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Assessment Uncovering History

New Year, New Rubric

Just in time for the 2014-15 school year I’m rolling out Rubric 2.0: Historical Thinking.  In collaboration with colleagues in my school distict and in my twitter-based PLN, I plan to do action research with this rubric this year.  Three of the five lines are the same from last year’s Rubric 1.2: Writing with Evidence.  Adding “Corroboration” and “Historical Context” in place of reasoning and organization should make this more useful as a measure of historical thinking.   Minnesota history teachers could use rubric 2.0 to assess the historical thinking strand of the State Social Studies Standards and the English Language Arts portion of the Common Core State Standards.

Like Sam Wineburg I welcome the boost that the CCSS for ELA should give to history as a core subject and to historical thinking within history classes.  Minnesota’s adoption of the ELA side of the Common Core along with the inclusion of  historical thinking in the recently revised state standards should provide impetus for shifting the pedagogic balance in history toward thinking and inquiry.  The CCSS usefully encourages higher order thinking in social studies, but historical writing is more than an example of ELA.  Chauncey Monte-Sano observed this while developing criteria for a good history essay:

The quality that I hoped to capture went beyond skill in crafting  a written argument and addressed mastery of the historical content and ways of thinking that distinguished my class from Ms. Stone’s English class down the hall  (Social Education).

Historical thinking and writing need to include unique disciplinary habits of mind, and a history class is more than just a venue for writing with evidence.

Bruce Van SledRight develops this distinction in his recent Assessing Historical Thinking and Understanding.  The crux of the matter is that, although historical writing is nonfiction, the source texts that historians use do not neatly fit into the “informational” and “literary” categories that structure the ELA Common Core (29).  The Common Core supposes that history is a settled body of knowledge that students should read and use as evidence, albeit in a more sophisticated manner than traditionally happens. Thinking historically should move students toward CCSS ELA standards, but also beyond them.

In the coming year I plan to work more explicitly on corroboration and historical context.  I never used the “reasoning” and “organization” lines last year, but focused instead on “evidence” and “sourcing”.  I plan to start the year focusing on those lines, but will expand my practice to include the new lines. While assessing student work on the Montgomery Bus Boycott last spring I became especially conscious of the importance of corroboration.  I think that emphasizing this may be a key to encouraging students to consider sourcing more.  Beyond using the rubric formatively with student writing.  I’m also interested in pursuing VanSledright’s ideas of using weighted multiple-choice questions to assess student understanding of history procedures.  One example (63-64):

In doing history, investigators often find accounts that contradict one another, even among those that testify firsthand about the same past event. One way of dealing with this problem is to

a. Build a new narrative from elements of truth conveyed by these accounts

b. Corroborate the evidence provided by those accounts with other sources

c. Suspend judgement until a definitive source is found

d. Focus only on the facts provided by those accounts

B is the best answer here, and would receive the most weight, because the others all maintain an unhelpful informational/literary dichotomy of texts and other sources.  A and D contain elements of the historians procedure and would receive some weight.  This would be a purely formative assessment, at least early in the term, given how unnatural these procedures are for students.  I will probably use this item, and also hope to construct some specific to the Augustus lesson from SHEG.

All of this will take practice.  Lots of it, both for the students and their teacher.  I am looking forward to it.

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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