Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Literacy in the History Classroom

RE-PRINT: Mazenglish, 2012

One of the most frustrating  aspects of  teaching for  me is the struggle my students have - especially the groups of boys I mentor - in passing history and social studies classes.  For me, the biggest challenge and problem and barrier to success is the ominous social studies text books, which seemed designed to derail literacy efforts.   The  kids simply do not  handle  these books well.  And, I would assert that social studies teachers are not well trained in teaching the literacy component of their  class.  Reading and writing instruction should be part of the social studies class, precisely because the reading material can be so daunting.  And, like  English teachers, the social studies and history teachers cannot  simply continue to assign reading and writing - they need to teach it.  Students need to be taught how to engage with non-fiction texts.  They need to be inspired and intrigued enough to seek greater knowledge and understanding.

Thus, I was pleased to come across a great bit of news in Education Week about "history lessons that blend knowledge and literacy."  The Reading Like a Historian program from Stanford educational programs is designed to move past the rote memorization of historical facts and dates that have long brought about failure in history classes.  Certainly, core knowledge is a necessity in learning.  However, there is a clear point  where factual data becomes trivial information.  For example, think and answer quickly:  Who was  Samuel Gompers?  Why was  the Whiskey Rebellion fought?  What was the southern name for the Battle of  Antietam?  Who were the generals at the battle of Bunker Hill?  Who was Tippecanoe and Tyler, too?

It just  becomes such a mess of randomized information.  And without a really great storyteller in the front of the classroom - and I know many by the way - the average student and the average American just doesn't  engage with all the names of all the vice-presidents in history.  So, a bit more on the skill of studying history, and a bit less on the minutiae, would do wonders for social studies instruction.

1 comment:

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