Monday, October 18, 2010

Web Review: historicalthinking.org


Getting students to appreciate and enjoy history is sometimes an uphill battle. Half of that fight is making sure that educators who teach history know how to "do" history, because if teachers can help their students "do" history, there is a better chance of engaging them as active learners.
It is often not the teachers' fault that they don't know historical methods. Many social studies teachers have education degrees and at best possibly only minored in history, and teachers who have a master's degrees seems to be rather rare. Therefore, one can not expect a teacher to know how to do something they have not been trained to do. Professional development workshops such as the U.S. Department of Education's Teaching American History (TAH) grants, and other opportunities provided by state and local historic sites and organizations afford teachers more opportunities to learn these skills, but TAH grants unfortunately are not afforded to every school district, and it is difficult for teachers to always find time to attend even local workshops.
The Internet offers some help to this end. I recently came upon a wonderful website that is hosted by George Mason University called historicalthinking.org. This site offers great instruction in how to do history and tips on how to get students to do history. The site is divided into three main sections: 1. Teaching Materials, 2. History Content, and 3. Best Practices. I especially enjoyed browsing through the Best Practices section. In many of these offerings they have video clips of historians explaining how to get the most out of primary source documents. A number of these videos cover different aspects of slavery, which I found very insightful. One of my favorites, about slave receipts, is located at:
A description of another video, this one on slave narratives, is as follows:
"Historian Richard Follett analyzes two narratives of slavery: an investigative report written by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1853 for the New York Times and Solomon Northrup's book Twelve Years A Slave. He discusses each document separately and then compares their very different perspectives on slavery in Louisiana's sugar growing parishes. Follett models several historical thinking skills including:
  • close reading, specifically the process of analyzing the language, meaning, and in some cases, the silences in both accounts;
  • attention to key source information, including who wrote each account, when, and for what purpose; and
  • exploring how to make sense of multiple perspectives and conflicting accounts to try to understand a complex system that affected individuals in radically different ways."

I would encourage anyone interested in history, particularly those interested in "doing" history to browse through this wonderful website. What can be learned here is simply amazing.

In addition to all the great instruction and information, this fine website is also offering a wonderful teaching resource for free. They are providing a "Historical Thinking" poster (pictured above) to teachers. This fine poster is double-sided, with one side geared toward elementary age students while the other side is more middle school/high school friendly. The elementary side is headed by "Doing History is Like Solving a Mystery," and then has the historical question, "What did kids do in the 1850s?" It then explains, "Use these clues to ask and answer good questions." From there is gives helpful hints on what and where to look for primary and secondary sources to find an answer to the historical question. It continually suggests to ask questions about the sources you use, which of course, is very important in doing history. The side of the poster for older students is titled, "History is an argument about the past." It asks the question, "How do we know what we know about the past?" To answer this question it suggests, "Examine source information," "analyze primary sources," "read multiple accounts and perspectives," "use evidence to support claims," and "understand historical context." All of these are essential things for students (and teachers) to keep in mind while reading, writing, doing or presenting history. To get a free "Historical Thinking" poster, go to: http://teachinghistory.org/historical-thinking-poster-request

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