Students as Investigators, Teachers as Researchers: Documenting a Critical History Pedagogy and its Impact on Diverse Learners in a Tenth-Grade World History Classroom

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This study documents a teacher's efforts to scaffold and support his students' investigations of modern world history and their interactions with the critical history pedagogy he implements in a diverse tenth-grade classroom. Using teacher research methods to generate descriptive quantitative and qualitative data, the study explores the role of the teacher, the students, and local contextual factors in the teaching and learning process. In particular, the teacher-researcher details his attempts to mediate the influences of curriculum and assessment measures in a high stakes accountability context, while equipping his students with powerful disciplinary tools aimed at deepening their understanding of the past and developing in them a capacity to shape those meanings.

The data suggest that the teacher-researcher faced considerable challenges in implementing an inquiry-based approach to learning about the past. The breadth of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL's) meant that in-depth learning centered on the analysis of conflicting sources and the interpretation of competing perspectives necessarily contended with coverage demands associated with SOL test preparation. These external constraints became background concerns when the teacher-researcher focused more on the internal knowledge-based constraints that were impeding student learning. In addition to the cultural, linguistic, and academic diversity of the learners in his classroom, the teacher was challenged by his students' lack of experience analyzing historical sources, exploring multiple perspectives, and writing evidence-based arguments.

Study findings indicate that two main factors contributed to the growth of historical thinking and writing among study participants. First, the history domain's cognitive practices were progressively introduced and learning supports were designed to meet the range of aptitudes and skill levels present in this diverse public school setting. Although some students experienced more in the way of skill development than conceptual growth, evidence demonstrates that a range of students experienced progression. Second, the teacher-researcher learned to utilize traditional classroom structures in the context of open-ended inquiries and directed these practices toward more meaningful encounters with historical knowledge. Although elements of his instructional pedagogy seemed to align with more conventional practices, a disciplinary thread was woven throughout the fabric of the world history course.