Beyond Names and Dates 1 Beyond Names and Dates: Teaching Students to Employ Historical Reasoning Matt Kelley Capstone Essay Peabody College, Master of Education program, 2008 Beyond Names and Dates 2 Abstract This essay explores several obstacles that a student brings into a high school history classroom. Since the main goal of history is to develop abstract reasoning, it is troublesome that a student’s cognitive development could impede this end. In addition to barely having developed what Piaget refers to as formal operation, the student’s previous history training, as well as other classes, have led to a complacency with reading texts at face-value. As an adolescent, the learner will be, to a certain degree, egocentric, and will judge historical figures and events from his or her own perspective. Several researched methods are explored to alleviate these issues, including such tasks as developing specific historical skills within Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, creating representations that guide students toward the teacher’s level of reasoning, and discussing paths of reasoning as a class during the lesson. These ideas are applied to a European History class, in a hypothetical attempt to demonstrate their applications. Beyond Names and Dates 3 Beyond Names and Dates: Teaching Students to Employ Historical Reasoning Introduction Think of the worst history class you have ever had to sit through, or at least one that you remember would fall into the general category of ―bad.‖ The odds are strong that the defining feature of this class was rote memorization of barely connected facts. You were expected to read a textbook that listed events, names, and dates; then your teacher would revisit these facts in a similar order, focusing upon some more than others; finally, you were required to show that you could recall these facts on command. There is a reason that your class was so intolerable: people do not learn history in this way. The problem is that history teachers do not realize that they themselves did not learn this way either, because they probably already had the reasoning ability to connect these facts together, or developed it independently. Even if they were taught specific strategies, it’s easy to forget them over a period of time. On a personal note, I used to proctor a Writing Lab in high school in which I helped my peers write papers for history classes. At the time, I was well-versed in the rudimentary rules of composition, and could easily give advice that I did not always need to follow myself. Like in other academic disciplines, you must follow the rules strictly until you know the correct manner in which to break them. However, when first year college students ask me for advice now, I tend to forget to tell them to constantly reference the thesis whenever a point is made. I forget this because it is not only unnecessary in high level history scholarship, but it is also a very inelegant way to express your point. Beyond Names and Dates 4 Similar to my experience with writing, history teachers may not recall the best methods of how to learn history on the high school level – they can absorb facts and connect them to broad trends instinctively. They read every text with skepticism. Their minds are fully capable of abstract historical reasoning as a result of physical development as well as training in higher education. However, history teachers are not teaching future history teachers, but students of every possible disposition. Just as students with learning disabilities can succeed in a classroom if specifically taught the strategies that many students know instinctively, one can see most students of history as having a historical learning disability of sorts, in that they need to be taught to think like a historian in order to produce the desired results. The focus of this paper will be on how the regular secondary school history teacher can help students develop the reasoning skills that are the true goals of history education. This paper will begin by looking at the learner, and what issues may impede proper learning if not addressed by the teacher. Only by understanding how a student thinks and learns can a teacher move the student from his or her initial abilities to the level that constitutes success, for the student and by extension the teacher and school. This will be followed by a survey of methods to alleviate these issues in the learning context, which have been developed by scholars using researched-based studies. These first two sections show that this essay is relevant to any history classroom in a secondary school, and as such contain most of the value of this work. However, it is necessary to apply these ideas to a realistic scenario, and so the final section will be more personal. Since I will be teaching an Advanced Placement European history course in the coming autumn, I will apply this study to my own plans for this class. Many of these ideas could be applied to any history class, but they are compiled with a secondary school European history class in mind. Beyond Names and Dates 5 The Learner The first section of this essay will focus on the learner, in terms of what he or she brings into a high school history classroom before any instruction. In order to address this, however, this study must pin down one of the central aims of studying history in the first place. According to Robert V. Daniels (1972), The purpose of history courses is not encyclopedic factual knowledge, but understanding and an ability to think historically. […] The study of history means acquiring the ability to think imaginatively, to organize information, and to use facts in order to discover and appreciate significant ideas. (p.47) One might be hard-pressed to find a history teacher who would disagree that thinking historically, which includes making comparison, exploring causation, and recognizing patterns, is the major goal of history education. However, when one looks at the secondary school student, there are some barriers to teachers helping to facilitate these skills. Of the many valuable insights Jean Piaget’s study into human cognitive development, the most relevant here are the four stages of development. Piaget tells us that a child is not able to fully grasp abstract concepts and employ deductive and inductive reasoning until early adolescence (Woolfolk, 2007). Roy N. Hallam, who performed studies to apply Piagetian principles specifically to history, concluded ―that systematic thinking appeared later in history than in math or science‖ (Wineburg, 2001, p. 38), and is more likely to occur by the age of sixteen (Chaffer & Taylor, 1975), which easily puts that development in question when thinking about a high school European history student. The students may have Beyond Names and Dates 6 only begun to develop comfort with ―formal operations‖ (Piaget’s term for the highest level of thinking developed in the fourth stage), and probably have no familiarity with implementing them in a historical context; this is problematic when the main goal of a history class is to do just that. It also does not help that it is likely that most of the history classes before high school are taught by merely exposing children to facts (for this paper to be necessary, one has to assume that most teachers are not following the same advice already). M. B. Booth challenges the rigidity of Piaget’s focus on biological cognitive development’s role in attaining historical reasoning, stating that ―not only can fourteen- to sixteen-year-old pupils think adductively, but also that learning history can make a significant contribution to their cognitive and affective life‖ (1983, p. 113). This gives a history teacher hope for overcoming biological limitations, as well as inspiration for the importance of history education. However, overcoming these limitations requires an emphasis on social interaction, which will be explored later. Students will likely bring an excessive reliance on rigid chronology—learned from previous years of fact-based history education—with them into the classroom. Part of the reason, according to Frederick Drake and Sarah Drake Brown, is that students already have a sense of narrative in mind: Students perceive 'official history' to be what the teacher (and/or the school and textbook authorities) dispense to them. This learning of 'official history' knows not ideological or national borders. It occurs in the United States and other nations where students engage in the ritualistic study of politically palatable views of the past. (2003, p. 474) This causes an issue when learning primarily from a textbook. Sam Wineburg performed a study in which historians with varying specialties and high-functioning high school students reviewed excerpts from several different historical sources, including historical fiction and classroom Beyond Names and Dates 7 textbooks. When asked to rank the sources in order of trustworthiness, the historians ranked the textbook dead last, while the students ranked it as the most reliable (Wineburg, 2001). This overconfidence in texts as representations of incontrovertible proof is partially due to the previous education in history, as well as to the recent development of abstract cognition coupled with lack of instruction in applying it to history. However, the students in Wineburg’s study were clearly toward the end of their high school education, and had had several history courses and even had taken their SATs. Although much attention is paid to the usefulness of teaching history with primary sources, and teaching students how to read these sources, these same principles are rarely applied to textbooks which are themselves worded matter-of-factly. Hazel W. Hertzberg (1985) offers insight as to the nature of history textbooks themselves: The lack of available synthesis is fundamental to the poor quality of many texts. They tend to be intellectually thin, paying insufficient attention to long-term historical development and to the reality of conflict. […] They rarely give more than one interpretation, although there is practically no important development about which there are not at least two well-founded interpretations. (pp. 36-37) Primary documents themselves are of course necessary to developing historical thinking, but one needs to do more than merely expose students to them. Drake and Brown (2003) propose an explicit approach to teaching methods of reading primary documents that guides students to develop skills that historians already use, which mainly revolve around questioning the background of the author, the bias of the author, the historical context at the time of writing, and Beyond Names and Dates 8 how to relate these bits of information to the emerging narrative. This will be explored further in the next section. Another issue brought up by Jean Piaget is that students at the early part of stage four of cognitive development experience adolescent egocentrism. Because of this, Adolescents do not deny that other people may have different perceptions and beliefs; the adolescents just become very focused on their own ideas. […] Because they can reason from general principles to specific actions, they are often critical of people whose actions seem to contradict their principles. (Woolfolk, 2007, p. 36) This compounds the problem that all human beings, regardless of age, have when studying history: what Henry Steele Commager refers to as present-mindedness: ―Our instinctive habit of looking at the past through our own eyes, judging it by our own standards, recreating it in our own words‖ (1980, p. 44). Sam Wineburg (2001) also explores an aspect of all encounters with history that is relevant here. He claims there to be a tension between the familiar and the strange. People are attracted to aspects of the past to which they can directly relate to their own experiences, as well as the attributes that make it seem surprising and amazing. To paraphrase the British comedian Eddie Izzard, ―History I find fascinating because it’s so real…in a kind of long-ago, can’t- believe-it kind of way‖ (1996). The pull of the familiar in history, Wineburg tells us, ―entices us with the promise that we can locate our own place in the stream of time and solidify our identity in the present‖ (p. 5). For these aspects, the Piagetian adolescent egocentrism may be useful, as teachers can strive to show relevance in the past. On the other hand, in viewing history as only a means for understanding themselves and their surroundings, students may ―discard or just ignore Beyond Names and Dates 9 vast regions of the past that either contradict our current needs or fail to align tidily with them‖ (p. 6). The pull of the strange has limitations as well, as students who fail to see the relevance may see the strange, distance aspects of history as ―a kind of esoteric exoticism‖ which ―may engage the attention of a small coterie of professionals‖ (p. 6.) but will have little pull to many students. This has students and teachers walking a tightrope – the social constructivist school of cognitive development, led by Lev Vygotsky, tells us that students build on current knowledge that has been constructed through socio-cultural interactions in their own lives (Woolfolk, 2007, p. 346). However, Wineburg stresses that the strange, distant past is essential to making history familiar and applicable: It is this past, one that initially leaves us befuddled or, worse, just plain bored, that we need the most. […] The sustained encounter with this less-familiar past teaches us the limitations of our brief sojourn on this planet and allows us to take membership in the entire human race. Paradoxically, the relevance of the past may lie precisely in what strikes us as its initial irrelevance. (2001, p. 7). So students may indeed be able to attach some aspects of history to themselves immediately, but the biggest benefit, as well as the most difficult to bring about, come from embracing the strange and changing it into the familiar. Learning Context This section will explore the best methods to address the concerns of the learner outlined above, beginning with a method that is simultaneously both a concern and a method. One of the main reasons that students have trouble learning large amounts of facts and then employing Beyond Names and Dates 10 complex thinking is that most teachers have it backwards – one should start with the big ideas and then teach how the individual facts connect to those ideas. This is a major theme in Understanding by Design by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins (2005), who define big idea as ―a concept, theme, or issue that gives meaning and connection to the discrete facts and skills‖ (p. 5). It should not be hard to see how this applies especially to history, as this work has already discussed the main goals. As Daniels (1972) puts it, ―In short, a person should never try to memorize a fact if he doesn’t know its significance; and if he understands its significance, it is almost impossible to forget the fact‖ (p. 48). McTighe and Wiggins (2005) use the term ―conceptual Velcro‖ (p. 66). For students of history, the teacher must take great pains to describe essential concepts and patterns before asking students to engage the facts and details. For example, before learning about the myriad events that led to the formation of a unified Germany and Italy, the teacher must first discuss the concept of nationalism and how it formed in the wake of Napoleon’s shattering of previously-held power structures. The next problem to be addressed is the need to develop complex thought in students that have little to no background in such, and who are more than likely just beginning to be mentally capable of such thought. Peter N. Stearns (2000) identifies three distinct tools of the historian, and creates a set of exercises to gradually help his classes develop them. The first is comparison, which Stearns addresses by ―identifying concrete exercises that helps students accomplish this reconceptualization of data, repeating these exercises, and gradually increasing their complexity‖ (p. 427). He began by assigning homework assignments that asked students to find similarities and differences for specific topics from the text. After repeating these for two-thirds of the class, Beyond Names and Dates 11 he then expanded them to include essays, discussions, and other methods of analysis of the categorized data. The second historian skill he addressed was learning how to deal with change over time. He introduced the same types of activities, only much later in the course. This was because the main point is the same—the only difference is that you are comparing data-sets from across time instead of across geography. The third analytical tool is the recognition of causation, although at the time of publication his results were not significant. A hallmark of Stearns’ study is that is involves another social constructivist idea from Lev Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development. This can be explained as ―the area where a child can solve a problem with the help (scaffolding) of an adult or more able peer‖ (Woolfolk, p. 346). Stearns begins with rudimentary activities that exercise the desired skills, evaluates and guides the students’ products, and increases their difficulty, eventually adding in new elements. Robert B. Bain (2000) also follows Vygotsky’s ideas of an expert facilitating learning through assistance, albeit in a different manner. Bain believes that, while engaging students in historical projects is helpful, since the end goal is to change the way the students think, then the historical thinking should be made explicit at all steps in the process. By this, he means that the thinking of all of the players in the classroom should be discussed during lessons, and so by exteriorizing the thinking of students, past actors, disciplinary experts, and teachers, we create and shape a disciplinary specific zone of development with beginning points (student thinking), historical content, and process goals (historical actors/event and historians’ habits of mind), while encourages pedagogical reflection. (pp. 335-336) Beyond Names and Dates 12 Bain also believes in Vygotsky’s idea that learning occurs within a social construct. ―With social assistance, learners can perform many more competencies than they could independently; through social assistance the higher functions emerge and are subsequently internalized‖ (p. 336). This process involves having student externalize their own thoughts, explaining and exploring what different historical figures thought, helping the students be critical of texts with the same questions that a historian would use—all within cooperative framework. Sam Wineburg (2001) and Suzanne Wilson also make conclusions that line up with social constructivism when they engaged in a Wisdom of Practice study of eleven history teachers. Their resulting paper focused on two very effective teachers, John Price and Elizabeth Jensen, with very different styles of teaching—Price dominates the classroom with his electric personality, while Jensen is nearly invisible most of the time, instead choreographing the learning of the students. The common thread of both teachers is that they employed various representations of the subject matter (such as analogies, stories, demonstrations, debates), each of which attempted to build a bridge between the sophisticated understanding of the teacher and the developing understanding of the student. […] An instructional representation emerges as the product of the teachers’ comprehension of content and their understanding of the needs, motivations, and abilities of learners (p. 170). Wineburg and Wilson state that the best way for a teacher to develop sophistication in their students’ thought processes is to reflect inward on what the concepts and skills to be learned, and then to turn outward to empathize with the students’ lack of understanding in constructing these representations. Beyond Names and Dates 13 This study also addressed the fallibility of textbooks in the classroom, as the two teachers employed the texts in similar ways. As Wineburg and Wilson (2001) state, ―Sometimes the textbooks entered the fray of conflicting interpretations; at other times, they acted as foils for the teachers’ favored interpretations; at still other times they served as resources to help students follow the story line of history.‖ The textbook in each of these classrooms was viewed more as an account, one possible representation of history among many others, rather than the end-all and be-all factual tome. Wineburg’s essay ―On the Reading of Historical Texts‖ (2001), cited earlier, also addresses the problems of students not viewing textbooks with skepticism. He uses the metaphor of a courtroom to explain the different ways of reading textbooks—historians were like the prosecution, questioning the testimony, finding contradictions, and trying to understand motivations; students were like the jurors, listening passively to the testimony, questioning themselves, but unable to address the witnesses directly (p. 77). To illustrate his point, Wineburg quotes Robert Scholes: If wisdom, or some less grandiose notion such as heightened awareness, is to be the end of our endeavors, we shall have to see it not as something transmitted from the text to the student but as something developed in the student by questioning the text. (p. 84) The goal is to get the students to read more like historians, whether the text is a primary source or a class textbook. This questioning of the text could be one aspect of what Hazel W. Hertzberg (1985) calls participatory learning. She says that ―if history is to have deep and lasting meaning to students, they must make it their own‖ (p. 36). Making history one’s own is a crucial way to address the Piagetian adolescent egocentrism; a feeling of ownership over your education makes it more Beyond Names and Dates 14 personal, more self-involved than merely doing what the adult in the room says. Veronica Boix- Mansilla (2000) poses the thought that students should be taught to properly apply historical knowledge to present contexts. While this can prove to be troublesome, she says that ―teachers may scaffold students to make such connections by giving them multiple supervised opportunities to do so, identifying students’ difficulties, and orienting their efforts‖ (p. 392). Note the clear attention to Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. While most of the above methods for historical reading can be applied to all texts, Drake and Brown (2003) specifically address ways to address primary sources in a way to develop sophisticated historical reasoning. They separate primary source documents into three categories: 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-order. 1st-order documents are those that the teacher considers utterly essential, 2nd-order documents are those that relate to the 1st-order document, and 3rd- order documents also related to the 1st-order document, but are ones which the students find themselves. The idea is that the 2nd-order sources will both corroborate and challenge the original source, and the students will be asked to also make connections themselves between the 3rd-order and 1st. This gives students a chance to evaluate what they are reading in terms of the bias, validity, and historical context of any document; eventually they will be doing this without being prompted by the teacher. At this point, the teacher has succeeded in guiding the students toward thinking like historians. Though this work has already shown how Sam Wineburg’s (2001) ideas about focusing on the familiarity of historical subjects can be useful for egocentric adolescents, it is also important to cultivate students’ exploration of the strange and distant aspects of history. Becoming comfortable with the strangeness of history will teach us the inadequacy of our own perspectives. Wineburg worries that ―if we never recognize that our individual experience is Beyond Names and Dates 15 limited, what hope is there of understanding people whose logic defies our own, whose choices and beliefs appear inscrutable when judged against our own standards?‖ (p. 110). It can be argued that in order to embrace the strange, one must force it to become familiar. When a student accepts that his own personal judgments do not apply to a certain historical figure, the next step is to try to put that figure’s actions and words into the actual historical context. By understanding how that figure could have behaved in that manner, with no connection to the present, the student is able to bring that figure into closer association with himself, and to inject both the figure and himself in to the greater set of humanity. This, in sense, could be seen as making history one’s own, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. This way of addressing the strangeness of history will develop complex thinking, appeal to the geocentricism in the student, and also usher him or her into a post-adolescent frame of mind. Curriculum and Assessment The rest of this study will take on a more personal tone, as I will be linking the theories mentioned above to my own practice. As stated in the introduction, many of these ideas can be applied to any class that attempts to study the history, but they are specifically tailored for a European History class. This is made all the more personal because I actually will be teaching AP European History in the upcoming autumn, and I plan on implementing these methods. Rather than give a quick synopsis of pre-Renaissance history, I will spend 1-2 weeks going over the history of the Greeks and Romans, with a day or two for the medieval period. For the sake of clarity and simplicity, in this essay I will mainly address the influence of Greco-Roman thought upon the Modern Era of Europe. Beyond Names and Dates 16 The influence of Greco-Roman thought will be my first big idea, which will put the events and people of the Renaissance into context. Most history students know that the word renaissance means rebirth, and possibly that it refers to the rebirth of learning; however, I will emphasize that it is the rebirth of classical learning. Certain facts, like the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, will be attached to this main idea, as the resultant diaspora of Greek scholars led to an intellectual phenomenon throughout Europe. The emerging art, philosophy, scholarship, even architecture came from a resurgence of the classical spirit. For much of the year, I will ask the students to complete exercises not unlike those Stearns advocated. Mine will ask students to draw comparisons between Roman and American law, Greek sculpture and Renaissance sculpture, and many others that will increase in difficulty and decrease in guidance. Despite the inconclusive results for Stearns, I also plan on implementing activities and discussions based on exploring causation, specifically with relation to the Greco-Roman influence on modes of thought, like the Enlightenment and the subsequent era of revolutions. Also, I will utilize Bain’s method of externalizing historical thought. Whenever conclusions are drawn, students will be forced to explain their reasoning; my own assertions will be followed by my reasons and the alternatives; all historical figures and their motivations will be put into a realistic context. In regard to the texts of the class, ongoing qualification of their value, bias, and purposes will occur as a class. Students will be asked to compare similar documents that come from difference sources but address the same issues. When reading the main textbook, we will call into question the alternative interpretations of passages, particularly when there is a possible connection to the classical world that is not explored. Injecting connections to Classical era Beyond Names and Dates 17 during discussion of the reading will patch up discrepancies of the text, and further facilitate critical reading. The goal of these methods is to develop a complex historical frame of mind for each of the students. In assessing, I will base my grading of each individual assignment on the ability of the student to correctly apply comparisons and to delineate causation, but my long-term informal assessment will be based on how well the student increases his or her ability to employ sophisticated reasoning that is divorced from his or her own identity. I will also assess how well students can express their own thoughts, and how easily they catch fallacies therein. My teaching style will more than likely resemble those of John Price, for I have noticed in my student teaching that I tend to command the attention and interest of the students. Like Price, I plan on engaging the students not only in the above discussions, but also in group activities that call on them to debate and discuss significances together and to take stands. This will hopefully give the students the social framework necessary to learn adequately, as well as a sense of ownership of their education. To address the familiar side of European history, I will first have students draw parallels between their own society and that of the classical world. The next step will be to codify the influence of Greco-Roman thought upon the Renaissance, and then the following movements such as the Enlightenment, which in turn influenced the American Revolution. These connections will make the Europe addressed in the curriculum more relatable, as well as help the students see a more complex relationship between the events in European history. A major goal will be to make the strangeness of European history become more familiar by helping students to understand the situations and influences that affected the lives of those in history. Beyond Names and Dates 18 To understand the nature of European thought, and how this related to American thought, will help the egocentric student find value in a history that helps explain his or her own values and identity. Douglas D. Alder and Matthew T. Downey (1985) assert that understanding European identity also has benefits for students who are not of European descent: ―They are involved in the culture of the West, as well as that derived from their other ethnic roots, and may to a greater or lesser extent share its values.‖ Understanding European identity from its roots could be as essential for these students as it would be for an emigrant to Hong Kong to study the world of ancient China. I would argue that the lessons learned in understanding the underlying currents of European civilization could be applied to learning of any people, from the Islamic cultures of the middle ages to the Aztecs of a Mexico long gone. Regardless, knowing the roots of Western Civilization will give a more sophisticated view of the history learned in this class. Conclusion At this point is should be clear that the learners do not show up in the secondary school history classroom with all of the skills and abilities needed to understand or even appreciate history, and that in fact is the history teacher’s job to impart historical reasoning. The first issue is that a high school student has probably only just begun to develop the cognition necessary for abstract thought. As such, the student is also going to be very inwardly focused, basing most judgment on his or her own thoughts and ideas. This lack of development, coupled with previous misconceptions of learning, will most likely lead the learner to read textbooks as though Beyond Names and Dates 19 they were sources of indisputable facts, rather than accounts from certain points of view. This student will also be pulled by the familiar aspects of history and be put off by the stranger aspects. Several scholars pose solutions to these problems, such as actively working to develop historical tools in the minds of students, making historical thinking explicit, creating representations of historical ideas in ways that bridge teacher and student understandings, facilitating critical reading of both sources and textbooks, and participatory learning in a social environment. To illustrate their connection to realistic practice, I applied these ideas to my own future class, and showed how they could easily fit with any previously-conceived syllabus if a little flexibility is employed. Beyond Names and Dates 20 References Bain, R. (2000). Into the breach: using specific research and theory to shape history instruction. In P. Stearns, P. Seixas & S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching, and learning history (pp. 331-352). New York, NY: New York University Press. Boix-Mansilla, V. (2000). Historical understanding: beyond the past and into the present. In P. Stearns, P. Seixas & S. 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Understanding by design, expanded second edition. Englegood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. Stearns, P. (2000). Getting specific about training in historical analysis. In P. Stearns, P. Seixas & S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching, and learning history (pp. 419-436). New York, NY: New York University Press. Beyond Names and Dates 21 Wineburg, S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Woolfolk, A. (2007). Educational psychology, tenth edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.