Readings on Teaching History and Social Studies

On August 15, I tweeted about how relatively few Ph.D. programs in History have in-depth courses on teaching and I offered to send my teaching methods syllabi to anyone who might be interested. I was not prepared for what happened next—over 200 people asked for my syllabi!

The overwhelming response for readings about teaching stirred an idea. I decided to email friends and colleagues, all of whom have some experience as teacher educators. I asked them to suggest an “essential reading” and to write a short blurb about what makes that particular piece so important.

The following list of readings emerged from those emails. Suggestions include everything from how to think about depth and coverage to diversifying the curriculum. There are many other great resources on effective, rigorous, and relevant teaching (some of which I’ll discuss in subsequent posts), but these readings should serve as a starting point for secondary and college-level instructors as they think about the ins-and-outs of teaching.

Erik Adamian (Associate Director of Education at the ONE Archives Foundation) on LGBTQ history lesson plans:

“Inclusion of LGBTQ history and culture within K-12 classrooms brings critical validation and affirmation to the experiences and identities of LGBTQ students. The LGBTQ history lesson plans created by cohorts of K-12 educators who participated in [the ONE Archives’] annual Professional Learning Symposiums feature rare LGBTQ history primary sources, methods of conducting LGBTQ history discussions, and are adaptable for all grade levels. The lesson plans are not only a testament to the rich and vibrant history of our community; they are tools for resistance and resilience in the face of erasure that queer narratives often face.”

Barry Goldenberg (Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Teachers College, Columbia University) on Who Owns History?:

“While Eric Foner has been one of the preeminent historians of the last few decades, the short preface in one of his lesser-known collection of essays is one that has helped me think about what it means to teach American history in a partisan society. Foner details the contested nature of American history, pondering topics such as ‘revisionism,’ the ebb and flow of different types of historical inquiry, and how being a historian is often tied up in the world around us. For me, teaching history—and teaching it in a way that is accessible, honest, and critical—is a big responsibility. I enjoy returning to this essay to remind myself to think carefully about the choices I make as an educator.”

Barry Goldenberg (Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Teachers College, Columbia University) on Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom:

“This is a sprawling book, with a number of different topics related to race, written through a series of essays and reflections. However, what was so helpful to me as I first started teaching—and a thought I constantly return to each semester—are the book’s main questions: What does it mean to teach other people’s children? How do we make sure, as educators, that we nourish the dreams of students? To help answer these questions Delpit discusses topics such as power imbalances in the classroom, biases by educators that prevent student achievement, and the ways in which educators perceive students through their own (often privileged) lens. I find this book so powerful, particularly for beginning teachers, because it helped me reflect on my own assumptions in the classroom about my students, many of whom were from different racial, cultural/ethnic, linguistic, and geographic backgrounds than my own.”

Andrew Hartman (Professor of History, Illinois State University) on Transforming Black History in Secondary Schools:

“This excellent book by Abdul Mohamud and Robin Whitburn both makes a compelling argument for inquiry-style learning, and it also gives great lesson plan ideas about how to use inquiry-style learning to revise the traditional curriculum in engaging ways.”

Andrew Hartman (Professor of History, Illinois State University) on Reading, Thinking, and Writing about History:

“We all know by now that historical thinking is a habit of mind. But how do we inculcate that habit of mind in students? This book by Chauncey Monte-Sano, Susan De La Paz, and Mark Felton does a great job showing how to do that.”

Andrea Hawkman (Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education and Cultural Studies, Utah State University) on James Baldwin’s “A Talk to Teachers”:

“Baldwin’s speech is a powerful reminder of why teachers do the work they do—that is, to help students understand the historical and contemporary contexts of the world in which they live while developing a critical, racialized consciousness. Although Baldwin’s speech was delivered in 1963, its sharp racial critique is as relevant today as it was when Baldwin first wrote it. I revisit this piece every fall to reflect on how I teach U.S. History and as a reminder of the great potential students possess for enacting change in society.”

Mark Helmsing (Assistant Professor, College of Education & Human Development, School of Education, George Mason University) on Essential Questions in the Social Studies Classroom:

“A key outcome of my work with history educators in my courses at George Mason University is helping them translate the rich disciplinary questions that animate history research and scholarship into the kinds of curricular explorations they will need to do with learners at the middle and high school grades. This involves taking the ideas of their disciplinary investigations of history and translating them into ‘essential questions’—the kind of overarching, framing questions that guide a series of lesson plans or classroom investigations. To help think through the qualities and characteristics of big ideas and essential questions, I have students read Heather Lattimer’s article from Social Education: ‘Challenging History: Essential Questions in the Social Studies Classroom.’ Lattimer walks readers through the different ways essential questions operate in the history classroom and can activate in history educators some models for thinking about the kinds of questions they may wish to pose for learners in their own classes.”

Natalie Mendoza (Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado Boulder) on Decoding the Disciplines:

“If you’ve ever felt frustrated that students don’t know how to do the discipline-specific things you want them to do, then I recommend learning more about the Decoding the Disciplines (DtD) process. DtD begins with the view that as experts, we may not be making visible to our students the precise mental operations needed to master our discipline-specific learning goals. The seven-step DtD process, developed at Indiana University, is an excellent heuristic for thinking through the precise bottlenecks that prevent our students from learning the discipline-specific skills and concepts that define historical thinking. To get started, you can visit the DtD website for a basic overview; or if you’d like to learn a little more, you can read this book here and this one here—written by historians, in fact—about how to externalize and teach the mental moves that are obvious to us as experts, but which remain elusive to the novices in our classrooms.”

Natalie Mendoza (Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado Boulder) on HistorySOTL:

“I recommend engaging the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History to think more deeply about discipline-specific teaching challenges. The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History (HistorySOTL) has an excellent bibliography that covers a range of topics unique to the history classroom. (NOTE: if you try out DtD, you will undoubtedly find yourself needing the very useful articles in the HistorySOTL bibliography!)”

Sarah Shear (Assistant Professor, Social Studies & Multicultural Education, University of Washington, Bothell) on An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States:

“Teachers and students of all grade levels should read and discuss Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. The young people’s version, adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese, is a must-have for educators that is packed with valuable teaching resources. Both versions of the text provide a rich history that shatters the dangerous narrative of American manifest destiny that continues to plague social studies education broadly and U.S. History and civics curriculum specifically. Centering the voices and experiences of Indigenous peoples and their sovereign nations, An Indigenous Peoples’ History provides necessary historical and contemporary examples of U.S. settler colonialism and Indigenous resistance and survivance that all students and teachers need to learn.”

Greg Soden (Religion/Social Studies Teacher and Host of The Classical Ideas Podcast) on God Is Not One:

“I love teaching about religions of the world because it’s arguably the most fascinating piece of human history. Religion impacts all of our lives, whether we practice a religion or not. Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World—And Why Their Differences Matter is an excellent introduction to different world religions and debunks the notion that religions are all essentially different paths up the same mountain. In our differences, we can find beauty. When we recognize the differences and disabuse ourselves of the notion that our traditions are the same, we open ourselves to new questions, ideas, and friendships. Prothero’s book was so helpful as I became more adept at asking good questions for the purpose of genuine dialogue on issues of religion.”

As I wrote above, these reading recommendations are only some suggestions for thinking about one’s pedagogical practices. In an email exchange, Wendy Rouse (San Jose State University) emphasized the importance of teachers finding (or building) their own personal learning networks (or PLNs), which social media platforms like Twitter make relatively painless.

Dr. Rouse also noted the importance of secondary teachers and college-level instructors becoming acquainted with the social studies standards for middle and high school. Perusing state social studies standards would be especially useful for instructors at colleges/universities with sizable in-state student populations.

At the very least, examining state standards provides some information on how the political process of curriculum-making determines what secondary students could have learned before they reach the college lecture hall or seminar table.

At best, while reading these documents, you might come up with some ideas for assignments that engage with and critique the knowledge that state legislatures and boards of education expected students to learn in elementary, middle, and high school.

That best-case scenario will be the topic of my October post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *