Thinking Like a Historian! 

As per my first blog post, I grappled with the question How might we teach the skills and strategies needed to analyze materials and think like a historian? 

Originally when I began my journey with my problem of practice,  my focus was to have students practice the skills and strategies needed to think like “historians” and ultimately find the biases in both primary and secondary sources, as well as use multiple sources to make meaning of the historical time period we were studying. I continued to immerse my students in texts in which they would have to determine its validity and also decide how secondary sources can be used to support primary sources. Students would begin by participating in small group discussions centered around both sources  and would be assessed through  silent seminars where the silent learners had a platform to express their ideas and opinions. See link for sample silent seminar on the encounter between the Aztecs and the Spanish.

I soon realized that the multiple ways in which we discussed texts helped students who were unsure of the content or needed extra support, to gain a better understanding of the content as well. Students began to identify biases in history with some accuracy and began to support primary sources with secondary sources. The understanding that no source can stand alone became quite clear and some students were able to use quotes from both primary and secondary sources to support a claim. However, no matter how much emphasis I placed on sources, the connection between the history and its significance was lacking. I couldn’t understand why since so many of my students who are  from Latin and African backgrounds couldn’t understand why what we are learning is important. So I decided I needed to create a project that allowed for student choice and to deeper their understanding of the history from a more personal stance.

So the journey continued and now I wanted to make the history meaningful and relevant.  I designed an inquiry-based project using 5  countries impacted by European Colonization. To aid in the research, I provided secondary sources and used the documentary “Black in Latin America”, by Henry Gates Junior. See attached Link for the project outline.

I allowed  students chose the country of interest so to generate excitement and make the experience meaningful.  Some chose the country their families are from, while others chose a new country to research. They worked in groups and had to first create a powerpoint that they presented to the class and then use the powerpoint as an outline for their writing. Students first used the texts I provided and then used the documentary, which provided primary sources to support the texts. As a group, they completed a google doc in and used the google doc to create a powerpoint presentation. See attached link for google doc

Attached is the powerpoint students created based on research

This also varied in its success but at least students began to see the meaning and significance of European colonization in their own lives. This of course came with its challenges.

One challenge I had was

  1. How to differentiate when its based on student choice?
  2. How much time to allot to the mini-project?
  3. Did I modify instruction for my students so all students can be successful?
  4. The resources I provided did not allow for my auditory and visual learners to gain the sam understanding of students who are strong readers and writers.

Most presentations were satisfactory and after viewing the documentary, many students gained a deeper understanding.

So now in the last week of teaching the course, my students are researching, writing a paragraph and making a dish that was a result of the Columbian Exchange. This is the most excited they have been all semester. This now leads me to question how curriculum is taught and if we want our students to think like historians, what and how can we make this happen?

So now I am wondering:

If the goal is to have students think like historians and make meaning of history, when do we take into account the history they want to learn and their questions? Historians love history, its why they study it?

Or is it our job to “have students think like historians” or is it more important to have students understand the relevance and significance of history in today’s world?

Next semester I hope to at least try and find a way to make history relevant and meaningful for the students I teach. I have attached Project Two final project so you have a reference for the final projects.

 Project Two Latin American Revolution Mini- Project, Eja Harris, E Band