This quantitative study explored challenges in history education, specifically regarding teaching historical thinking in American high schools. In recent decades, research from the field of history education has advocated for a shift in the way history should be taught in high school – away from a content-based curriculum to one that emphasizes skills. These “historical thinking” skills are defined in many ways but a classic interpretation is “thinking like a historian.” But scholars have expressed concern as to what extent these skills are indeed being taught in high school classrooms. Very little research regarding high school history teacher practices exist, and those that do are primarily qualitative case studies. This quantitative study addressed three main questions related to historical thinking in high schools.
The first question is, what historical content is being taught and which practices are being used in high school history classrooms? Secondly, if it is believed that historians need to be in a discourse community of disciplinary history to learn to think historically, then how do high school history teachers, who are presumably not in that discourse community, learn to teach it as a skill? The third research question in this study was, do history teachers feel and think like historians, and if so, do these identities relate to how they teach history? This study addressed these questions by anonymously asking 175 history teachers about their practices and emphasis of historical content. This study also asked teachers about their teaching influences, educational backgrounds, and beliefs regarding the purpose of teaching history and historical thinking. Finally, quantitative data analyses revealed these statistically significant relationships: between teacher identities and professional communities, teacher educational experiences and practices, and teaching objectives and beliefs about history. The results of this study will guide those interested in helping high school students learn how to “think like historians.”