Teaching Historical Thinking and the History Survey Course: K16 Perspectives

AHA Session 296
Society for History Education 1
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Room 603 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Tim Keirn, California State University, Long Beach
Peter Burkholder, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Gail Hamilton, Bancroft Middle School
Rebecca Hayes, Northern Virginia Community College
Justin McNamara, Achievement First Brooklyn High School

Session Abstract

This roundtable is aligned with the 2017 American Historical Association Conference theme of ‘historical scale’ through the examination of ‘pedagogical scale’ as it applies to the teaching of the history survey course. Since the late nineteenth century, across the spectrum of K-16 teaching, there has been considerable tension between those advocating for ‘coverage’ as opposed to a focus upon depth and the development of student skills within the survey course. For a variety of reasons, the coverage approach has remained predominant with focus upon expounding student content knowledge, and this continues to be represented as dichotomous with teaching history in depth to develop procedural knowledge in history. Currently, however, there is evidence of a significant shift in the teaching of the history survey course both in the schools and in colleges and universities. Greater curricular and instructional attention is now being paid to ‘skill’ relative to ‘content.’ Within history education scholarship, this has its origins in the development and expansion of a recognized historical thinking movement with its roots in the British Schools History Project of the 1970s. In the schools, the Common Core State Standards, the College and Career Readiness Standards, and the recently redesigned College Board Advanced Placement history curricular frameworks and exams are sustaining a focus upon skills and historical thinking in history teaching. In the colleges and universities, moves to promote ‘critical thinking’ in general education, as well as initiatives such as the AHA’s Tuning Project, have facilitated curricular and instructional focus upon the teaching and learning of history with depth and attentiveness to the procedural knowledge of the discipline in ways more sustainable than in times past.    

Given that few K-16 students have experienced a history course beyond the survey level, these shifts in the teaching and learning of history have important implications across school, college and university educational settings. A roundtable that addresses the teaching of historical thinking in the survey course, and does so in conversation with history as taught in the schools and higher education, is both unique and timely.  Roundtable discussants will address the teaching of historical thinking in survey courses in four different institutional contexts: middle school, high school, community college and university. Questions to engage presenters and the audience in discussion will be include:

  • What are the implications of raising the visibility of the procedural knowledge of history relative to knowledge of its content? What are the challenges?
  • Are teaching historical thinking and historical content actually dichotomous?
  • How does embedding historical thinking into a survey course alter the conceptualization and learning of content?
  • What are the transferable skills and knowledge that students gain when the history survey course is taught through the lens of historical thinking? What is lost?
  • What are the benefits and challenges in sequencing the embedding of historical thinking from middle school through to the college and university survey course?

This AHA roundtable should be of interest to a wide audience of historians, history educators, and secondary school teachers.

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