03. Teaching and Planning

        The findings of "How People Learn" can be applied to History.  The first one is the focus on students' preconceptions.  This includes what they don't know as well as what they think they know.  Some of these, such as how we know about the past, may be critical misconceptions.  The second key finding is providing conceptual frameworks.  While students must have deep knowledge, it doesn't mean it must include everything nor be disorganized.  The third key approach is the metacognitive approach.  They need to be made aware of what they are doing so they can change or repeat it.  This chapter applies these three concepts to history teaching.  
        The reality of test pressure, an already agreed upon curriculum, state/national standards, etc. seem to make the 3 principles above unrealistic.  This book does not recommend any specific lesson plan.  Rather, each teacher must find ways to do this in his or her own classroom.  The Pilgrim Fathers and Native Americans, and the St. Brendan's Voyage case studies will demonstrate different techniques.  


        Exploring the Basis for Textbook Claims and the Nature of Sources:
        This unit has several purposes.  Besides covering content that is found typically in curriculum, it supports an examination of complex relationships between newcomers and native populations that can help break down stereotyping.  It also offers opportunities to understand the nature of historical evidence.  The format used can be applied to many age levels and topics.
        The materials chosen include multiple sources - original journal entries from 1st hand sources, written eyewitness accounts, two painting depicting the situation.   
  • Source 1 - Extract taken from William Bradford's person journal (we was one of the pilgrim leaders)
  • Source 2 - Painting of the Mayflower upon her arrival
  • Source 3 - A second extract from Bradford's journal
  • Source 4 - Painting showing the landing of the Pilgrims
  • Source 5 - A written testimony from a settler in Jamestown at the time
        The task begins by presenting students with the sources.  Then, students are given a briefing sheet that asks students questions, such as how do the people who wrote the textbooks know about these events that happened 400 years ago?  The sheet also explains the ultimate goal, the production of their own substantiated account of the arrival of the Mayflower.  The briefing sheet encourages them to write down their own questions during their initial examination of the excepts and pictures.  This gives the teachers an opportunity to see the students' preconceptions about evidence and gives the opportunity to begin a dialogue about the nature of these sources.  Asking students to write their own questions also build metacognitive skills. 
        The teacher than asks several questions.  Each question is designed around conceptual understandings.  For example, how could have the painter in Source 2 have worked out what the ship looked like?  Several ideas emerge by students noticing various details - such as a painting being painted 262 years after the voyage.  Students convey that 1st hand accounts are needed, and if you weren't there, you need to find someone who was.  Furthermore, they discussed how a line of connections can be handed down through generations, and how, even the painter could have used his imagination to some extent.   Then they came to the realization that the painter, to use an example, could have used a "scissors-and-paste" approach, copying ideas from boats seen in earlier paintings.  These questions tried to encourage ideas such as what is effective evidence?  
       The other questions also focused on conceptual ideas, often drawn out by conflicts.  For example, in Source 3 Bradford talks about the first people who walked ashore having to walk about a mile before they saw natives.  But Source 4 shows a picture of native Americans waiting on the shore to meet them.  Students were asked how do they know which is right?  This again opened up the opportunity for conceptual discussion about trusting sources, understanding the purpose of the artist or source, etc.  
          All of the ensuing dialogues generated interest among the students to explore their own questions, many of whom went off to search the internet to search for answers to their questions.  Work focused on developing ideas about how evidence had opened opportunities to explore historical accounts.  By grappling with the sources, they acquired a vested interest in knowing.   


        This case study exemplifies how learning about 2nd-order historical concepts (such as how to use evidence) can happen at the same time as learning about the past.  Teachers need to encourage such higher-ordered thinking.  We also can't assume that one habit a student does in one unit transfers to others. 
        St. Brendan's task raises the question, "Did an Irish monk land in America about 1,000 years before Colombus?"  to get students to learn the value of evidence.  This topic opens many branches such as to migration, exploration, and encounter.  We must be aware of not swamping students, especially young ones, with too much information.  Rather, they need the space to think.
        Much research shows that 4th to 6th graders (where this task is perhaps best suited) don't have ideas about where we can get ideas about the past.  Some common misconceptions, for students that do have ideas, are that true reports can be found nor trusted, or even that it's a problem to work things out using evidence. These preconceptions, as in all cases, need to be made visible. 
        There needs to be certain shifts in thinking: One is that information is either true or false.  Rather, any claim about the past needs testing and backup.  Another is that unless we have direct eyewitness accounts, nothing can be said about the past.  Rather, that is why we have evidence.
        By the end of the Brendan task, students should understand that the past is not given or fixed, but rather that we can work out what happened.  "History" exists as a discipline precisely for this reason.  While some students may even possess some of these ideas at the beginning, the goal is to get every student to have this understanding by the end.  In order to do this, it is very important to allow students to express their opinions and understandings on many subjects related, as they influence their understanding even of this task.  For example, their understanding of how wind moves sailboats may even influence their conclusion in this task.
        At first, the unit started by clearly asking the question - not on whether it was possible - but if it indeed happened.  The kids are told that we need to find the best answer based on the best evidence.  Then, they read the story.
        After students read the story and have a chance to talk about it with each other, a teacher led discussion to discover the student's thinking occurs.  They are pressed for justification.  "How can we take this further?" What kind of backup can be used for your hunches?"    
        The first target is to build the idea that claims must be justified. Students need to be encouraged to think about their own strategies.  Also, the idea that we are dependent on someone else telling a historical story is false.  They need to challenge and make sense for it themselves.  They also should be introduced to the idea of plausibility, which should be reinforced when it is heard. 
        Other sources are introduced, especially when relevant questions come up.  For example, some students may conclude that it was impossible to sail a leather boat across the ocean.  But then, the story of Severin's leather boat, that crossed the ocean in 1970, is introduced.  All new sorts of evidence, such as the warmth of the ocean currents and maps, are introduced. 
        As new arguments are brought up - such as the idea that rations and tools - the idea of plausibility can also be redirected to the question.  if it is plausible, does it answer the question of whether it indeed happened?
        Further questions asking students to evaluate the evidence continue, both from outside and inside the story.  More clues are gradually added, with students given the chance to explore the ideas and measure their value as good or poor evidence to answer the ultimate question.  
        It is very important that planning history in this way done from a long-term perspective, from grades 4-12 for example.  The planning must include higher-ordered thinking as well.  Planning for first order thinking should include what, when, and how long.  Planning of second-ordered concepts is different.  These should be hierarchichal and describe stages in the development of student thinking.  These should be research based.  Because there is no one best model, they may differ but should be compatible.  Because students progress though the models at different rates, these should not be grade or age based.  
        Although students progress at different rates, they can still be grouped heterogenously.  Every topic deals with similar second-ordered tasks and thus gives students the opportunities to develop.  
        The focus for assessment should be on the generalizations and understandings.  The other aspects of assessment are negotiable.  As students progress from year to year, the information about what content was covered as well as which conceptual understandings were developed must be passed along.  
        Finally, metacognitive goals must accompany each conceptual understanding.  Making these explicit and having students interact with them supports learning goals too.  
        Taken altogether, there is structure in curriculum that also can reflect societies values.       

Initial Response to the topic: 3 thoughts/ideas, 2 questions, 1 analogy

         3 thoughts/ideas: 
  • Teaching history must include assessment on the broad principles (e.g. using evidence, time, perspectives)
  • These broad principles should run throughout 7-12 curriculum, continually being assessed, only applied to different substantive concepts
  • The substantive concepts, such as migration, can be units.  In these units, one case of history can be explored in depth, then various other cases can be learned, with students always referring back to the original.  

2 questions
  • How do you make decisions on what needs to be taught when?  
  • How much freedom do you give?

1 analogy
  • Teaching and planning history is like teaching and planning chess.  You don't want to give students the answers, rather you want to give them tools to answer to reach conclusions on their own.  

New Responses to the topic: 3 thoughts/ideas, 2 questions, 1 analogy

3 thoughts/ideas
  • There is a worked out structure to history curriculum that includes a distinction between 1st and 2nd ordered-thinking
  • While 1st ordered structure can be planned differently, the 2nd ordered concepts are more fixed (although they do relate)
  • History classes often have some sort of contradiction or puzzle that needs to be solved.  Thus, a problem-solving approach to history, like math, can be taught.  

2 questions
  • I wonder how this is analogous to studying English as a Second Language?
  • What should standards look like?  Should they be only on the 2nd ordered level, or also include 1st ordered thinking?

1 analogy
  • 2nd ordered thinking are completely analogous to Habits of Mind which should in fact be the basis for assessment