How do we teach history?

Historical thinking is the basis in which the caretakers of historical study follow. The readings during this week, focused on understanding and combating some of the issues that surround historical thinking in education. From personal experience as a student but not as a future educator, I took the opportunity this week to understand how my own education process has been shaped as a history student. On the flip side, I also used it to place myself in the shoes of if I was to become an educator, why does this matter to me? Which lead me to my first question…

How do we measure what is learned in terms of historical thinking?

In What Is Learned in College History Classes? the authors walk through different approaches used to measure what is learned in a required history course for a myriad of high education levels. Through their study, they found that in general the learning assessment had poor outcomes. This lead the authors to push for “formative assessments”. Meaning that an assessment should come before the end of a course, possibly quarterly in order to engage with with students to understand where this education is lacking or what some may struggle with. Formative assessments are also how I might measure success. I also think there could be other solutions that don’t deal with quantitative work, such as discussion based participation. Maybe a combination of both would be beneficial. This gives students the opportunity to exercise skills in articulation and comprehension in two different methods. However, I think understanding this question comes secondary to my next question…

How does an instructor get students to the right answers without leading them directly to it? How do they do it on their own?

This may seem like an oblivious question, but if we take the information from the article discussed above, then how can we ensure the students are learning what is being taught? A great deal of the historical thinking process comes from the ability to judge and interpret documents, materials, items, etc., so that we can construct context and meaning from our past. This is really whereI think that “formative assessments” or just feedback is really beneficial in a learning environment. As a student myself, I have experienced classes in which the educator was hands on in our education and willing to foster a healthy learning environment consisting of feedback and open dialogue, and I have been on courses where I received a grade with no feedback and little room for discussion. In many history course they are reading intensive, writing heavy, and lecture dense. I ask this question, knowing that there are sometimes more than one way to answer historical questions. I believe that a possible solution to this question involves step by step instruction, the ability to have them practice, and feedback on both ends, teachers and students. Find out what works and what doesn’t. This lead me into my final proposed question…

Is it important that we foster the connection between past and present in history?

A few of the readings discussed the relationship between the past and present and the role it has in history education. For me, I think that one thing that drew me to history was the idea that there are parallels between the past and now. You always here “history repeats itself”, and I used to say this myself until I had a professor successfully articulate why this isn’t true, or at least shouldn’t be. I have come to understand that studying history affords individuals the opportunity to contextualize important events that have occured. We come to understand that events such as wars or empires dont occur out of thin air but rather as a natural progression of other factors that create situations that make them possible. In understanding this, it makes it important for understanding our present. So my argument is yes, there should be a fostered connection. Maybe not outright but through questions that make students situate themselves contextually and presently.


Coming away from this week better helped me to understand ways in which my field gets things right but also gets them wrong. I have been on the spectrum at both ends , having felt successful in my learning and have not. Whether that be through a quantitive grade or written feedback. I also understand that its important for the field of history to open new avenues to engage students and foster their education to ensure they are obtaining critical thinking skills involved in historical thinking that go beyond the field of history.

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