Sunday, July 14, 2013

Common Assessments, Historical Investigations, and My Goals

     This post continues where my last post left off, on the theme of an investigation.

     My investigations, obviously, have to connect with my school’s curriculum and, more narrowly, the common assessments that I must administer. Indeed, these mandatory common assessments (CA) weigh heavily on my students’ final average.

     The CA’s tend to emphasize factual recall and consist of multiple choice and written responses. The multiple choice questions range from straight forward to more sophisticated. And the written responses typically emphasize producing definitions and explanations about causes and effects. Responses that require students to examine and use sources as evidence are rarely, if ever, included on these assessments.

     I am part of a cohort of teachers who create these common tests, and I often voice concern about the wording of the multiple choice questions and the lack of questions that require students to use sources and evidence in their written responses.  

     What I do have a considerable amount of control over, thankfully, is the process that I want to use to help my students prepare for the common assessments. Preparing students for common assessments, however, is not my only job. Beyond the common tests, I am responsible for teaching the curriculum and the state standards that are associated with my course.

     For over a decade, I have used traditional instructional strategies to teach history. I have emphasized covering material and viewed my primary goal as helping students to remember facts and details. My evolution has been gradual, but I am sitting here today convinced that my traditional approach to teaching history has to evolve. By creating genuine investigations, as opposed to traditional content units, I will be able to adjust my pedagogical approach in order to better prepare my students for life in a democratic society in the 21st century.

     More specifically, I want my students to learn that history is a social construct, and I want them to be able to deal with competing assertions about both the past and the present. To do this, they must learn how to examine and evaluate multiple content sources, weigh evidence, and identify how information can be manipulated. In sum, I want my students to learn how to express reasoned views about complex topics of the past and present using both written and spoken discourse.       

     Therefore, with these targets established, it is quite clear that the historical investigations that I create must revolve around teaching my students various historical thinking skills and attitudes about the past and present. In my next post, I will elaborate.

     Do you blog? Have you written about similar themes? Leave a comment and include a link, and I will be sure to check out your ideas. Also, if you do not blog, I strongly encourage you to think about setting one up. They are powerful!

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