Teaching History

This week’s readings were cause for reflection for me. I thought a lot about the ways in which I constructed my courses (and my use of powerpoint). For the most part, I taught the way I learned – with a coursepack of readings and sources, with five page papers and tests that asked you to recall “facts”. But I started to think also about how I had deviated from that – asked my students to take opposing positions and debate their interpretations, required them to make “mashups” of newspaper articles that tackled particular content/concepts, and encouraged them to use digital/analog media to represent change over time. I measured whether or not this was effective by the depth of our discussions as much as their scores on essay questions.

But more than instilling a degree of teaching anxiety, the readings got me to consider more broadly what it means to teach/learn/do history.

Rather than a process of ensuring that students can fill in enough Scantron bubbles to demonstrate that they “learned” something, I liked how Kelly described the act of engaging students as a “tension” , as something that “destabilized their assumptions” (in chapter 1). (Similarly, Wineburg, writes, that historical teaching teaches us “to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our own brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in history into which we’ve been born.” 498) Learning can be remarkably uncomfortable and it can also be challenging and fun. The AHA article reached this point as well- that its less about teaching students what to think, and more about teaching them how to think.

Reformulating teaching practices from these positions forces us to reconfigure how we use the classroom and what sources we use. Rather than approaching “the web” as a barrier teachers have to reach across to impart knowledge to students, “We can think of the web as the untextbook” (AHA “Abundance”), something that destabilizes a rigid teaching approach and encourages us as scholars to consider useful and effective means to develop historical skills/thought in our students. Perhaps the internet presents an obvious, if not superior, means of doing just that- as McClymer states in the introduction, “On the web there is no scholarly filter.” And as the examples presented by Kelly demonstrate, students should develop the ability to assess and use the abundance of information available.

If nothing else, I agree with Kelly here: “The best way to use digital media to teach them to see history as we see it is to create learning opportunities that make it possible for our students to do history—to practice it as we practice it—to help them make history, using their own creative impulses, rather than simply giving us what they hope is the correct answer to a question we have posed.”


2 thoughts on “Teaching History”

  1. This is exactly how I feel. We need to teach students to do history, not memorize it. I think if we as future historians and educators could find a way to make this happen, it would make it more entertaining and easier to teach students history.

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