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Teaching What Really Happened and 3 other interesting books you should be reading

Like many families, mine spends part of every evening re-hashing the day – sharing experiences, discussing current events, solving the world’s problems, and arguing whether the X-Men are actual super heroes.

Earlier this week, during a discussion about school, my daughter blurted out:

“I really don’t do anything at school. I’m asked to learn stuff that doesn’t mean anything to me in ways that are incredibly boring.”

She and I have had this discussion before. She plays the game very well – straight A’s, great test scores. She knows the rules. And the traditional view of school would suggest that because she has a nice GPA she actually knows something. But every time I hear about worksheets, answering questions at the end of the chapter, or high school students reading out loud from the textbook to one another, I’m not convinced. Research is telling all of us that these sorts of instructional strategies don’t impact long-term learning.

And it’s frustrating. For her obviously. But for me as well. Because I know it could be better and I know that it doesn’t take much to be better. It’s probably frustrating for you too – cause if you’re reading this, you’re likely the sort of teacher who wants what’s best for kids and is looking for new ideas.

So . . . today my new favorite book:

Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History by James Loewen.

Loewen has written several books, including Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, and is known for suggesting that we often leave out those parts of history that make us uncomfortable such as race and slavery. Loewen is also convinced that we often ignore quality teaching practices.

So . . . yeah. I like much of what he has to say.

Teaching What Really Happened focuses on six topics in American history and provides suggestions for how we as teachers can engage kids in thinking deeply about history. An early quote got my attention:

Every minute that they spend “going over” the textbook in the usual dreary way is a minute that will not make them better at doing history, to say nothing of transforming their lives. To make an impact, teachers have to engage students’ energies and abilities.

Business as usual – going over the textbook – rarely does that. (p. 41)

It’s like my daughter and Loewen planned the whole thing.

I like his books because he challenges our perspectives on history and how it is often taught. Loewen starts with great problems – How did people get here? Why did Europe win? Why did the South secede? In Teaching What Really Happened, these sorts of questions go beyond the generic textbook kinds of history to illuminate a wealth of intriguing, often hidden, facts about America’s past.

Reading Teaching What Really Happened can help us move beyond traditional textbooks to tackle difficult but important topics like conflicts with Native Americans, slavery, and race relations. And throughout the book, Loewen shows how teaching what really happened is a great way to more effectively connect with students to get them excited about history.

Whether you agree with everything he says or not, reading this book will make you a better teacher.

Other books you should be reading:

Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms
Sam Wineburg’s latest book. Practical ideas and resources. Now aligned to Common Core literacy standards.

Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12
Bruce Lesh’s awesome book highlighting his ideas of how to get kids to think historically in effective ways. He spent four days with our TAH cohort this summer. Phenomenal.

Building Students’ Historical Literacy: Learning to Read and Reason with Historical Texts and Evidence
Written by Jeffery Nokes, this just came out at the end of 2012. And, yes, it’s a bit more “academic” than the first two on my list. But it’s great, practical stuff about reading and writing in the discipline.

That’s my quick list. So . . . what books and e-books am I missing?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Who’s not an X-men fan? 🙂

    January 31, 2013
    • glennw #

      I’m more a traditional super hero kinda guy. Superman. Super hero. Batman. Super hero. Magneto, Wolverine . . . mmmm.

      But I am the minority opinion in my house! 😉


      February 1, 2013

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