History Lessons: Teaching, Learning, and Testing in U.S. High School Classrooms

History Lessons: Teaching, Learning, and Testing in U.S. High School Classrooms

History Lessons: Teaching, Learning, and Testing in U.S. High School Classrooms

History Lessons: Teaching, Learning, and Testing in U.S. High School Classrooms


In this book, extended case studies of two veteran teachers and their students are combined with the extant research literature to explore current issues of teaching, learning, and testing U. S. history. It is among the first to examine these issues together and in interaction. While the two teachers share several similarities, the teaching practices they construct could not be more different. To explore these differences, the author asks what their teaching practices look like, how their instruction influences their students' understandings of history, and what role statewide exams play in their classroom decisions. History Lessons: Teaching, Learning, and Testing in U. S. High School Classrooms is a major contribution to the emerging body of empirical research in the field of social studies education, chiefly in the subject area of history, which asks how U. S. students make sense of history and how teachers construct their classroom practices.

Three case study chapters are paired with three essay review chapters intended to help readers analyze the cases by looking at them in the context of the current research literature. Two concluding chapters extend the cases and analyses: the first looks at how and why the teachers profiled in this book construct their individual teaching practices, in terms of three distinct but interacting sets of influences--personal, organizational, and policy factors; the second explores the prospects for promoting what the author defines as ambitious teaching and learning. Many policymakers assume that standards-based reforms support the efforts of ambitious teachers, but until we better understand how they and the students in their classes think and act, that assumption is hollow at best.

This book is a must have for faculty and students in the field of social studies education, and broadly relevant across the fields of curriculum studies and educational policy.


By popular conception, high school history teachers fit a common mold: They lecture, they assign textbook readings, they pass out and collect worksheets with end-of-chapters questions, and they use a lot of multiple-choice, short-answer, and true-false questions on their exams. That conception presents a reality that researchers and students know all too well. Time and again, observers (Cusick, 1983; Goodlad, 1984; McNeil, 1988) have chronicled the dulling stereotype of teachers who aim no higher than a stack of completed worksheets. Far too many students, current and former, roll their eyes and sigh in response to the history teaching they have experienced.

The stereotypical history teacher still exists. Yet, the accounts of teachers like Linda Strait and George Blair in chapter 1, and those in the recent research literature, suggest that history teaching may be more complex, nuanced, and engaging than presumed. These accounts of ambitious teaching enrich our understanding of teachers' practices because they highlight both the pressures toward the pedantic and the agency of teachers who resist those pressures. Certainly teachers can choose to fit the stereotype, but that they are choosing to do so can not be denied. Steve Thornton (1991) calls this ability to choose, "gatekeeping," by which he means that teachers make the kinds of long and short term decisions about what students will learn and how. Teachers do not make these decisions in a vacuum (Cornbleth, 2002), but they do exercise considerable autonomy over the kinds of learning experiences their students have.

I conceptualize this chapter around three big and enduring questions: Can teachers be both knowledge givers and knowledge facilitators? Should teachers be content or pedagogical specialists? What instructional . . .

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