STUDYING EPISTEMIC COGNITION IN THE HISTORY CLASSROOM: CASES OF TEACHING AND LEARNING TO THINK HISTORICALLY
Alexander, Patricia A
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Building on the literature on epistemic cognition, epistemic beliefs, and historical thinking, three class-level case studies were conducted to investigate features of historical thinking and history-specific epistemic beliefs of high-school students and their teachers. These cases also considered teachers' pedagogical practices and the potential effects of those practices on students' historical thinking and epistemic beliefs. Two junior honors and one freshman US History classes were selected from a school system that fostered the preparation of students for AP History courses by encouraging the use of a variety of primary sources and analysis of documents in teaching history. Preliminary visits indicated that these classes' teachers used different pedagogical practices. Class observations spanned one semester of instruction. History-specific epistemic beliefs were explored using interviews structured around the items of the Beliefs about History Questionnaire (BHQ) and historical thinking was assessed through analysis of think-alouds collected while student informants (4 from each class) and their teachers read a set of 6 documents and responded to a constructed response task (CRT). Specifically, student data were collected at the middle and end of the semester, while teachers were interviewed only once, at the end of the semester. In one of the junior classes, 27 additional juniors responded in writing to the BHQ and to the CRTs. Additional questionnaires and interviews explored teachers' goals, rationales for their practice, and interest in history. In regard to history-specific epistemic beliefs, results indicated that students and teachers manifested ideas indicative of different developmental levels, suggesting that their epistemic beliefs are a complex system, not necessarily characterized by a high level of integration. Differences across students tended to be greater in regard to epistemic beliefs than to historical thinking. In addition, comparison of initial and follow-up data suggested different trajectories of change in regard to students' epistemic beliefs while changes in historical thinking were modest and not consistently suggesting progression in competence. These trends were confirmed by the analysis of students' written responses to the BHQ and the CRTs. The study identified a set of ideas and behaviors that tended to produce cognitive impasse and hindered the development of historical thinking and a series of pedagogical practices, mostly aligned with teachers' goals and beliefs, which might have fostered such outcomes.