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Posts tagged ‘thinking skills’

5 mistakes your kids make while thinking historically. (And how you can fix them.)

A big part of what I do every week involves spending time with teachers, especially social studies teachers, leading and having conversations around best practice, instruction, and assessment. And it’s almost always the best part of the week.

Think about it. I get the chance to sit and nerd out with other social studies people talking about our favorite history stuff. I know. It’s awesome.

A lot of our recent conversations have focused on the soon to be released Kansas state social studies assessment. At its most basic level, the assessment will ask kids to solve a problem using evidence and communicate the solution. This assumes, obviously, that the kid will have acquired some historical and critical thinking skills somewhere along the way.

And the more I get the chance to work with our current standards and the planned assessment, the more I realize that we need to do more than just train students to start thinking in certain ways. We also need to train them to stop thinking in other ways. We want them to be able to source and contextualize evidence. We want them to read and write effectively. These are useful skills.

But there are also ways of thinking that can slow that process down and even grow into habits that can lead to ineffective (and perhaps dangerous) citizens.

I recently ran across an article on my Flipboard feed that specifically addresses these ineffective and potentially dangerous habits. Posted by Lee Watanabe-Crockett over at the Global Digital Citizen, the article highlights both problems and solutions. You’ll want to head over there to get the full meal deal but because Lee focuses more on generalities than things specific to social studies and history, I’ve given you just a little taste below: Read more

Revised Kansas state standards – Next steps

A group of about 30 educators have been working on the revision of the Kansas state social studies standards.

A heads-up. They’re gonna look different.

Our goal has always been to move away from standards and assessments that encourage kill and drill types of instruction. Foundational knowledge is important but without knowing how to apply that knowledge, it’s wasted knowledge.

So our task has been to create a different type of social studies standards document.

The problem is how to create a set of standards that focuses on discipline-specific thinking skills that can be measured without ignoring foundational content. We’ve been down several paths and I’ve talked about that a bit here and here. It’s been an interesting conversation, one that has been pretty muddy at times.

But we think the process is getting a little cleaner. We’ve got an introduction with best practices and connections to reading and writing, a set of standards that focus on Big Ideas scaffolding through different levels of complexity, an instructional narrative that provides a broad overview, and a content outline that provides a bit more specificity (which is still blank and is being worked on). Not yet finished are planned lesson plan examples using the standards.

The idea is that schools and districts will focus on teaching historical thinking skills / habits of mind using foundational content to guide student thinking. We want to provide a framework of history stuff  for teachers without mandating specific pieces of content.

All of it is in rough draft form. Very rough draft form.

So . . . what I’m asking is – are we on the right track? Does the document make sense? What doesn’t make sense?

So rip it. Praise it. Make suggestions. We’re curious to hear what you think!

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Sam Wineburg is still a stud

I mentioned historian and author Sam Wineburg last week while sharing a story from columnist Leonard Pitts. I’ve read Sam’s stuff and had the chance to hear him speak several years ago.

And just so you know, Sam’s a history stud. He’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and saves babies from burning buildings. He’s like Superman of the history Justice League.

So . . . okay. I like the guy. He says stuff that makes sense and is working to find ways to help history teachers do their jobs better. What’s not to like?

And a recent article in the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Quarterly just adds to his studness. This quarter’s theme is Using Primary Sources to Teach Historical Thinking and Sam shares some reasons why primary sources are such powerful tools.

To get the total Wineburg buzz, head over and read the entire article. I’ve put a bit of a taste below. He starts the article with a conversation:

When I recently asked Kevin, a sixteen-year-old high school junior, what he needed to do well in history class, he had little doubt: “A good memory.”

“Anything else?”

“Nope. Just memorize facts and stuff, know ’em cold, and when you get the test, give it all back to the teacher.”

“What about thinking? Does that have anything to do with history?”

“Nope. It’s all pretty simple. Stuff happened a long time ago. People wrote it down. Others copied it and put it in a book. History!”

I’ve spent nearly 20 years studying how high school students learn history. Over the years I’ve met many Kevins, for whom the life has been sucked out of history, leaving only a grim list of names and dates.

Sam suggests that the way to combat this is by teaching kids to think about what the facts mean rather than just the facts themselves. Nothing new for many of you but he goes on to share how primary sources lend themselves perfectly for this purpose.

History experts approach documents differently than history novices. Mostly, Sam suggests, by coming to documents with

a list of questions—about author, context, time period—that form a mental framework for the details to follow. These questions transform the act of reading from passive reception to an engaged and passionate interrogation.

What sorts of questions?

  • Sourcing: Think about a document’s author and its creation.
  • Contextualizing: Situate the document and its events in time and place
  • Close reading: Carefully consider what the document says and the language used to say it.
  • Using Background Knowledge: Use historical information and knowledge to read and understand the document.
  • Reading the Silences: Identify what has been left out or is missing from the document by asking questions of its account.
  • Corroborating: Ask questions about important details across multiple sources to determine points of agreement and disagreement.

Perhaps most important is the need for teachers to model this sort of questioning out loud for their students. I don’t think we do this enough. We assume that kids know how to think this way. And they don’t.

The title of Sam’s book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, says it all. To think historically is not natural and we need to be more responsible in training our students to do something that they may find uncomfortable.


It’s pretty simple.

The goals of school history are not vocational but to prepare students to tolerate complexity, to adapt to new situations, and to resist the first answer that comes to mind.

These are not history skills. These are life skills. Get on it. Superman is depending on you.

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