Teaching History as Literate Practice: Extending History-Specific Pedagogy Through Disciplinary Literacy

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:40 PM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)
Robert B. Bain , University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Historians have long recognized their craft requires specialized approaches to reading and writing.  Recent research in historical cognition also demonstrates the complex thinking required to create historical arguments and/or narratives, and to read historical texts.  In short, “doing history” demands mastering and employing history-specific literacy practices, a position the Bradley Commission acknowledged in Historical Literacy, its’ 1998 report on history education. Likewise, there is a growing recognition that history students at all levels need to use disciplinary literacy practices to learn advanced content. It follows, therefore, that teachers of history should understand and be able to embed history-specific literacy instruction within their classrooms.

            Where, however, do history teachers learn such pedagogical practices?  What challenges do teachers face in learning to understand and employ history-specific literacy practices in instruction?  How might teacher education programs meet these challenges and improve teachers’ instruction in history?  This paper takes up these issues through a case study of secondary preservice history teachers working across three semesters of their professional program.  In this paper, I ask:  (a) How do preservice history teachers view the use of texts in teaching historical content?  (b) How do, or do, their views change over time? (c) How might programmatic reforms in methods and other courses help them see disciplinary literacy as a key element in, if not synonymous with, historical thinking and learning historical content?

            Using an analysis of preservice history teachers’ work over three semesters and explaining efforts to improve our professional program for history teachers, this paper suggests that (1) often PSTs conceptions of history teaching were at odds with the pedagogical practices we teach in the program and (2) restructuring the methods course, field experience and the literacy course appeared to make a difference in how the history PSTs placed historical thinking more centrally in instruction.