Week 11 Readings
This week our readings ask us to analyze the way in which we structure our classes i.e. what approach we will use to teaching history. Thematic or chronological, each have their merits, and choosing your approach in the classroom. Jayson Chang shares his ideas on a thematic approach to teaching history. Chang’s article brings to light many of the same questions I had during my high school years; questions like “why do I need to know this random fact”. The obsession with names, dates, and times is an easy trap to fall into when attempting to “cover” history in a class. Rather than focusing on rote memorization of facts Chang proposed two questions that I think we have echoed in our own experiences learning how to shape our own teaching philosophies. “Why do I have to learn this?” and “How has this affected my life and the world and society in which I live today?” these are the questions which Chang asks himself when looking at what he is teaching his students.
A chronological approach lends itself to a mad dash to cover as much content as possible in as linear a timeline as possible. In this we see the exclusion of the majority of voices in the historical narrative and invariably end up with a narrow, Eurocentric way to teach history. This strips history of the lives that lived it in favor of promoting a uniform story of history. I appreciated Chang’s explanation of how he structures his curriculum thematically, beginning with a short chronological explanation to give students a frame of reference.
On a slightly less radical approach we have Daccord’s blog post questioning the “why” of what is included in the curriculum. Daccord shared that in his content heavy APUSH class his department decided to cut roughly 25% of the AP Content and roughly 20% in class teaching time. Rather than focusing on covering a mile of content an inch deep, he focused on a deeper approach based on skills and practice. In addition to this the class focused in on the document and source analysis portion of the AP exam, building up student’s abilities to analyze documents and make their own arguments supported by sources. At the end of the day what do we want to teach our students, a list of historical facts or the ability to think historically and analyze the past and its effects of life today.
Diana Laufenberg ends the group readings this week with her analysis of thematically teaching history. She describes her frustration at the lack of understanding Americans hold towards their own history saying “America has never excelled at knowing its own past.” Her analogy of themes becoming bookshelves on which students can place the mountains of facts they are expected to learn during their course. A way to allow students to couch their own knowledge while organizing it in a way for them to easily retrieve and employ it later.
As discussed above, a chronological approach to history strips away the teacher’s ability to delve deeply into the subject, and as such we lose the ability to explore multiple perspectives of history. “Listening to Students Talk About Gender in the World History Classroom” delves into this issue, touching on the fact that students are more than willing to discuss issues of gender and representation when given a constructive outlet to do so.