History Instructional Design Uncovering History

Routine, it’s what we do here…

Presenting at a stimulating Minnesota Council for History Education workshop this week, I stressed the importance of establishing classroom routines around historical inquiry.  I know this is important, because I have yet to do it fully and know the consequences.  Students still find the task of critically approaching sources strange and opaque.  Establishing a frequently used protocol with a consistent naming of inquiry tasks will be one of my goals this fall.

After struggling with historical thinking in the Zoot Suit Riot lesson last spring, my tenth-grade students did better with historical thinking in SHEG’s Montgomery Bus Boycott lesson. While the greater familiarity of the content was a factor, I also found myself being much more explicit about what students should be doing with the documents during the investigation and writing.  Even still students largely viewed the sources naively.  All of this shows that despite more inquiry in my US History class, it is still not an established part of the routine.  The epistemic shift from “history” as a set of facts to “history” as an active process is so profound that it must be carefully and explicitly taught, ironically, through repetition.

I see these as the main steps to such an approach: Context→Hook→Question→Documents→Formative Product(s)→Final Product, possibly with revisions. Lendohl Calder refers to a sequence like this as a “History Lab”.  So, I could institute “Lab Days”, hopefully a couple of days a week. Bruce Lesh stresses the importance of a consistent protocol and repetitively uses “Text, Context, and Subtext” to name and describe the process of historically thinking about sources.  The SHEG Reading Like a Historian curriculum names the tasks of historical thinking sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading.  I have used the SHEG classroom posters, as reproduced my a student in large, colored letters. These posters could be deployed in the front of the room to emphasis the particular historical thinking skill(s) required for a lesson.

I will be combining these ideas this fall and I am very open to suggestions on language and posters.  And, I will continue to include historical thinking topics with the posted learning targets for my units. More students expect and refer to these targets, and anything posted as a learning target immediately has more legitimacy for some.

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

Let me know what you think!

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