Edweek Teaching History by Encouraging Curiosity Analysis and summary

Below is an article analysis that I had to do for my PD here at Eastern Middle School.  This year instead of giving us classes that many people didn't like on topics that were picked by someone else, we are reasearching and writing about things ourselves.  We are trying to create a culture among the teachers at Eastern that has us also collaborating together to discover how to teach in different ways.  So far, we have all written our own summaries or arctiles on topics that we had to pick.  I selected curiosity as my topic that I wanted to foster in my classroom for the year. 

So far I am enjoying the process.  I love learning new things and sharing with other people.  With the new Google technology we are able to discuss our thoughts on other people's articles and share in a new way.  I am glad my Administration took a chance on doing PD like this.  It motivates me much more than the traditional PD, even though there is more work invovled than sitting in a classroom listening to strategies.  This has made me feel more like a professional and an academic, which is what I loved about college. 

The Article that I read was compiled by Larry Ferlazzo on May 31, 2014 12;20 AM. 
The article was not an analysis, but more of a compellation of ideas that educators could try to be successful at teaching students how to think in history and be curious in history.  He put together three responses to the prompt of Ways We Can Teach Social Studies More Effectively that were suggestions on how to make social studies more interactive. 

All three of the authors stated that they all at some point taught history in the way that they had been taught, which was in a lecture style class.  But when trying to foster curiosity in the social studies classroom note taking fails miserably.  One author, Diana Laufenberg, who has taught grades 7-12 said, “Teaching history is not glamorous” when all we do is drone on like Ben Stein in Ferris Buller’s Day Off.  She said that we needed to ditch the multiple choice tests and worksheets that do not make students actually think about events.  She also stated that she organized her classes thematically, instead of chronologically, which allowed the students to think of over-arching concepts that can apply to their everyday life.  She stated, “Themes allow students to build space for them to store historical skills and knowledge not only for class but as they move forward into life and away from formal education.” 

Using themes do help students in social studies classes and can help students in other classes as well.  Making connections are probably easier if we can show relationships between content instead of compartmentalizing all of the content into boxes with neat little bows.

  Another teacher, Peter Pappas, realized that he was “…doing all the work…” when he was teaching while his students sat passively day after day taking down notes.  He said that he had walked into the art class that was next to his to borrow some supplies one day and realized that, “…if Tom taught art the way that I taught history, then his students would be sitting in rows watching him paint.”  Framing the way that we think about history and education has a profound impact on how teachers present their respective subjects.  Pappas boiled down the process to four different categories when he began thinking about how to teach: 

1.  Teach how historians think and behave

2.  Stop teaching facts and let students explore essential questions.

3.  Use history as a platform for teaching across the curriculum.

4.  Choose the right primary and secondary sources for students to work with.

Thinking about what we are trying to teach students to become is an easier way to frame what we would like the outcomes to be.  Only teaching content instead of teaching skills has not worked out well, and instead of wanting our children to learn information perhaps learning how to perform a skill or task when they leave the school building is a better way to build the future.

Another person who wrote a piece for the article was Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, who talked about her experience in developing a curriculum that moved away from multiple choice tests.  She stated that the hardest part was the initial need for planning time to create the rich assessments instead of using multiple choice tests that take less time to grade and create.  But she did say that creating the coursework creates results that are higher because the teacher is “giving…students a rich understanding and laying a strong foundation of knowledge.”  She also related that when begun at first students are often uncomfortable because there might not be a correct answer.  In history the use of these types of assessments creates anxiety in students who have never done them.  At Eastern this is often the case, when teachers shift from the traditional textbooks and analysis to using primary sources.  Teachers often have students asking for the “correct” answer.  However, if the teacher sticks with the method over time, the students will gain skills and will grow those skills. 

Perhaps the most important piece to Kirby-Gonzalez’s piece was that worksheets keep students quiet, but that the new age classroom allows for collaboration and teaches students to effectively communicate, which for some teachers can feel loud and uncontrolled.  At Eastern the use of table groups in RM 204 has helped students become more of a self-starting learner and has helped those who would give up in a traditional classroom with rows and silence a way to figure out the answers.  So far, the table groups facilitate learning in a different way that allows students to ask each other questions and when no one can agree we can all discuss it together.  The passions of the students ignite when the classroom is utilized properly and it truly is a sight to see when students are arguing over John Brown being a hero or some other open ended question.  Through small table group discussions students work through the material together and are prompted to think about other things.  It really is neat to watch students grow the ability to ask questions, which in the future will only prompt the next wave of innovation.       

Overall, creating curiosity in students has to be how we engage our students.  If we make everything super dry and we all talk like Ben Stein how can we ever hope to inspire our students?  Personally, if I can make the lessons engaging and we let students work together it creates an environment that supports that students in ways that a traditional quiet classroom cannot.  By creating the table groups and teaching the students how to be a historian I have had many conversations that I would not have had otherwise when I used to teach by using rows.  That is not to say the transition was easy or that I use these methods all the time, but it is to say that I am far more comfortable than I used to be. 

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