Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Practicing to Teach: Oral History in Education

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Practicing to Teach: Oral History in Education

Article excerpt


Since 2000, two teacher educators have collaborated to develop and implement an interdisciplinary service-learning project in which senior-level teacher candidates have participated. Oral history provides the vehicle for service-learning. Each of the candidates identifies, interviews, and writes an oral history on a woman who experienced World War II, on the home front or in the armed forces, as a teenager or young adult. By writing the oral histories, the candidates preserved history and learned history, writing, and pedagogical practices.


In a linear, top-down model of teacher education, a professor tells about, and possibly demonstrates, effective teaching methods for teacher candidates with the hope that the methods will be eventually emulated by new teachers. [1] But a truism winding through some educational circles is that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught, rather than what they were taught.[2] If this premise is accepted, a different approach is needed--one that features feasibility rather than wishful thinking. As teachers of a methods course for elementary school majors, we wrestled with ways to teach that would equip teachers to move beyond traditional textbook-based instruction to explore authentic ways to engage students.

Before teacher candidates enter their first methods class, they have been students for fourteen or more years. Whether or not teachers employed effective methods to engage them in learning, their understanding of teaching was imprinted with a prototypical pattern. To simply continue replicating a pattern of effective teaching is an auspicious circumstance for a methods teacher; to discard an old pattern and replace it with a new one is a worthwhile challenge. In either case, teacher candidates should learn to be effective educators by being engaged in learning and teaching experiences originating in effective practices. Oral history provides such an experience.

Oral history is a process and product. Information is acquired, usually through interviews, from individuals with firsthand knowledge of a historical event or era. The product is either the transcripts or a story about the interviewee based on the transcripts.

Women of World War II

While much has been written about men who served in the armed forces during World War II, little is written about the daily lives of women during that period. Women served in the armed forces as nurses and support staff, they worked in factories manufacturing armaments and equipment for the war effort, and volunteered to support the troops in many ways. But the vast majority of women did their part by writing to servicemen, enduring hardships of rationing, following the news about the war, maintaining their families and the American way of life, and praying that their loved ones and all who fought in the war would return home alive and uninjured. Through this oral history project, these women are recognized for their contributions, and future generations will have the privilege of learning about life during World War II as the women experienced it. These women's stories, written by the candidates, have been collected in ten volumes thus far, one for each semester, of oral histories.

Oral History as Teaching Methodology

With the salient purpose of encouraging candidates to become effective teachers, we modeled an oral history project for integrating social studies--particularly history--and language arts. Our aim was that candidates would perceive the connection between a way to learn and a way to teach. By hearing the women's stories, candidates learned about World War II from women who experienced the world at war. Each candidate identified a woman, interviewed her, wrote her story, and prepared it for publication. While there are language arts dimensions of the project, this article features oral history and its significance for teaching history and civics. …

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