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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom 3 Putting Principles into Practice: Teaching and Planning Rosalyn Ashby, Peter J. Lee, and Denis Shemilt It has been argued thus far that the learning of history can be accelerated and deepened through consistent application of the key findings from How People Learn, and that these findings should be applied in ways that acknowledge what is distinctive about the historical enterprise and the particular challenges it poses to students (see Chapter 2). The first key finding of How People Learn emphasizes the importance of students’ preconceptions. Teachers must take account not only of what students manifestly do not know, but also of what they think they know. This finding is confirmed in the study of history by both research and experience.1 Much of the gap between what we teach and what students learn is attributable to the fact that students link new knowledge about the past to preexisting but inappropriate knowledge derived from everyday life. Thus, for example, an account of the growth of medieval towns may be linked to existing knowledge about the growth of trees; that is, students assume medieval buildings got bigger, and so the towns grew. More significant still, students have critical misconceptions—about how we know about the past, about the relationship between historical accounts and the past they represent, about what counts as an answer to a “why” or a “how” question, and so on—that are more difficult to access but that impact profoundly the ways in which students construe what they are taught. To the extent that we are able to identify the preconceptions held by students, we may preempt misunderstandings about the substantive past and, more important, seek to modify and develop the conceptual tools students need to make sense of history. The second key finding of How People Learn emphasizes the importance of providing students with conceptual structures and tools with which to organize and manipulate factual knowledge. Students must have a deep
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom foundation of factual knowledge, but this is not tantamount to saying that they must learn all there is to know about any topic or set of topics. Because history is an information-rich subject, it is easy for students to flounder in a sea of facts that cannot be contained or controlled. And because history is about people and events that are halfway recognizable, it can sometimes be viewed as a series of weird soap operas. Thus, the foundations of factual knowledge must be deep in the sense that its layers of historicity are understood; in other words, the rules by which communities work and people interact are likely to shift according to time and place. In addition, as is argued in Chapter 2, the substantive facts and ideas of history must be understood in the context of a conceptual framework that includes second-order concepts such as those associated with time, change, empathy, and cause, as well as evidence and accounts. Indeed, it has been argued that the systematic development of such concepts is essential for students to be able to organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application. The third key finding of How People Learn emphasizes the importance of metacognitive approaches that enable students to reflect on and control their own learning. This finding relates to the development of second-order concepts noted above. Students can acquire and refine the conceptual tools necessary to organize and manipulate information only to a limited extent until they are explicitly aware of what they are doing. In order, for example, to determine that a given source is reliable for some purposes but not for others, or to decide that a source can yield evidence of things that it purports to neither say nor show, students must be able not merely to draw inferences, but also to know that they are doing so and to make those inferences objects of consciousness that are evaluated against rules. This level of metacognitive awareness is unlikely to be achieved in the lower grades, but its achievement may be accelerated if teachers of third and fourth graders focus their attention on such questions as “How do we know?” “Is this possible?” and “If this could have happened, can we say that it did happen?” This chapter examines what these three key findings entail for the ways in which we work with students in the classroom and for the strategies used to plan history teaching. The first section sets the stage for what follows by addressing the issue of the extent to which these findings can realistically be applied in the classroom. The next two sections demonstrate the applicability of the findings by presenting two detailed example classroom case studies. THE REALITY TEST The three key findings of How People Learn and the arguments advanced in the preceding chapter may be thought to reflect too favorable a view of the realities of teaching in some classrooms. Indeed, we may not
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom always have carte blanche in what is taught, but feel obliged to work within the narrow space between national standards on the one hand and locally adopted textbooks on the other. In consequence, the second key finding may appear to presume that we have more freedom in what we teach than is always allowed us. Worse still, the emphasis placed in the previous chapter and in the first key finding on the identification and systematic development of preconceptions and second-order concepts assumes that we have more in-depth knowledge of how and what students think than may be the case. At the start of the school year, we may know names and test scores but little else. Students must still be taught even if we lack in-depth analysis of their existing knowledge of pre-Columbian civilization or their ability to empathize with predecessors. Last but not least, the exhortation to take “a metacognitive approach to instruction” may appear overly optimistic for some students, who by the end of the year still have not acquired any kind of coherent story. What chance do they have of becoming metacognitively aware? These are fair points, and can serve as acid tests of the value of what is presented below. At the same time, the reader must keep in mind that a chapter such as this cannot provide a simple recipe for instant success, as any experienced history teacher will know only too well. A lesson plan for unknown children in unknown classrooms invites disaster. This is not just because all students are different personalities; both research and experience tell us there are more specific reasons. Individual students have different prior conceptions of history, the past, and how things happen in the world. In addition, students at any given age are likely to be working with a wide range of ideas (see Box 3-1). We can make some informed predictions about what ideas are likely to be prevalent among students in a particular grade, but research makes it clear that in any given class, some students are likely to be thinking in much more sophisticated ways, perhaps even using the sorts of ideas more common among students many years older. Likewise, some will be operating with much simpler ideas. Moreover, if we talk here about “fourth graders” and “youngsters” or “seventh graders” and “older students,” we are not implying that changes in ideas are an automatic consequence of age. Many seventh graders will happily go on thinking in much the same ways as fourth graders if they are not made aware of the problems their everyday ideas create. Teachers are not the only impetus for changing students’ ideas, but it is part of our job as teachers to act as if we were. Because we cannot predict the starting points of any particular class of students, the discussion of example lesson tasks in the following case studies must be qualified by “ifs,” alternatives, and conditional moves. At the same time, however, practical moves with real teaching materials used by the authors and by serving teachers in both the United Kingdom and the United States are suggested.2 They nevertheless remain
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom BOX 3-1 The 7-Year Gap The CHATA research discussed in Chapter 2 reveals the conceptual understandings of some 8-year-old students to be more advanced than those of many 14-year-olds. For example, when asked to explain why one account of the Roman invasion of Britain conflicts with another, some 7- and 8-year-olds suggest that the authors may have chosen to record “different facts” because they were asking different questions about the invasion, while many 14-year-olds claim that one or other author “made mistakes” in their account. It follows that when working with typical mixed-ability classes, teachers must accommodate a “7-year gap” between the ideas of the lowest- and highest-attaining students. Two other CHATA findings are significant in this connection. First, ideas about different second-order concepts do not develop in lockstep. A student’s understanding of evidence and accounts may be the most advanced in the class, but her grasp of causal and empathetic explanation may not be as good, and her understanding of time and change may even be below the class average. Second, students’ ideas about history do not develop as a necessary consequence of maturation. Many seventh and eighth graders are happy with their mental furniture and see no need to rearrange or replace it. To some extent, this is because they lack metacognitive awareness and conclude that they “are no good at history.” It is one of the more difficult jobs of teachers to show such students how they can “get good” at the subject, albeit at the cost and effort of ongoing mental makeover.3 examples only, and do not offer “the best way” to teach these or any other topics. Two case studies are presented in this chapter. Each involves a specific task—comprising teaching materials and questions—in the context of how the task might be used in developing students’ ideas about historical evidence. The focus of the first case study is a familiar topic, “The Pilgrim Fathers and Native Americans”; the second deals with a more unusual topic, “St. Brendan’s Voyage.” It might appear illogical to start with the Pilgrim Fathers, since the topic chronologically precedes the Brendan voyage. The fact that the task in the Brendan case study is written for fourth graders, while that in the Pilgrims case study is for sixth graders, may make the order appear even more wayward. Given appropriate teaching, we would expect sixth graders on the whole to outperform fourth graders in their understanding of historical evidence. If their teaching has been designed to develop their understanding of evidence, older students will, on the whole, apply more powerful ideas than younger ones. However, we have already seen that the “7-year gap” means
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom there is considerable variation in students’ ideas, and in any case, students’ ideas will depend in part on what they have already learned. Moreover, historical questions can be answered at very different levels of sophistication, so that students from a range of different grades can profitably tackle the same materials and questions. Students need not wait until they reach a certain grade to benefit from trying to weigh the evidence for the claim that St. Brendan reached America a thousand years before Columbus, but more conceptually sophisticated students will give different answers than less sophisticated ones. Of course, the language we use in designing our questions and materials is likely to set limits on the range of students who will be able to work with them, and we cannot expect young students to have the same understanding of the adult world—even in the present—as older students. Thus, it still makes sense to talk of designing tasks for a particular grade, at least as far as setting limits below which use of the task would be unwise. But if we encounter students from sixth or seventh grade who have not developed ideas about evidence that we would normally begin to teach in fourth grade, we might profitably use the “fourth-grade” task with them. We therefore begin with the Pilgrim Fathers and Native Americans case study, on the grounds that it will be a much more familiar topic for most teachers than the Brendan voyage. The discussion of evidence work in this first case study assumes that reference is made to a standard textbook and that we have no privileged knowledge about student preconceptions and misconceptions. The case study aims to illustrate, first, how it is possible to identify and work with student preconceptions during the process of teaching; second, how student ideas about a second-order concept, that of evidence, can be developed in ways that support, not supplant, the teaching of substantive history; and third, how it is possible to promote metacognitive awareness among students who have no special ideas and abilities. While the materials and questions in the Pilgrim Fathers and Native Americans case study are designed for students who already have some acquaintance with ideas about evidence, the aim of the second case study—on St. Brendan’s Voyage—is to introduce less sophisticated students to some key ideas about evidence in the context of an adventure without losing them in masses of content. There is also a difference in focus between the two case studies. Discussion of the first emphasizes the identification and refinement of previously acquired ideas about evidence, whereas the second case study concentrates on the teaching of students who have yet to reach first base and, in particular, who cannot yet make clear and stable distinctions between well-founded and speculative accounts of the past. Although the tasks in the two case studies were designed with students in grade 4 (St. Brendan) and grade 6 (Pilgrim Fathers) in mind, materials and questions from both can be and have been used from grades 4 through 8
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom and beyond. This notwithstanding, decisions about how—and even whether—materials and questions are used with given classes must be informed by the ideas the students are already working with and the kind of responses we expect. In any case, nothing in what follows is about learning that can be accomplished in a single or even several short sessions. Even when students appear to have understood what has been taught in one context, we will need to return to it in other topics. Changes in students’ ideas take time, patience, and planning. WORKING WITH EVIDENCE: PILGRIM FATHERS AND NATIVE AMERICANS Exploring the Basis for Textbook Claims and the Nature of Sources The choice of the arrival of the Pilgrims as a topic for discussion here implies no claims about what should or should not be taught. However, it is clearly a popular topic in textbooks, and one with which readers are likely to be familiar. It is also relevant to the broader topics, such as “Exploration and Encounter” and “The Settlement of New England” that are regularly taught. Moreover, it is a topic that offers opportunities to explore the Pilgrims’ significance for later generations in America, and supports an examination of the complex relationships between the newcomers and the native inhabitants that can help break down stereotyping. There is also a very rich record available from the testimony of the Pilgrims that can provide worthwhile and exciting learning opportunities, particularly in connection with understanding the nature of historical evidence. The questions in the Pilgrims’ task work at two levels. First, they can expose the assumptions students appear to be working with, and second, as a consequence, they provide the teacher with a basis for a learning dialogue with the students.4 As will be seen, such a dialogue can challenge the misconceptions that become apparent and encourage the development of more powerful ideas, while at the same time providing the teacher with information about future learning needs. Testimony of the kind provided in the materials associated with this task needs to be understood evidentially, and part of the teacher’s task is to encourage students to think in more complex ways about the experiences, ideas, and beliefs of these “eyewitnesses.” The source materials can interact with the textbook so as to transport students from the security of a few historical particulars and descriptions of the arrival of the Mayflower in Cape Cod Bay in 1620 to the more precarious circumstances of William Bradford and John Pory and the early seventeenth-century world they inhabited. The time and place can be richly explored
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom through the materials left behind, and the legacy of the events considered through their impact on later societies. The search for access to this world through these materials is likely to be halting and problematic for young students; good storytellers may well be tempted to believe they can open it up to their students without involving the testimony of those involved more directly. Working with students, who are happy to grapple with the difficulties inherent in materials of this kind, provides us with a different perspective. Learning experiences of any kind, however, need structures, with clear objectives. An approach of this kind can be used for a wide range of age and ability groups. The format can remain the same but the task made to differ in its language level; the nature, length, and quantity of the sources used; and the extent of visual material needed to support ideas. The task was initially designed for sixth graders but was taught to U.K. sixth and eighth graders as a whole-class lesson. The examples quoted are of two kinds: written answers to the teachers’ whole-class questions, and excerpts from a recorded follow-up discussion with a small group of three sixth graders. (The small-group recording offers a more detailed picture than written answers can provide of how students responded to the questions.) U.K. students’ perspective on the Pilgrims is likely to differ from that of equivalent students in the United States, but the focus here is on students’ evidential understanding. Five sources have been chosen. The extracts taken from William Bradford’s journal have been set out separately in Sources 1 and 3, separating the arrival of the Mayflower from the expedition ashore, so as to allow students easier access. The extracts have also been edited to limit the difficulty for these 12- and 15-year-olds. The three written sources provide testimony from William Bradford about the arrival and settlement of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620 and testimony from John Pory, a visitor to the settlement in 1622. Through these sources, the teacher is able to explore students’ existing understandings of “eyewitness” accounts, and to encourage students to look behind this testimony to consider the circumstances, ideas, and beliefs of the people directly involved. The two paintings depicting the arrival of the Pilgrims allow the teacher to explore and challenge students’ misconceptions about these sources as a record of the actual events of the time. They also give the teacher an opportunity to encourage students to recognize that while the paintings may not provide evidence of the events of 1620, they do provide evidence of the significance attached to the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620 by later generations. The Pilgrims’ task begins by presenting students with extracts from their textbooks and a map showing them the location where the action takes place. The second textbook extract provides an opportunity to introduce the
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom testimony of William Bradford and the evidence it may not have been intended to provide. How do we know about the arrival of the Pilgrims in America? The Mayflower finds land, and the Pilgrims look for a place to settle. One textbook tells us: On November 11, 1620, after 10 weeks at sea, a small, storm-battered English vessel rounded the tip of Cape Cod and dropped its anchor in the quiet harbor of what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts. The people in the ship were too tired and sick to travel farther. While the Mayflower swung at anchor in Provincetown harbor, a landing party looked for a place to settle. These men explored a small bay on the western edge of Cape Cod. They found a swift-running stream with clear, fresh drinking water. The area seemed ideal for a settlement. In December, the Pilgrims anchored the Mayflower in the bay and began building Plymouth Plantation.5 Another textbook tells us: They found a spot on the inner shore of Cape Cod Bay and promptly named it for the town from which they had sailed—Plymouth. At Plymouth the Pilgrims found abandoned cornfields. Their leader, William Bradford, sadly described their situation. “What could they see,” he wrote, “but a hideous and desolate wilderness… what could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace?”6 Here is a map to help you locate the places the textbook is talking about.
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Once the students are familiar with this basic material from the textbooks, the teacher can give them a briefing sheet. This briefing sheet has three main purposes: to introduce the students to their inquiry, to encourage an enthusiasm for the work, and to provide them with an ultimate goal—the production of their own substantiated account of the arrival of the Mayflower and the decision to settle in Plymouth. The briefing sheet enables the students to focus on the instructions, to which they can return if necessary; the teacher works through the instructions with the class, clarifying, checking understanding, and reinforcing them as necessary. Source 1: An extract taken from William Bradford’s personal journal, finished in 1650. Bradford was one of the leaders of the English Separatists whom we now call the Pilgrims. Having arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed God who had delivered them. They had no friends to welcome them and no inns to refresh their weather beaten bodies; no houses to go to for food. When St. Paul (in the bible) was shipwrecked the barbarians were kind to him and his friends but the barbarians here when they met with the Separatists and their friends were readier to fill their sides full of arrows. And it was winter, and they knew the winters here to be subject to fierce storms, and dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. They could only see a desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men—and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and his Grace? Source 2: “The Mayflower on Her Arrival in Plymouth Harbor” by William Formsby Halsall. Painted in Massachusetts in 1882.
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Briefing Sheet Things for you to think about and things for you to do How do the people who wrote the textbooks know about these events when they happened nearly 400 years ago? The second of these textbook writers gives us a clue about how they found out. Can you spot it? The first textbook tells us more than the second textbook, but the second textbook helps us understand how the writer knew about the Pilgrims’ arrival. You are going to carry out your own inquiry about “The Arrival of the Pilgrims” so that you can write your own version in a way that shows how you know these things. Your inquiry will involve looking carefully at some sources and doing some hard thinking. Source 3: Another extract taken from William Bradford’s personal journal, finished in 1650. Arrived at Cape Cod on the 11th of November and a few people volunteered to look for a place to live. It was thought there might be some danger but sixteen people were given permission to explore. They were well armed and led by Captain Standish. They set off on the 15th of November; and when they had marched about a mile by the seaside, they spotted five or six persons with a dog coming towards them, who were savages; but they fled from them and ran up into the woods, and the English followed them, partly to
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Source: A source is something that has survived from the past that we can use to find out about the past. Sources help us work things out that we wouldn’t otherwise know. Read the sources carefully, and as you do this, write down questions that come to your mind. (These questions will be useful to your teacher because they will help her understand how you are thinking.) Then answer the questions your teacher thought about, set out on a separate sheet. (While you are answering your teacher’s questions, she will collect your questions and think about how to find answers to them.) Words you might need to know about: Pilgrims: These people were looking for a place to live so that they could worship God in their own way without interference. They were called Separatists at the time because they separated themselves from the official ideas the priests in England taught about God. Later people called them the Pilgrims, and sometimes the Pilgrim Fathers. Shallop: A small boat. This was used to get close to land because the Mayflower could not safely go into shallow water. see if they could speak with them, and partly to discover if there might be more of them lying in ambush. But the Indians left the woods and ran away on the sands as hard as they could so they followed them by the track of their feet for several miles. When it was night they set up a guard and rested in quiet that night; and the next morning followed their track till they had headed a great creek and so left the sands and turned another way into the woods. They followed them by guess, hoping to find their dwellings; but they soon lost both them and themselves. At length they found water and refreshed themselves, being the first New England water they had drunk.
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom metacognitively aware) that they are expected to walk across the mountains rather than play in the foothills and watch the clouds drift by. After all, this is what paths are for—for walking from here to there. If we plan to achieve progress in students’ ideas about evidence, change, and so on, students may become aware that their understandings must develop irrespective of changes in the factual scenery as one topic succeeds another. Third, if we plan to achieve progress in students’ conceptual understanding in particular ways, it is easier to anticipate the preconceptions and misconceptions that students may bring to any topic. Doing so makes it easier for us to identify, to exploit, and to remediate the ideas students use to make sense of the work at hand. To return to the previous analogy, if we notice that we have lost a few students, that they are no longer with us, it is easier to check back on or near the trail along which we planned to take them than to scour the entire mountain. If these arguments are accepted, it remains to illustrate what planning in conformity with the second key finding of How People Learn might look like. Although planning should address the totality of history education from fourth to twelfth grade and all relevant second-order concepts, a more modest illustration may suffice. As already indicated, history teaching at the fourth-grade level may cover such topics as The First Americans: Origins and Achievements and Worlds Apart: The Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe before the Voyages of Exploration. These topics are likely to be broken down into a number of units of work intended to occupy 4-8 hours of teaching. The Worlds Apart topic, for instance, might include the following units: Unit 1: Filling the World with People Unit 2: People Go Their Separate Ways Unit 3: First Contacts: Did St. Brendan Sail from Ireland to America? Unit 4: First Contacts: Why Didn’t the Norse Stay in America? The topic aims to develop students’ understanding of a particular period in history, that of the Voyages of Discovery. Students may be relied upon to forget much of what they are taught; thus it is necessary to identify the dates—usually for the key generalizations and understandings, rather than for the details—that we wish them to retain. Teaching tasks and assessments can then be focused on the transmission and development of these key generalizations and understandings. What these are or should be is negotiable. The Worlds Apart topic may focus narrowly, for example, on the independent evolution of new and old world civilizations to provide the students with descriptions and explanations of cultural misunderstandings and clashes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An alternative ap-
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom proach would aim to give students an understanding of the “one world” revolution that began with the exploration, colonization, and commercial exploration of the Americas and elsewhere, which may be seen as the start of the process we now call “globalization.” What may be less familiar is a stage of planning that goes beyond the identification of key generalizations and, in accordance with the second principle of How People Learn, also identifies key ideas about the second-order concepts associated with evidence and accounts, change and development, and empathetic and causal explanation that students use to make sense of the those generalizations. For the units of work listed under the Worlds Apart topic, teaching what we want students to learn with respect to generalizations about the past may be combined with developing their understanding of second-order concepts along the following lines. Unit 1: Filling the World with People Target Generalizations About the Past Target Ideas About Change Long ago there were only a few people in the whole world. They all lived in a small part of East Africa. The rest of the world was empty—no people. Very slowly these East Africans increased their numbers and spread all over the world—to the rest of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. We may look different and speak different languages, but we are all descended from the same small groups of East Africans. Some Native Americans are descended from the first groups of people to reach North and then South America. Things were not always as they are now—they were different in the past. All bits of the past were not the same. Some bits of the past were more different from each other than from the present. Not all differences matter, and some are far more important than others. When there are significant differences between two bits of the past, we say that things have changed. When things are different in ways that don’t matter much, we say that there is continuity with the past.
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom It should be noted, first, that attempts to refine students’ understanding of change, as of any other second-order concept, should not displace teaching about the past, but will certainly affect the ways in which such teaching takes place. The discussion of the Pilgrim Fathers’ and Voyage of St. Brendan tasks illustrates the nature of this impact. It is not practical to address all second-order concepts within a single unit of work. For this reason, the conceptual focus of a set of units is likely to vary, as indicated below. Unit 2: People Go Their Separate Ways Target Generalizations About the Past Target Ideas About Empathetic Explanation People forgot where their ancestors had come from and knew only about other groups of people who lived nearby. People who lived in Africa, Asia, and Europe knew nothing about the first Americans. People who lived in America knew nothing about those living in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They also knew nothing about most other groups of Americans. Most groups of people had little contact with each other, so languages and ways of life became more and more different. Over long periods of time, great but very different civilizations developed in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. People in the past saw things differently from the way we see them today. (For example, their maps of the world do not look like ours.) People in the past had to be very clever to achieve what they did. (For example, we would find it very difficult to make such good maps and charts using the same tools as our predecessors.) People in the past thought and behaved differently from us because they had to solve different problems. (For example, a Portolan chart was of more use to a medieval sailor in the Mediterranean than a modern atlas would have been.)
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Unit 3: First Contacts: Did St. Brendan Sail from Ireland to America? Target Generalizations About the Past Target Ideas About Evidence and Accounts In the past, many stories were told about people sailing to what could have been America. One of these stories is about an Irish monk, St. Brendan. We cannot be sure whether St. Brendan really did sail to America. We do know that even if St. Brendan did sail to America, no one followed him or knew how to repeat his voyage. We can work out what happened in the past from what is left. Some things left from the past weren’t meant to tell us anything, but we can still use them to find things out. The weight we can put on the evidence depends on the questions we ask. Often we can’t be certain about the past, but we can produce stronger or weaker arguments about what it makes most sense to say. The target ideas in these units are informed by the model of progression for evidence outlined earlier and, as previously argued, cover the range of learning outcomes accessible to the majority of fourth-grade students. Some students will still struggle to master these ideas in seventh and eighth grades, whereas the understanding of others will have moved far beyond even the most difficult of these ideas. A final set of examples deals with the concept of causal explanation—provided in Unit 4 on page 172. In the examples given for the Worlds Apart topic, each second-order concept is addressed once and once only. If two topics are taught at each grade, it follows that each second-order concept will be revisited at least once each year and that planning for systematic progression across grades is possible. The examples provided here are, of course, only an illustration of the start of the planning process. Detailed planning with reference to content, materials, and activities must flesh out the key generalizations and ideas exemplified above. At the same time, our planning should also take account of the other key findings of How People Learn. The planning grid presented in Box 3A-2 shows how all three key findings might figure in planning to develop students’ understanding of the concept of evidence, using the St. Brendan and Pilgrims’ tasks as examples.
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Unit 4: First Contacts: Why Didn’t the Norse Colonists Stay in America? Target Generalizations About the Past Target Ideas About Causal Explanation The first definite contacts between Native Americans and non-American peoples occurred when Norse sailors and colonists landed and attempted to settle in North America. The Norse were trying to do what they had done before—to find and to settle in empty land. But America was not empty. It was already full of people about whom the Norse knew nothing. The Native Americans fought the Norse and threw them out of the country. Some things happen because people want and have the power to make them happen (e.g., the colonization of Iceland and Greenland). Other things happen that people don’t want and try to prevent (e.g., the Norse eviction from North America and the later destruction of the Greenland colonies). Explanations of why people do things are not always the same as explanations of why things happen. To explain why things happen, we sometimes refer to causes that people can’t or don’t know how to control (e.g., climate changes, differences in population size and density). The first column in the planning grid shows the content to be covered and the key questions that organize that content. The key questions are designed to allow us to bring together the content and the relevant second-order understandings. Although there are two different topics—St. Brendan and the Pilgrims—the questions for both the fourth- and sixth-grade work are concerned with the same key question: “How do we know?” Teaching will therefore need to focus on the concept of historical evidence. But decisions will need to be made to ensure that the teaching is appropriate for the age and ability of the students. Before more precise teaching goals can be written into plans of this kind, some consideration must be given to the first key finding of How People Learn—that “students come to the classroom with preconceptions.” In accordance with this finding, the planning examples for fourth and sixth grades include in the second column of the grid likely preconceptions to be checked out. These are planning reminders of the preconceptions about evidence that research suggests students are likely to hold. At the same time,
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom we must keep in mind the range of ideas we are likely to encounter at any age. The point is not that all students will think the same things, but that we might expect to find ideas such as these among most fourth- or sixth-grade students, depending on what has been taught before. So if our sixth graders have already done the St. Brendan task, as well as similar work designed to develop their understanding of evidence in the context of other topics, we would expect that many of them already understand the preconceptions listed as needing to be considered in the Pilgrim Fathers’ task. If the students have done no such work, we would be safer to anticipate their still holding some of the preconceptions listed under the Brendan task when the time comes to tackle the Pilgrims’ task. The preconceptions listed in Box 3A-2 for both grade 4 (ideas about sources as information or as testimony) and grade 6 (ideas about sources as evidence in isolation) relate to the progression model for evidence (Box 3A-1). That model also provides a framework for thinking about teaching targets; in Box 3A-2, the third column for both grades 4 and 6 sets forth the key conceptual understandings to be taught, in line with the second finding of How People Learn. These understandings build the preconceptions listed in the previous column, and are intended to ensure that our teaching enables students to consolidate or extend their previous learning. Thus, whereas the St. Brendan task targets some rather broad principles about the use of evidence that make history possible, the Pilgrims’ task concentrates on important ideas about how inferences can be drawn from testimony, ideas that allow students to consolidate their understanding of evidence. The Pilgrims’ task also sets a planning target for extending students’ understanding by introducing ideas about situating evidence in the broader context of the society from which it comes. If the St. Brendan grid and the Pilgrims’ grid are examined together, the relationship between the preconceptions to be checked out and the key conceptual understandings to be taught becomes evident. It is this relationship that is crucial for ensuring that progression in students’ understanding takes place. The evidence progression model (Box 3A-1) provides an aid to planning here. For example, it is important for a sixth-grade teacher to know not just what content has been taught to students in previous grades, but also what conceptual understandings have been gained. If colleagues are guided by common planning, such knowledge of students’ understanding is likely to be a more realistic goal. The key point here is that when students move from one topic to another, they should also be given the opportunity to move forward conceptually. It is important for teachers to have a sense of the possible progression for students. In addition to supporting the kind of planning that ensures students are given work appropriate to their abilities, this kind of knowledge can help in dealing with the range of abilities that are likely to exist within
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom BOX 3A-2 Planning for Progression in Ideas About Evidence Key Finding #1 Key Finding #2 Key Finding #3 Key questions and content Preconceptions to be checked out Key conceptual understandings to be taught Metacognitive questions Grade 4 (St. Brendan task) How do we know? Sources as information Sources as evidence in isolation St. Brendan: Did an Irish monk reach America 1000 years before Columbus? Substantive content • Irish voyages • Viking voyages • The past is given. • We can’t know about the past because we weren’t there. Sources as testimony • We can find out something about the past from reports that have survived. • If no one told the truth about what happened, we can’t find anything out. • We can work out what happened in the past from what is left. • Some things left from the past weren’t meant to tell us anything, but we can still use them to find things out. • The weight we can put on the evidence depends on the questions we ask. • Often we can’t be certain about the past, but we can produce stronger or weaker arguments as to what it makes most sense to say. • Am I clear what question I’m asking? • Do I know what kind of thing this is? • Do I know what the writer is trying to do? • Does my argument work for the hard bits as well as the easy bits?
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Grade 6 (Pilgrim Fathers’ task) How do we know? How do we know about the arrival of the Pilgrims in America? Substantive content • Separatism • Early English colonization • The Pilgrim Fathers • The Plymouth Settlement • The Wampanoags Sources as evidence in isolation • We can work out what happened in the past from what is left. • Some things left from the past weren’t meant to tell us anything, but we can still use them to find things out. • The weight we can put on the evidence depends on the questions we ask. • Often we can’t be certain about the past, but we can produce stronger or weaker arguments as to what it makes most sense to say. Sources as evidence in isolation • To use testimony as evidence, we need to take into account the circumstances in which it was produced. • Testimony can unintentionally reflect the ideas and beliefs of those who produced it and still be valuable as evidence for historians. • People can produce representations of past events that are not necessarily intended as reconstructions. Sources as evidence in context • Inferences from sources must take account of their cultural assumptions. • Are my questions the same as other people’s? • How do the differences in our questions affect the way the sources can be used? • Can the sources answer my questions? What other kinds of sources will I need? • Do I know the circumstances in which this source was produced? • Do I understand what beliefs or values might make the writer see things in the way he or she does? • How do those beliefs and values affect the way I can use this as evidence?
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom any one class. If the fourth-grade teacher understands the learning plans of the sixth-grade teacher, it becomes possible to introduce some ideas earlier for students who may benefit. It may also be important for the sixth-grade teacher to be able to reinforce understandings that have been taught earlier but are shaky for some students. The third key finding of How People Learn—that “a metacognitive approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them”—is also an important aspect of the planning process. The last column on the planning grids in Box 3A-2 lists the metacognitive questions adopted for these units of work. It is clear that these questions are closely related to the kinds of understandings we are trying to develop in students and can help raise their consciousness of what is at issue when using evidence. Questions of this kind increase students’ awareness of the knowledge and understanding they have, and enable them to see that some answers to questions actually solve problems while other answers do not. This kind of awareness helps students recognize that answers provided by other students are relevant to the problems they themselves faced in their attempts at answers. Planning of the kind exemplified here that links questions to key second-order concepts can help teachers develop these questions into full-fledged metacognitive strategies. Moreover, metacognitive questions have additional advantages. Students’ use of such questions allows their teachers to gain insight into their understanding and their misconceptions and thereby take advantage of learning opportunities that arise in the classroom, and to think about the kinds of adjustments that will be necessary in day-to-day planning to support individual learning needs, as well as longer-term goals. The planning principles discussed here for fourth and sixth grades with respect to evidence would, of course, need to be extended to other second-order concepts and to other grades to enable the formulation of a long-term plan for a school history curriculum. These principles provide a structure for systematically revisiting ideas that inform all the history we want our students to learn, regardless of the topic. Such ideas are at the heart of history. They introduce students to the possibility of treating accounts of particular passages of the past as better or worse, more or less valid, in a rational way. History such as this does not succumb to vicious relativism on the one hand or to fundamentalism on the other. Rather, it exemplifies the central values of an open society.
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom NOTES 1. Examples of research in history education confirming this principle include Shemilt (1980) and Lee and Ashby (2000, 2001). Experience with a series of curriculum changes (the Schools History Project, the Cambridge History Project, and, more recently, the National Curriculum for History) and public assessment of students’ work in the United Kingdom have provided additional confirmatory evidence. 2. We would like to thank the students and teachers in schools in Essex and Kent in England, and in Oakland (California) in the United States who took part in trials of the two tasks presented in this chapter. All names in the text are pseudonyms, and U.K. “year groups” have been converted into U.S. “grade” equivalents; for example, U.K. year 7 pupils are given as grade 6. While this is only an approximate equivalence, research (e.g. Barton, 1996; VanSledright, 2002, pp. 59-66) offers examples of ideas very similar to those found in the United Kingdom, and responses to the second task in the two countries suggest that differences between education systems do not invalidate the approximation. 3. Lee and Ashby, 2000. 4. For research on student ideas about evidence, see Shemilt (1980, 1987) and Lee et al. (1996). 5. Todd and Curtis, 1982. 6. Jordan et al., 1985. 7. Wineburg, 2001. 8. Dickinson and Lee, 1984; Ashby and Lee, 1987. 9. Shemilt, 1978. 10. Shemilt, 1980, 1987; Lee et al., 1996. 11. VanSledright, 2002. 12. Leinhardt, 1994. 13. The teaching material was inspired by and is indebted to Tim Severin’s book describing his “Brendan Voyage.” 14. Leinhardt, 1994. 15. Seixas, 1993, 1994. 16. Barton, 1996. 17. Shemilt, 1980. REFERENCES Ashby, R, and Lee, P.J. (1987). Children’s concepts of empathy and understanding in history. In C. Portal (Ed.), The history curriculum for teachers (pp. 62-88). London, England: Falmer Press. Barton, K.C. (1996). Narrative simplifications in elementary students’ historical thinking. In J. Brophy (Ed.), Advances in research on teaching vol. 6: Teaching and learning history (p. 67). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. Dickinson, A.K., and Lee, P.J. (1984). Making sense of history. In A.K. Dickinson, P.J. Lee, and P.J. Rogers (Eds.), Learning history (pp. 117-153). London, England: Heinemann.
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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom Jordan, W.D., Greenblatt, M., and Bowes, J.S. (1985). The Americans: The history of a people and a nation. Evanston, IL: McDougal, Littell. Lee, P.J., and Ashby, R. (2000). Progression in historical understanding among students ages 7 to 14. In P. Seixas, P. Stearns, and S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching and learning history: National and international perspectives (pp. 192-222). New York: University Press. Lee, P.J., and Ashby, R. (2001). Empathy, perspective taking and rational understanding. In O.L. Davis Jr., S. Foster, and E. Yaeger (Eds.), Historical empathy and perspective taking in the social studies. Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield. Lee, P.J., Ashby, R., and Dickinson, A.R. (1996). Progression in children’s ideas about history. In M. Hughes (Ed.), Progression in learning. Bristol, PA: Multilingual Matters. Leinhardt, G. (1994). History: A time to be mindful. In G. Leinhardt, I.L. Beck, and C. Stainton (Eds.), Teaching and learning in history. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Seixas, P. (1993). Popular film and young people’s understanding of the history of native-white relations. The History Teacher, 26, 3. Seixas, P. (1994). Confronting the moral frames of popular film: Young people respond to historical revisionism. American Journal of Education, 102. Severin, T. (1996). The Brendan voyage. London, England: Abacus. Shemilt, D. (1978). History 13-16 evaluation study. Unpublished evaluation report submitted to the Schools Council, London, England. Shemilt, D. (1980). History 13-16 evaluation study. Edinburgh, Scotland: Holmes McDougall. Shemilt, D. (1987). Adolescent ideas about evidence and methodology in history. In C. Portal (Ed.), The history curriculum for teachers. London, England: Falmer Press. Todd, L.P., and Curtis, M.(1982). The rise of the American nation. Orlando FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch. VanSledright, B. (2002). In search of America’s past (pp. 59-66). New York: Teachers College Press. Wineburg, S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Representative terms from entire chapter: