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Abstract: Historical Thinking and Essay Skills Ever since StanfordU’s Sam Wineburg defined historical thinking as an ‘unnatural act’ between consenting.

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Presentation on theme: "Abstract: Historical Thinking and Essay Skills Ever since StanfordU’s Sam Wineburg defined historical thinking as an ‘unnatural act’ between consenting."— Presentation transcript:

1 Abstract: Historical Thinking and Essay Skills Ever since StanfordU’s Sam Wineburg defined historical thinking as an ‘unnatural act’ between consenting adults, there has been a resurgence of discussion worldwide about the historical thinking characteristic of primary- age children and adolescents. La Trobe University historian Associate Professor Adrian Jones OAM will review the best new evidence. Adrian will focus you on how students’ writing is affected by their preconceptions about what is required when they are asked to analyse something. This session invites you to look again at the try-hard students in your history classrooms who still don’t get ‘it’. These students are gems. Their misconceptions inform us about our preconceptions. The session will help you better define what the ‘it’ might be that these students still don’t get. This especially concerns those times when the struggler you have in mind has to pick up their pen and write about something that’s not right there in the text(s) you’ve invited them to read.

2 Cracking the Code (Analysis & Essays in History) Decoding the Discipline (History) The sustained feats of analysis required in the history essay can seem to students arcane, unnatural and a teacher’s whim: 1.Learning practices are too often implicit. Glib comprehension may seem to have been just fine in school before, so why do those damn teachers and academics want analysis now? 2.Attending more to learning outputs than inputs. Teachers and academics worry more about grading essays than they worry about how students learn to analyse things in history. 3.Agendas for learning give mixed messages. The essay as key training venue for arriving at deeper learning is distorted because it often doubles as an external and/or summative assessment tool. Students have to learn how to think just when they are learning how to write. Which of these are really examined in essays?

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4 Reference (2): “Decoding the Disciplines” as practised by Australian based academic historians: a site under development I’ve been working on with Prof. Jennifer Clark at UNE, and with other Humanities people in six other Australian universities.

5 Form groups of four by pairing and turning back. Swap stories for four minutes; one minute each. Think about a try-hard student in your class who still gets essay researching and writing all “wrong”. Define one error. Be specific. Text me. Free text message to , and then on the message line enter first so the system knows to which poll to send your response.

6 THINKING ABOUT YOUR STUDENTS, WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THEIR KEY BOTTLENECKS TO THEIR LEARNING OF HISTORY? The quest: Release our students’ hidden History smarts!

7 In the same groups over the next four minutes, think again about those try-hard students in your classes who get essay researching and writing all “wrong”. Decode together the nature or the source of the student misconception prompting one such error. Text me that. Be specific. Another free text message to the same number , but on the message line now enter first so the system knows to which poll to send your response.

8 PS: We have been in-servicing by practising “decoding the disciplines”. The next step (we won’t take here) is to ask what you can do as a teacher to move the students through and past each particular common misconception. Most often it requires being much more explicit about everything we do. Teachers and academics don’t do enough “read alouds” for instance. “Decoding” was designed for academics. They suffer more from hubris, but they are dumber about student learning than teachers.

9 BOTTLENECKS IDENTIFIED BY HISTORIANS AT INDIANA U 1. MISUNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF FACTS INTERPRETATION ≠ ACCUMULATION 2. INTERPRETING PRIMARY SOURCES SOURCES COME FROM CONTEXTS AND FROM ACCIDENTS OF DELIVERY 3. MAINTAINING EMOTIONAL DISTANCE BEING RESPECTFUL OF A PAST, YET STILL SCEPTICAL & CRITICAL 4. & 5. UNDERSTANDING THE LIMITS OF HISTORICAL ACTORS & IDENTIFYING WITH PEOPLE IN ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE MY KNOWLEDGE ≠ THEIR KNOWLEDGE – STUDENTS’ READINESS TO RELATIVISE THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES OF THE HISTORICAL SUBJECTS THEY STUDY AND INDEED THEMSELVES 6. CONSTRUCTING AND EVALUATING ARGUMENTS REALISING LINES OF ARGUMENT AREN’T FOUND, THEY ARE CONSTRUCTED BY AN HISTORIAN OUT OF EVIDENCE, YET ALSO NOT SURRENDERING TO THE RELATIVISMS INTEGRAL TO THAT REALISATION 7. LINKING SPECIFIC DETAILS TO A BROADER CONTEXT DIFFICULTIES STUDENTS HAVE WITH LINKING SPECIFIC STUFF THEY KNOW ABOUT A PAST TO WIDER “ISSUES” OR LINES OF ARGUMENT ABOUT PASTS

10 Theodore de Bry ( ) satirical woodcut (1569) of a schoolroom from his emblem book: “Emblemata nobilitate et vulgo scitu digna (Emblems suitable for the nobility and the common people to know)” You succeed in nothing and you learn nothing against your inclination Frankfurt-am-Main 1569 or 1590s. The Newberry Library, Chicago, or Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, USA, item PC1935.7: & cs/art/pc/images/pc-bry- invita.jpg cs/art/pc/images/pc-bry- invita.jpg

11 Dai Hounsell on student conceptions about essays “Learning and Essay Writing” in The Experience of Learning, eds Ferenc Marton et al., Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press, ch. 7 ;“Toward and Anatomy of Academic Discourse: Meaning and Context in the Undergraduate Essay” in The Written World, ed. Roger Säljö, Berlin, Springer, 1988, ch. 10; “Reappraising and Recasting the History Essay” in The Practice of University History Teaching, eds Alan Booth et al., Manchester, Manchester University Press, 200, ch. 14. Essays just seek an arrangement of stuff I know – Facts speak for themselves. Knowledge is a bucket. People with the most facts win in life. You just re-arrange the stuff. Essays just offer an occasion to give my point of view – Tweak the facts so they speak my way. Essays just want to know what I think. When teachers ask me for evidence that just means they want me to describe better what I think. Essays task me to develop a line of argument – I have to order facts and make them speak something (else). I know different people can write differently about the same things and still be “right”. There just has to be evidence and an evident and balanced pattern to everything I mention.

12 How might a teacher develop students' confidence and capacities to write evidence-based essays? Offer something short and specific. Confer for another four minutes in the same group, and then send me another free text message to the same number , but on the message line now enter first so the system knows to which poll to send your response.

13 Chauncey Monte-Sano (U Michigan) on what makes a difference in learning evidence-based historical writing “Qualities of Historical Writing Instruction: A Comparative Case Study of Two Teachers’ Practices”, American Educational Research Journal, 45(4) 2008, pp “approaching history as evidence-based interpretation” “reading historical texts and considering them as interpretations” “supporting reading comprehension and historical thinking” “asking students to develop interpretations and support them with evidence” “using direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice, and feedback” “The act of writing alone is not sufficient for growth in evidence-based historical writing.”

14 Reference (3): New US work on adolescents’ historical thinking. There is fine Dutch, Spanish and British work too!: Sam Wineburg’s students: Susan de la Paz et al. “Adolescents’ Disciplinary Use of Evidence, Argumentative Strategies and Organizational Structure in Writing about Historical Controversies”, Written Communication, 29(4) 2012: ; Monte-Sano & de la Paz, “Using Writing Tasks to Elicit Adolescents’ Historical Reasoning”, Journal of Literacy Research, 44(3) 2012: Stuart Greene, “The Problems of Learning to Think like an Historian”, Educational Psychologist, 29(2) 1994: and “Students as Authors in the Writing of History” in Teaching and Learning in History, eds Gaea Leinhardt et al., New York, NY: Routledge, Kathleen McCarthy Young and Gaea Leinhardt, “Writing from Primary Documents: A Way of Knowing in History”, Written Communication, 15(1) 1998: Lorraine Huggins, “Reading to Argue: Helping Students Transform Source Texts” in Hearing Ourselves Think, eds Ann Penrose & Barbara Sitko, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993, ch. 5.

15 Other researched perspectives on historical thinking

16 Peter Lee & Rosalyn Ashby (Institute of Education, University of London) ‘Progression in Historical Understanding among Students ages 7 to 14’ in Knowing, Teaching and Learning History: National and International Perspectives, eds Peter Stearns, Peter Seixas & Sam Wineburg, New York: New York University Press & The American Historical Association, 2000, ch Nonsense. ‘The Blind Monkey.’ We can’t know about history. We weren’t there – unless they’re dinosaurs. Does icky-picky history stuff matter? Wonder is better anyway. (Junior Primary?) 2.Evidence. ‘Left-Overs’. Literalism. Only with what’s here and now, can we possibly know about history. (Senior Primary?) 3. Bias. ‘Bulldust!’ Someone else with an axe to grind selected what we know about history. It’s all baloney anyway. (Mid-Secondary?) 4. Orientation. Me! Me! Me!. That might be interesting, but it really all depends on the individual. Arguments and evidence are just points of view: mine and theirs. My views are better. (Senior Secondary?) 5. Relativity. ‘Me Tarzan, You Jane’. The stuff I know oddly depends on me. Questions we ask prompt evidence we find which shape what we know about history. I therefore need to be open to new evidence and I need to be able to reflect about myself. (Tertiary?)

17 Denis Shemilt (University of Leeds) ‘Adolescent Ideas about Evidence and Methodology in History’ in The History Curriculum for Teachers, ed. Christopher Portal, London, Falmer, 1987, ch. 3, a study of year-olds in 24 English schools who had to keep on explaining why and how we know stuff about History. 1The Past is a given. Sources mean only one thing. What the teacher told us is true. Historians are expert memory people who know everything about the past. What could I possibly know? I go with the flow. 2The Past is “out there” to be found. Sources still only mean one thing, but different people privilege different information. That’s why there’s bias. Historians sort the wheat from the chaff. We just look for the bias we prefer. 3The Past actually has to be nutted out by someone. The information in sources is indeed “out there”, but only when it has been critiqued for evidence. Historians draw inferences from evidence. Historians will differ in what and how. This uncertainty annoys. Why can’t they just work it out? 4The Past is a Historian’s Reconstruction using a Method. We can’t know about the past for sure, but we can infer its characteristics using different methods to interrogate sources. It’s fun to compare sources, methods and results, even if there’s no single right answer, only lots of wrong or incomplete answers.

18 Jörn Rüsen (Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung, Bielefeld and Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut, Essen) Rüsen, ‘Historical Consciousness’ (1989, 1997) in Peter Seixas, ed., Theorizing Historical Consciousness, Toronto, The University of Toronto Press, 2006, pp Traditional-Biblical. Ways lives are/were lived are/were pre-ordained and obligatory. 2Traditional-Exemplary. Timeless rules and values shape past and present lives. 3Critical. Pasts are a problem for me: my times now relativise theirs in their past. The past is either perpetually in deficit or looking rather nostalgic. 4Genetic. O.M.G. Everything’s in flux: my own familiar now actually depends on my particular time and context, and so were they back in their then, and so is time itself. Is there any meaning in anything?


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