Learning, Online - Reflections on teaching history

Uncovering History

August 7, 2016

Bring On History Fest!

As the people who read my tweets and my family know, I am very excited for Minnesota’s first annual History Fest on August 9th.   It promises discussion of historical thinking and opportunities for collaboration, the two main streams of my professional growth this decade.  Keynote speaker Bruce Lesh’s book Why Won’t  You Just Tell Us the Answer?  catalyzed these trends and the content of my, still under construction, presentation during the day’s last session represents one outcome of this work.

In the past past I have greatly increased my professional associational life.  My wife accurately observes that being a member of more than a handful of history, social studies and educational groups creates a lot of mail, definitely more than I can read.  But, these organizations have enriched my practice in ways large and small, and History Fest, cohosted by MNHS and MNCHE, brings much of this together.

The WHA, for instance, introduced me to Lendol Calder’s seminal article on “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey” through a James De Lorenzi article in the Bulletin of World History (p. 49).  De Lorenzi applies Calder’s “uncovering” pedagogy to the World History survey.  Intrigued by both articles I emailed Dr. Calder inquiring about “uncoverage” in high school, and he referred me to Bruce VanSledright’s The Challenge of Rethinking Historical Education. I loved the ideas in VanSledright’s book, which have made their way into all of my professional presentations since, including the current one.  The book, however, is very theoretical, to the point that VanSledright needed to create a fictitious history teacher to illustrate his ideas.

Bruce Lesh’s voice as an experienced classroom teacher made his Why Won’t  You Just Tell Us the Answer?which I first spotted in an advertisement in the NCSS publication Social Education–much more compelling for me.  His description of “reality arriv[ing] in the form of a teenager” has made it’s way into many of my presentations.  The book taught me a lot about guiding students to construct their own understandings.  With money from a grant in spring 2012, I used Lesh’s book to lead a small group of colleagues in putting these ideas into practice.  This group has continued to create and adapt constructivist history lessons in US and World History classes. Blog entries from this work are here and here.

In the four years since I have continued to collaborate with people in my building, on twitter (@ERBeckman), and through MNCHE to develop classroom practices that guide students to uncover history. My presentation–DBQs for everyone–draws on embedding primary source interpretation into my World History classes.  Developing a rubric to assess student historical thinking in both stand alone history labs and unit assessments has been key.  Applying this rubric, or parts of it, has allowed me to bring historical thinking into my classes on more of a regular basis.  I am excited to share this and even more excited to hear from many of the people who have inspired and worked with me.

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