YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER THE SOURCE: AN INVESTIGATION OF 8TH GRADE STUDENTS USING HISTORY’S SOURCING HEURISTIC TO LEARN ABOUT AMERICA’S PAST
Wooden, John Alan
VanSledright, Bruce A
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Research in history education suggests disciplinary approaches to teaching and learning about the past lead to considerable growth in students' historical thinking capabilities. This study investigated how an historical inquiry approach to instruction influences the ways adolescents read, think and write about American history. The researcher created and taught a series of lessons centered on the sourcing heuristic and other aspects of the discipline of history to students in two sections of an 8th grade American history course in a major school district in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The lessons, exercises and pedagogical moves were based on a literature-based, theoretically-grounded framework for learning to think in history. In addition to exposure to curriculum and instruction based on historical investigation, students in one class received a structured intervention in historical thinking that gave them opportunities to critique and discuss each other's written historical arguments and engage in discourse about evidence and other history-specific concepts and strategic knowledge. It was assumed that these sessions of Peer Scrutiny and Discourse (PSD) would deepen students' knowledge of history (in a disciplinary sense) and lead them to outperform the students who did not engage in PSD on various measures of historical thinking and understanding. History-specific instruction took place over a five-month period. A range of data were collected to chart students' growth in historical thinking, including pre and post-study surveys of students' views and knowledge of history, journal entries they created after key lessons and exercises, six historical argumentation writing tasks, a think-aloud task on African Americans' experiences with Southern Reconstruction and exit interviews with primary informants, and the researcher's observations of the teaching and learning that took place. The data were also used to discern the influence of PSD. The researcher found that the majority of students in both classes made gains in historical thinking, especially in the area of written historical argumentation. There appeared to be changes in students' beliefs about history in both classes; and there was some indication that primary informants who experienced PSD developed slightly deeper ideas about evidence and interpretation. The quality of historical writing was higher among students who experienced PSD until the final historical argumentation task. This study suggests that learning about America's past through historical investigations informed and driven by a theoretical framework for learning to think in history causes forward movement along the novice-toward-expert continuum of historical thinking for most adolescents with little or no prior experience with disciplinary history.