Teaching American History

Professional Learning

As we progress through our grant program we will seek to improve student learning in our classes and through sharing ideas from the grant work to improve student performance throughout Cobb County U.S. History classes.  While this seems to be an ambitious goal, there are those in the field of history education who are leading the way toward a better understanding of how students learn history.  We will be pursuing an understanding of their ideas and applying them to our classrooms.  Specifically, we will be analyzing the questions of “What is historical thinking?” and “How can students best learn history?”

To start our discussion we have read a selection from Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe on “Understanding as meaningful inferences” and “Understanding as transferability.”  Most teachers in Cobb County are familiar with this work due to the emphasis our training has placed on the concepts of Backward Design as we have implemented the new Georgia Performance Standards.

Moving from the more general learning concepts of Wiggins and McTighe, the focus continued to examine the concepts of the elements of historical thinking.  Are there unique aspects of learning history that may be identified and taught?  Sam Wineburg in Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts has addressed the question of this type of cognitive development through quantitative and qualitative research.  His conclusions form the basis of a model of teaching historical reading and document analysis, critical to historical learning for meaning and understanding.  This model is used by the Stanford History Education Group and the George Mason University affiliated “historicalthinkingmatters” web site.  Teachers in this TAH program have read a synopsis of Wineburg’s conclusions in “”Unnatural and essential: the nature of historical thinking” published in Teaching History, December 2007 (with permission).

The discussion of these ideas was presented in the PowerPoint Thinking Historically

Using the charts and posters from the Stanford History Education Group, participants discussed the essential questions of Sourcing, Contextualization, Close Reading and Corroboration.   http://sheg.stanford.edu/?q=node/45

From that Web site’s curriculum units, using historicalthinkingmatters.org and the Library of Congress page, Teaching with Primary Sources Quarterly http://www.loc.gov/teachers/tps/quarterly/1002/index.html cohort teachers will use at least one model lesson during this first semester.  We will examine the results of these lessons, determine the impact on student learning observed by teachers and proceed to the next stage of implementation.

After initial observations, as a year one goal, a rubric of student performance will be created  that will not only allow teachers to measure student success at analyzing readings and documents, but the rubric will allow for feedback to students as to their progress on this essential learning step.  Lesson plans will be created using the concepts of historical thinking with readings and primary documents and using the rubric.

Historical Thinking lesson evaluation

YEAR TWO (2011-2012) GOALS: Professional Learning Plan year two