Learning to Elicit, Interpret, and Respond to Students’ Historical Thinking: A Case Study of Four Teacher Candidates

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Teacher education researchers have argued that teacher candidates must learn to attend to students’ disciplinary thinking if they are to improve student learning. In history education, such attention must focus on student thinking about evidence because interpretation of evidence is at the heart of historical discourse. This study explores how four teacher candidates who had learned to attend to students’ historical thinking in a social studies methods course engaged in the practice of eliciting, interpreting, and responding to that thinking during their internships.

Data collected over a nine-month period included observations of candidates in their methods courses, a pretest administered before the methods course, observation of at least four lessons per candidate in the internship, interviews with teachers after each observed lesson, and analysis of methods coursework. Case study analyses indicated that two of the candidates elicited, interpreted and responded to students’ historical thinking while another did not, and a fourth did so only under certain conditions. The cross-case analysis showed that although all of the candidates used methods course tools in the internship, some were unable to use these tools to elicit students’ historical thinking.

While three of the four candidates noticed historical thinking and considered that thinking in determining an instructional response, what candidates noticed was limited to the scope of their instructional objectives. Only one candidate consistently responded to student thinking in evaluative ways, and all four struggled to deliver responses that maintained a focus on student reasoning. Instead, candidates preferred to demonstrate their own reasoning, either by building on a student idea or simply as a means to make a point not directly related to a student idea.

This study highlights the interconnected nature of eliciting, interpreting, and responding to student thinking and offers insight into how teacher educators can facilitate attention to student historical thinking. It also points to factors that are important for the development of this ability including candidate disciplinary knowledge and the social contexts of learning. Furthermore, this study provides a framework and analytical tools that can enable future researchers to examine this phenomenon more deeply.