Leinhardt, G., E. Beck, and C. Stainton (eds). Teaching and Learning in History. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994.
The seven chapters in this book are centered on the following general questions: How is history explained by students and by teachers? And, what factors affect the quality of history teaching? Through this collection of studies into history teaching and learning, the editors seek to contribute to research within the discipline and to provide tools for history educators concerned with improving their teaching.
The first two chapters focus on issues of students’ learning and understanding of history. While McKeown and Beck draw from a study conducted with fifth grade students in an American classroom, Halldén draws from his previous studies with Swedish high school students. In the first chapter, McKeown and Beck conclude that a set of commonly used fifth grade textbooks are incoherent and assume an unrealistic variety of background knowledge from the students. Based on interviews with students who worked with rewritten parts of the original text and who were provided with a lesson on the necessary background information, the authors provide a lengthy set of suggestions for improving history learning. Similarly, in the second chapter Halldén concludes that students contextualize historical material from within their own personal understanding of history and provides recommendations for how history teachers can meet this learning style.
Chapters three and four also examine student learning but with a specific focus on how college students as well as historians interpret historical documents such as autobiographies and newspaper articles. In chapter three Britt et al. ground their study of American college students’ interpretation and use of an array of historical texts on their previously drawn conclusion that, generally, students learn best when historical material is presented in narrative form. However, because the results of this study show that older students are able to understand the narrative’s complex structure that includes events and their causal connections, they suggest that older students should be provided with texts that present information using an argument model in conjunction with a narrative model. In chapter four Wineburg, like McKeown and Beck, grounds his analysis on theories of reading and textual interpretation concluding that, despite varied levels of expertise, the American historians he interviewed tend to understand a historical text as belonging to a corpus that in its totality can serve as evidence. The chapter ends with suggestions for further research.
Similar to the preceding two chapters, Greene also focuses on American college-aged learners and historians. In chapter five he examines how college students in a European history course constructed meaning of previously learned historical events through two different writing tasks. Overall, students found it more difficult to write a report than an analysis or problem-based essay because they lacked the necessary disciplinary knowledge to do so. This was not the case for the historians. In conclusion, the author suggests that teachers should provide students with the opportunity to learn the critical thinking and research skills developed and valued by historians.
The final two chapters focus on history teaching from the historian’s as well as the teacher’s perspective. Drawing from surveys and interviews conducted with history teachers in American high schools, observations of their teaching, and interviews with students, in chapter six Evans concludes that history teaching maintains student apathy about society and the world. While Evans does not provide much information in the way of suggestions to remedy this issue, the book closes with recommendations for teaching history as a process of construction and reconstruction rather than a collection of events and dates. Specifically, in chapter seven Leinhardt outlines how it is that teachers and historians can work towards redefining history as a process that can foster mindful learners.