Learning to Think Like a Historian

» 03 June 2014 » In Commentary, History / DBQ's, Strategies, Students, Teachers » No Comments

art classI recently was a contributor to a Education Week Teacher’s “Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo” column Teaching History By Encouraging Curiosity Note: you can also listen to our 10 minute podcast on the subject at BAM radio or iTunes

The column prompt was “What are some stories (testimonials) of the process teachers experienced when moving from the ‘stereotypical history teacher who only gives multiple choice tests on the dates of battles and offers their students a steady diet of mind dumbing worksheets and lectures.’”

I thought I cross post my response below for readers who do not have access to content behind the Ed Week paywall. 

What do historians do? Research, interpret, and evaluate sources, apply historic perspective, pose questions. ... they share the fruits of their research with others, take positions and defend them.

Let me share my evolution as history teacher. In 1971, I began teaching history much the same way it was taught to me. I did all the reading and assimilation of material, then worked hard to craft the interesting lecture. I delivered the information with great gusto and loads of clever asides. Then I gave the objective unit test to see if the students got it. I was doing all the work; learning far more than my students; preparing and delivering "five shows daily." And so I trudged through history - Plato to NATO.

Then one day I had a revelation. I walked into the art classroom next door to borrow some supplies and looked at the interaction of the art teacher and his students. I realized that if Tom taught art the way I taught history, then his student would be sitting in rows watching him paint. And so my journey began. Just as Tom was teaching his students how to think and behave like artists, I needed to figure out how to get my students to be the historian.

Here's a few key ideas I considered when making the transition to student as historian. Note: For more, see my Slideshare The Student as Historian

Teach how historians think and behave:

What do historians do? Research, interpret, and evaluate sources, apply historic perspective, pose questions. More importantly they share the fruits of their research with others, take positions and defend them. Make these skills the basis of your class and you're on your way to meeting Common Core standards. Build in opportunities for students to peer review each other's work and reflect on their progress as learners. See my Taxonomy of Reflection for prompts.

Stop teaching facts and let students explore essential questions:

Look at a contemporary issue in the news and use it as catalyst for understanding its historic roots. Why teach the Federalist vs. Anti-Federalists debates? Better to frame the lesson around the essential question "How Powerful Should the National Government Be?" It's timeless and extends the issues raised by the rise of the Tea Party back to the debate over the ratification of the constitution. Download my free Great Debates in American History

Use history as a platform for teaching across the curriculum:

Why not teach some graphing skills using historic census data? A great chance to design an infographic. Historians rely on key literacy skills like summarizing and comparing. Frame tasks for the students that allow them to develop their own summaries and comparisons, share them with their peers and defend their thinking. Those are more Common Core skills.

Choose the right primary and secondary sources for students to work with:

Visualize the famous "Golden Spike" photo taken to mark the completion of a transcontinental railroad line in 1869. What can a student learn by looking at the image? Not much, because the important information is not in the image. It's in the background knowledge a student must already possess to interpret it. Unfortunately, this type of photograph dominates our textbooks. It's iconic - it refers to something else that we want students to know. More

Instead use historic sources that are less reliant on background knowledge. Allow students to make their own judgments about source material and share what's important to them (instead of just repeating the details the teacher highlights). It's a great chance for them to put those summarizing and comparison skills to use.

If you have access to Ed Week, I urge you to read the article. It also features a great response from Diana Laufenberg, who notes:

Now, I've never had a class start with, "Miss... I just have to know about the War of 1812, can you please tell me more?" The majority of students don't come to class naturally curious about the stories of history. However, when you take the time to pull the students from their own experiences, allow them to make connections to history, float back to modern day to again find further connections and go back into history with all that information - meaning starts to develop in a way that is not achieved otherwise.

And interesting interesting observations from Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, including

When I first stepped away from the basic, bubble-assessment curriculum and into a more inquiry-based approach, I was surprised by my students' reactions. I had assumed the students would eat up the rich lessons, yet their first reaction was one of discomfort. When my good, little memorizers didn't easily earn a perfect score on an assessment, they were frustrated and shut down. After much reflecting, I realized they were out of their comfort zone and not used to being asked to think critically. Answers didn't come easily, and since often their self-image of being smart is wrapped up with things coming easily, the students felt attacked. Slowly, the students began to thrive and rise to the challenge.

Here's some interesting comments from Part II of Larry's series Teaching History By Not Giving 'The Answers'

First from Bruce Lesh, who writes:

Colleagues looked at me funny as students began to ask questions and engage in debates about historical evidence. My peers--who have been trained (as I was) to lecture, assign readings from the books, break things up with Hollywood movies, and test with quickly graded multiple-choice questions--wondered why I was challenging "what has always worked."

 ...Students had become accustomed to history being taught in a certain manner. In their effort to learn to "do school," they expected to come into the history classroom and be regaled with stories of the past distributed through lectures, films, and textbooks, and they had mastered the skill set necessary to "do history."

And this response from PJ Caposey, who notes:

When working with teachers I focus on ...  trying to change from the 'status quo' to what is best for kids. One [element is the] Google test. If it can be answered via a simple Google search - then very little instructional time should be spent on it and it should not be assessed. CCSS is a game-changer, so too can be the 'Google Test.'

Image credit: Flickr / Classroom scene, [Strabane technical school, Northern Ireland]
Date: c.1930

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Reflection and the Student Centered Classroom

» 27 April 2014 » In Presentations, Reflection, Students, Teachers » 2 Comments

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The key to fostering reflection is scaffolding more choices for students to make about key elements of the lesson. Then students have more to think about and compare with their peers.
Content – what knowledge and skills will be studied?
Process – what materials, procedures, etc will be used?
Product – what will students produce to demonstrate their learning?
Evaluation – how will the learning be assessed?

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iPDX14 Session Preview: PBL Case Study

» 22 February 2014 » In Presentations, Students » No Comments

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Instead of simply telling my preservice teachers about the critical components of the new classroom – student-centered, project-driven, community-based, tech-integrated – we used them. This iPDX14 session will give participants a look at these instructional approaches, work-flow models, sample projects and a reflection on how it went. Spoiler alert – it’s not all positive.

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Incarceration of Portland’s Japanese Americans in WWII

» 14 February 2014 » In History / DBQ's, Projects, Students » No Comments

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Using video interviews of camp internees, archived photographs, and historic documents; the lesson guides students through the experience of Japanese-Americans incarcerated during WWII. This multi-media lesson was designed by students working with the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center.

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iPhone Walking Tour of Historic Japantown Portland

» 01 February 2014 » In Ed Tech, History / DBQ's, Projects, Students » No Comments

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I’m pleased to introduce you to Japantown PDX, a free iOS app that I designed with the assistance of the Nikkei Legacy Center, GammaPoint LLC, and my students at the University of Portland. Explore Portland Oregon’s historic Japantown with this user-friendly walking tour. The city’s vibrant pre WWII Japanese American community is archived in over 125 photographs and audio clips. This GPS-enabled app guides you through Portland’s eight block Japantown, a bustling community in the early decades of the twentieth century – better known today as the colorful Old Town / Chinatown neighborhood.

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See You At integratED Conference #iPDX14

» 12 January 2014 » In Ed Tech, Events, Presentations, Students » No Comments

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I’m looking forward to presenting at integratED Portland 2014 February 26–28, 2014. It’s a premier edtech conference features active hands-on sessions with an impressive team of presenters. I’m honored to be doing two workshops. Here’s my previews

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Tips for Motivating Student Writers with iBooks Author

» 05 January 2014 » In Ed Tech, History / DBQ's, How To, Publishing, Students » 9 Comments

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My preservice teachers just published an iBook collection of document-based questions in US and World History. It’s now available free at iTunes. Here’s some tips on how to turn your students into published authors.

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Anne Frank: A Primary Source DBQ

» 15 December 2013 » In Ed Tech, History / DBQ's, Projects, Students » No Comments

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One of my University of Portland pre-service teachers showcases her online DBQ – “Anne Frank: A Timeless Story.” She explores Anne’s diary as historic source document. Erin Deatherage also reflects on the experience of designing DBQs.

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Visions of Freedom: The American Revolution

» 08 December 2013 » In Ed Tech, History / DBQ's, Projects, Students » 2 Comments

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I’ve asked my University of Portland students to reflect on a DBQ assignment and invited them to guest post on my blog. Here is “Visions of Freedom: The American Revolution” – a DBQ designed by Collin Soderberg-Chase. This DBQ presents multiple “views of freedom” viewed through the “lenses” of differing perspectives held during American revolutionary era. The essential question examines what factors influence one’s vision of freedom.

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Visual Rhetoric of Women’s Suffrage

» 01 December 2013 » In Ed Tech, History / DBQ's, Projects, Students » No Comments

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Two of my University of Portland pre-service teachers showcase their online DBQ “Propaganda of the American Suffrage Movement, c. 1910-1920.” This DBQ is designed to encourage students to think critically about the American suffrage movement propaganda. The generative questions are: “How do images express biases?” and “How are political, social, and economic factors presented?” Heather Treanor and Cory Cassanova also reflects on the experience of designing DBQs.

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