Faculty Publications

Document Type


Publication Date

April 2012


History education researchers have called for an emphasis on historical thinking in K-12 classrooms, for its authenticity in representing the discipline, for its potential to cultivate the critical thinking necessary to an informed citizenry, and for its relationship to advanced adolescent reading and writing skills (Barton & Levstik, 2004; Moje, 2008; Wineburg, 2001). Yet, such an emphasis requires that teachers understand the discipline and its structure, as well as the ways of thinking, reading, and writing that are its foundation. Although many regard history as the study of fixed information (VanSledright, 2008), teaching historical thinking emphasizes constructing arguments about the past based on historical evidence, perspectives, and context (Seixas, 1999). A key challenge in preparing students to think historically, is in preparing their teachers to foster such learning. This presentation will focus on 15 teachers’ learning during a one-year professional development (PD) effort designed to support their implementation of curriculum modules that integrate historical thinking and argumentative writing into their 8th-grade U.S. history classrooms. Because the majority of teachers had no experience with this approach to history, we held over 75 hours of PD, of which the analysis of students’ argumentative writing was a core component. Researchers argue that PD should center on teachers’ practice (Wilson, 2009). Analysis of students’ work in teachers’ own classrooms is one way to ground PD in teachers’ practice and has been highlighted as a positive influence on teachers’ learning (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Kazemi & Franke, 2004). Our purpose in this presentation is to report on teachers’ learning by looking at what they noticed in their students’ argumentative historical writing. We identify trends in teachers’ analyses and consider what their attentions indicate about changes in their understanding of students, historical thinking, and literacy development.We draw on sociological and cognitive perspectives on teacher learning (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, LePage, 2005; Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, Bransford, 2005) as well as a conception of historical thinking as integrated in written argument (Monte-Sano, 2010). Data includes teachers’ written reflections on their students’ essays from four points in time, copies of these essays, an end-of-year interview with teachers, and pre- and post-questionnaires from teachers. We identified patterns in teachers’ thinking and continued to refine and revise those patterns with multiple analytic passes (Miles & Huberman, 1994).We find that teachers’ began the year with generalized statements about students’ work and attention to writing style or basic elements of argumentation. Over time, teachers paid attention to more advanced aspects of historical thinking and argumentation such as rebuttal or considering the reliability of evidence. Some remained focused on whether students included aspects of historical argument (e.g., did students include a quotation?), whereas others engaged with the quality and persuasiveness of students’ arguments. Teachers improved in identifying pedagogical responses to students’ essays, although those with weaker understandings of history or students struggled to align their responses to students’ needs. This presentation has implications for designing PD efforts and structuring the study of students’ work to improve teachers’ capacity to teach historical thinking and disciplinary literacy.


Paper presented as part of symposium: When More of the Same Old Story Is Just Not Enough: Possibilities and Challenges of Teaching Students and Their Teachers to Think Historically.
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