom supports slow them down or get in their way. When that happens, students
OCR for page 207
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom stop using them. On the other hand, the supports remain available when students need assistance. In such an environment, the lecture and textbook acquire new meaning. Given our focus on historical accounts, students start to use and see lectures and textbooks as examples of historical accounts. Students can apply the same sets of questions to the textbook and to my lectures that they do to other historical accounts and sources. For example, “How does this lecture support, expand, or contest what I already understand? What else corroborates this account? What shaped it?” Also, we can reconsider texts and lectures as possible suports—history-specific cognitive tools—to help students think historically, and not just as vehicles to transmit information. Teachers can design and use lectures and textbooks strategically to help students frame or reframe historiographic problems; situate their work in larger contexts; see interpretations that might support, extend, or contest their emerging views; work more efficiently with contradictions within and among sources; and encounter explanations and sources that, because of time, availability, or skill, students would not be able to use. With help, students can learn to actively “read” lectures and textbooks, and then use both critically and effectively in their historical study. For example, consider again the problem my students confronted once they began to allow the possibility that fifteenth-century Europeans might not have thought the earth was flat or that people had not always told that historical story. The students raised deep, rich, and complex historical questions: Have the stories about Columbus changed since 1492? If so, in what ways did they change? What factors explain the shifting views about Columbus? Why did the story change? Does it matter which view or interpretation people hold about the story? The pride and excitement I derived from their questions was tempered by a recognition of how limited were our time and resources. Realistically, where would my students go to flesh out the contours of this historical problem and find the details to give it meaning? Would their textbook give the evidence needed to move forward? Had the primary sources I provided given students the material necessary to paint the larger historical picture, resolve their confusions, or answer their questions? The students needed help organizing their ideas, putting sources and evidence within a larger temporal context, understanding discrepant sources, and expanding both the facts and interpretations at hand. If my students were going to do more than ask powerful questions, they needed some assistance. In the midst of their historical inquiries appeared to be a perfect “time for telling.”23
OCR for page 208
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Therefore, I designed a lecture specifically to help students consider temporal shifts in the way people have regarded the Columbian story, questions that emerged after students had encountered discrepant accounts of the story. I saw this as a chance to revisit the unit’s central problem and bring forward facts, concepts, ideas, and interpretations that might help students further their inquiries and develop their explanations. I began the lecture by asking students to write five dates in their journals—1592, 1692, 1792, 1892, and 1992—and then to predict how people living in the colonies and later in the United States marked the 100th, 200th, 300th, 400th, and 500th anniversary of the Columbian voyages. After the students had written their predictions in their journals and spent a few minutes talking about what they expected and why, I provided them with historical information about the changing and shifting nature of the Columbian story over the past 500 years. For example, in 1592 and 1692, the European colonists and Native Americans made almost no acknowledgment of the centennial and bicentennial of the Columbian voyages. Indeed, there was little acknowledgment of Columbus as the “founder” of America. By 1792, however, the situation had changed, and a growing Columbian “sect” had emerged among former colonists and new citizens of the United States. People in the United States began to celebrate Columbus as the man who had “discovered” the new world. Columbia as a symbol took shape during this era, and people across the continent used one form of Columbus or another to name new cities and capitals. By 1892, the celebration of Columbianism was in full swing. King’s College had changed its name to Columbia, and the U.S. Congress had funded the Columbian Exposition for the 1892 World’s Fair. It was in the period between the third and fourth centennials that the flat earth became a key feature of the story, popularized in no small part by Washington Irving’s 1830 biography of Columbus.24 Things had changed quite significantly by 1992. For example, in its exhibition to remember (“celebrate” and “commemorate” were contested words by 1992) the 500th anniversary of the Columbian voyages, the Smithsonian museum made no mention of “discovery,” preferring to call its exhibit the “Columbian Exchange.” Moreover, Columbus no longer held sway as an unquestioned hero, and many communities chose to focus on conquest and invasion in marking October 12, 1992. For example, the city council in Cleveland, Ohio, changed the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. In crafting this lecture, I also selected supporting documents and texts as handouts. For example, I gave students longer sections from Washington Irving’s The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus25 or Kirkpatrick Sales’ critical Conquest of Paradise26 as examples of the different perspectives historians took in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
OCR for page 209
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom We treated the lecture as a secondary source, as a historical account constructed by the history teacher that other historians—i.e., history students—could use to investigate a historical problem. Consequently, at key points during the lecture, we stopped to employ our tools for thinking about historical accounts, asking, for example, “What are you hearing that supports, contests, or expands your thinking abut this issue?” The lecture did not answer exhaustively the larger questions concerning why certain accounts came into and out of fashion or why historians “changed their minds.” But going well beyond the standard view of the lecture as a way to transmit information, this lecture provided needed intellectual support at a critical juncture to help students extend their historical understanding. CONCLUSION When my high school students began to study history, they tended to view the subject as a fixed entity, a body of facts that historians retrieved and placed in textbooks (or in the minds of history teachers) for students to memorize. The purpose of history, if it had one, was to somehow inoculate students from repeating past errors. The process of learning history was straightforward and, while not always exciting, relatively simple. Ironically, when I first entered a school to become a history teacher over 30 years ago, I held a similar view, often supported by my education and history courses—that teaching history was relatively straightforward and, while not always exciting, relatively simple. I no longer hold such innocent and naive views of learning or teaching history, and I try to disabuse my students of these views as well. Indeed, our experiences in my history classrooms have taught us that, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s not what we don’t know that’s the issue, it’s what we know for sure that just isn’t so. As this chapter has shown, learning and teaching history demands complex thinking by both teachers and students. It centers around interesting, generative, and organizing problems; critical weighing of evidence and accounts; suspension of our views to understand those of others; use of facts, concepts, and interpretations to make judgments; development of warrants for those judgments; and later, if the evidence persuades, changes in our views and judgments. Helping students develop such historical literacy requires that history teachers expand their understanding of history learning, a task supported by the ideas found in How People Learn and the emerging scholarship on historical thinking. Such research paints a complex picture of learning that helps teachers rethink the connections among students’ preinstructional ideas, curricular content, historical expertise, and pedagogy. This view of learning avoids the false dichotomies that have defined and hindered so many past attempts to improve history instruction. It helps teachers go beyond facile either–or choices to show that traditional methods, such as lectures, can be
OCR for page 210
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom vital and engaging ways of helping students use historical facts and ideas and that, despite the enthusiasm hands-on activities generate, they do not automatically foster historical thinking. More important, this scholarship suggests ways teachers may transform both traditional and newer pedagogical methods to help deepen students’ historical understanding. To borrow language from my case study, How People Learn expands and challenges our thinking about learning history, and thus assists teachers in marshaling the effort and understanding needed to enact a more sophisticated and effective historical pedagogy. We should harbor no illusions about the challenges awaiting teachers and students engaged in such history instruction. Teaching the stories of the past while also teaching students how to read, criticize, and evaluate these stories is a complex task. It is difficult to help students recognize that all historical accounts, including those we hold, have a history. While encouraging students to recognize that all history involves interpretation, teachers must simultaneously challenge the easy conclusion that all interpretations are therefore equally compelling. Rather, historical literacy demands that students learn to evaluate arguments and decide which positions, given the evidence, are more or less plausible, better or worse. Historical study asks students to consider what they know, how they know it, and how confidently or tentatively they are “entitled” to hold their views. It is equally important to remember the pleasures that such historical study can provide both teachers and students. Through history, teachers can fill the class with enduring human dramas and dilemmas, fascinating mysteries, and an amazing cast of historical characters involved in events that exemplify the best and worst of human experience. In what other field of study can students experience such a range of possibilities and get to know so many people and places? Where else would my students have the chance to encounter fifteenth-century Europeans and Native Americans, people from Christopher Columbus to Montezuma, and life in so many different societies and cultures? Even this brief description of the difficulties and joys involved in learning history reveals why the study of history is so crucial and, therefore, worth our efforts. “History,” historian Peter Stearns has written, “should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty”.27 A disciplined study of history promotes exactly the type of reasoned thought our students deserve to have and democratic societies so desperately need. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I want to thank Suzanne Wilson, Sam Wineburg, Jeff Mirel, Suzanne Donovan, John Bransford, and Kieran Egan for their thoughtful reading of
OCR for page 211
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom this chapter. I benefited greatly from their generous support and valuable comments. Suzanne Wilson, in particular, provided me with timely and important criticism throughout the project. Greg Deegan and Bonnie Morosi also provided important help at an early stage in this work. NOTES 1. Hall, 1883, p. vii. 2. Ibid, p. viii. 3. Wineburg, 2001. 4. Jonassen, 2000. Jonassen uses the word “mindtools” in relationship to computers and technological learning environments, seeing these as “intellectual partners with the learner in order to engage and facilitate critical thinking and higher learning.” The tools I discuss in this chapter, while not electronic, serve as supports to help students engage in historical thinking, and thus fit the spirit of Jonassen’s description. 5. Winks, 1969. 6. National Research Council, 1999, pp. 29-30; Levstik and Barton, 1997. 7. Collingwood, 1944. 8. Wineburg, 2001; Davis et al., 2001; Lowenthal, 1985; Shemilt, 1984. 9. McCullough, 2001; Ginzburg et al., 1980. 10. Lowenthal 1996, p. 116. 11. Initially, I gave these accounts to students without references to reinforce the need for attention to the content presented in the source. If no student asked for reference information, I provided it later. However, if a student requested this information, I gave that student the fully referenced handout shown in Box 4-1. When I taught this lesson recently, only 2 of 55 students asked about who had produced the accounts. 12. Bushman, 1992; Crosby, 1987; Russell, 1991; Sales, 1990; Schlereth, 1992. 13. Boorstin, 1990, p. 146. 14. National Research Council, 1999, p. 120. 15. Wineburg, 2001; Lee and Ashby, 2000; Leinhardt, 2000; Levstik, 2000; Barton, 1997; Seixas, 1994. 16. Wineburg, 2001. 17. Bruner, 1977. 18. Tharp and Gallimore, 1998, p. 20. 19. Wineburg, 2001. 20. Palinscar and Brown, 1984. 21. National Research Council, 1999, p. 55; Wineburg, 2001; Bain, 2000. 22. Cole, 1996. 23. Schwartz and Bransford, 1998. 24. Bushman, 1992; Crosby, 1987; Russell, 1991; Schlereth, 1992. 25. Irving, 1830. 26. Sales, 1990. 27. Stearns, 1998.
OCR for page 212
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom REFERENCES Bain, R.B. (2000). Into the breach: Using research and theory to shape history instruction. In P. Seixas, P. Stearns, and S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching and learning history: National and international perspectives (pp. 331-353). New York: University Press. Barton, K. (1997). “I just kinda know”: Elementary students’ ideas about historical evidence. Theory and Research in Social Education, 25(4), 407-430. Boorstin, D.J. (1990). The discoverers: A history of man’s search to know his world and himself. Birmingham, AL: Gryphon Editions. Bruner, J. (1977). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Bushman, C.L. (1992). America discovers Columbus: How an Italian explorer became an American hero. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Collingwood, R.G. (1944). An autobiography. New York: Penguin Books. Crosby, A.W. (1987). The Columbian voyages, the Columbian exchange and their historians. Washington, DC: American Historical Association. Davis, O.L., Yeager, E.A. and Foster, S.J. (Eds.). (2001). Historical empathy and perspective: Taking in the social studies. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Eggleston, E. (1904). The new century history of the United States. New York: American Book. Ginzburg, C., Tedeschi, J.A., and Tedeschi, A. (1980). The cheese and the worms: The cosmos of a sixteenth-century miller. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gould, S.J. (1995). Dinosaur in a haystack: Reflections in natural history. New York: Harmony Books. Hall, G.S. (1883). Introduction. In G.S. Hall (Ed.), Methods of teaching history (pp. v-xii). Boston, MA: D.C. Heath. Irving, W. (1830). The life and voyages of Christopher Columbus. New York: Burt. Jonassen, D.H. (2000). Computers as mindtools for schools: Engaging critical thinking, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill. Lee, P.J., and Ashby, R. (2000). Progression in historical understanding among students ages 7-14. In P. Seixas, P. Stearns, and S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching and learning history: National and international perspectives (pp. 199-222). New York: University Press. Leinhardt, G. (2000). Lessons on teaching and learning history from Paul’s pen. In P. Seixas, P. Stearns, and S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching and learning history: National and international perspectives (pp. 223-245). New York: University Press. Levstik, L.S. (2000). Articulating the silences: Teachers’ and adolescents’ conceptions of historical significance. In P. Seixas, P. Stearns, and S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching and learning history: National and international perspectives. (pp. 284-305). New York: University Press. Levstik, L.S., and Barton, K.C. (1997). Doing history: Investigating with children in elementary and middle schools. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Lowenthal, D. (1985). The past is a foreign country. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
OCR for page 213
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Lowenthal, D. (1996). Possessed by the past: The heritage crusade and the spoils of history. New York: Free Press. McCullough, D.G. (2001). John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster. National Center for History in the Schools. (1996). National standards for history. C.A. Crabtree and G.B. Nash (Eds.). Los Angeles, CA: Author, University of California. National Research Council. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. J.D. Bransford, A.L. Brown, and R.R. Cocking (Eds.). Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Palinscar, A.S., and Brown, A.L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117-175. Patton, J.H., and Lord, J. (1903). The history and government of the United States. New York: The University Society. Russell, J.B. (1997). Inventing the flat earth: Columbus and modern historians. New York: Praeger. (Original work in J. Johonnot . Ten great events in history [pp. 123-130]. New York: Appleton.) Sagan, C. (1985). Cosmos. New York: Ballantine Books. Sales, K. (1990). The conquest of paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian legacy. New York: Knopf. Schlereth, T.J. (1992). Columbia, Columbus, and Columbianism. Journal of American History, 79(3), 937-968. Schwartz, D.L., and Bransford, J.D. (1998). A time for telling. Cognition and Instruction, 16(4), 475-522. Seixas, P. (1994). Students’ understanding of historical significance. Theory and Research in Social Education, 22, 281-304. Shemilt, D. (1984). Beauty and the philosopher: Empathy in history and classroom. In A.K. Dickinson, P.J. Lee, and P.J. Rogers (Eds.), Learning history (pp. 39-84). London, England: Heinemann. Stearns, P.N. (1998). Why study history? Available: http://www.theaha.org/pubs/stearns.htm [Accessed February 3, 2003]. Stearns, P.N., Seixas, P., and Wineburg, S. (Eds.). (2000). Knowing, teaching and learning history: National and international perspectives. New York: University Press. Tharp, R.G., and Gallimore, R. (1998). Rousing minds to life: Teaching, learning, and schooling in social context. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. White, A.D. (1896). A history of the warfare of science with theology in Christendom. New York: Appleton. Wineburg, S.S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Winks, R.W. (1969). The historian as detective: Essays on evidence. New York: Harper & Row.
OCR for page 214
How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom This page intentionally left blank.
Representative terms from entire chapter: