I will be the first to admit it. I’m in love with Sam Wineburg. The bromance started, I suppose, 15 years ago when I first ran across his book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts. It was a fairly typical academic book focused on some guy’s research but I loved the title. And as a newly minted social studies curriculum coach, the content was right up my alley.
A former middle school teacher and college instructor, I was finding it difficult to articulate what quality history instruction could look like and how to share that vision with other educators. After 15 years in the classroom, I knew what had worked for me but I was struggling to find ways to structure that. And perhaps even more important, I wasn’t completely sure WHY it had worked.
Wineburg’s research resonated. I read more of his early articles on historical thinking skills and loved his ideas about how we needed to re-think our approach to teaching history. In a nutshell? We were doing it wrong. It’s not about memorizing. It’s not about multiple choice. It’s about asking kids to think critically about evidence and developing arguments around that evidence. Radical, right?
It’s been over ten years since I first heard Sam Wineburg speak. During a combined Kansas / Missouri Council for History Education conference way back in 2008, Sam opened with a keynote highlighting the main ideas in his book. This face to face meet cemented it. His later books, articles, research, SHEG, Beyond the Bubble, Historical Thinking Chart, civic online literacy tools . . . have all convinced me that the two of us would be great together in an action comedy buddy cop movie.
All this to say that Read more
I get the chance to work with all sorts of teachers, across the state and around the country. We’re all different. But when the conversation turns to teaching and learning social studies, I often hear the same thing:
“I have to lecture (or have students read their textbooks out loud, create outlines from the chapter, complete fill-in-the-blank worksheet packets, or watch a 30 year old video converted from 16 mm film) because the kids have to know their facts. It’s not fair asking them to think historically without the basic facts.”
I get it. And I don’t disagree. Kids do need the facts. But I think for too long we’ve just assumed that acquiring foundational knowledge and historical thinking are two distinct and different activities. We fill up their heads with facts and then, if we have time in the school year and after the state assessments are over, then . . . we can try some of that historical thinking stuff.
We need to stop doing that.
The brain is not a basket that we can just fill up with stuff. The brain is a bucket full of holes. The brain works very hard to find ways to forget things and if something is not important enough to be useful, it’s gonna find its way out one of the holes.
Our task is not to fill brains with facts. Our job is Read more
I’ve always had social studies heroes.
The people who made and continue to make National Geographic magazine map inserts. My 7th grade geography teacher. Garden City High School’s Mr. Tomayko. James Clavell and Stephen Ambrose. Sam Wineburg.
But my first real social studies hero . . . the first person who I consciously recognized as someone impacting my career as a social studies teacher?
James Loewen. As in, the author of:
- Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
- Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism
- Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
- And his latest, Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History
Years after first reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, I’m not even sure now how and where I ran across the book. But for someone who had grown up in western Kansas and Read more
I’m starting to get the feeling that we’ve reached critical mass. When I work with social studies teachers around the country, I always make sure they’re familiar with the work by Sam Wineburg and the Stanford History Education Group.
SHEG’s Reading Like a Historian lessons and Beyond the Bubble assessments are the kinds of non-negotiable tools that belong in every teacher’s toolkit. But for the longest time, it seemed as if very few teachers had actually heard about the SHEG site. Of course, as soon as these teachers had the chance to explore the available tools, they were blown away.
Lately I’ve run into more and more teachers who are already familiar with the site and are finding very cool ways of integrating SHEG resources into their instruction. Maybe we’ve reached the point where most teachers have heard about the SHEG goodness and we all love it. (If you’re still not sure what sorts of SHEG lessons and assessments are available, for Pete’s sake, stop reading and head over to check it out.)
If you are using SHEG resources, I feel a little like a TV infomercial host this morning when I say, “but wait . . . there’s more.”
Because SHEG has some new stuff. Read more