Literacy Acquisition Using Historical Methods and Content: Teaching Cause and Effect in History Texts

By Gilbertson, Nicole | Social Studies Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Literacy Acquisition Using Historical Methods and Content: Teaching Cause and Effect in History Texts


Gilbertson, Nicole, Social Studies Review


The University of California, Irvine (UCI) History Project was awarded the Improving Teacher Quality grant from the California Post-Secondary Commission to create a professional development program for middle and high school history teachers. The goal of the program was to increase teachers' understandings of the theories and strategies that support the development of academic literacy in the history classroom in order to improve academic achievement. The program included secondary teachers from two urban school districts in Southern California. Teachers participated in a week-long institute at UCI during the summer 2008 and continued implementing the strategies they learned in the summer during the follow-up program during the 2008-2009 academic year. The program was structured around the essential question: What is the impact of using explicit and systematic reading, writing, talking and listening strategies on students' history knowledge and academic literacy? This question allowed us to consider the role that linguistic and historical research has on the development of standards-aligned lessons for the history classroom and the impact this intervention has on the development of academic literacy and the critical thinking skills necessary for academic achievement in history. This article will examine the reading component of the program that centered on integrating standardsaligned history textbooks in classrooms with English Learners.

While educational theory and research regarding the literacy demands of the history classroom continue to increase, this knowledge often remains at the university level. This paper examines our professional development program, Literacy in the History Classroom, which links current research on history and pedagogy to the production and implementation of curriculum for the middle and high school history classroom to support teachers' knowledge of the disciplinary nature of historical texts and to translate this understanding to their students in order to improve their ability to read and write expository texts. This paper will outline the process developed by the program facilitators and participants to create standards-aligned curriculum that translates linguistic research and historical methods into lessons to develop historical thinking. The focus of this examination will be on cause and effect as a historical concept and the language structures that are pertinent for understanding change over time. We worked with teachers to consider and implement strategies to best teach the complicated relationship between cause and effect so that students can increase their ability to comprehend history texts.

Genre Analysis

During the week-long summer institute, teachers were introduced to linguistic research focused on developing academic literacy for the history classroom. The UCI History Project, in association with its partner California History-Social Science Project sites, has spent the past decade developing a nationally recognized program in historical literacy. The discipline-specific literacy program is the product of the cooperative research of historians, linguists, and teachers who have identified and developed strategies for teaching students how to read and write analytically for the history classroom. Academic literacy is necessary for success in history because the methods of the history discipline rely on close reading of texts, where students engage with a text both for comprehension as well to gain a thorough understanding of the purpose and rhetorical construction of the text, and using this textual knowledge to develop written historical interpretations. Linguistic researchers have deconstructed the structures of history writing in order to support students' meta-cognitive understanding of history texts. An important component of our program is the research on genres done by Robert Veel and Caroline Coffin as well as the functional linguistic research done by Mary Schleppegrell (1996; 2003). …

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Literacy Acquisition Using Historical Methods and Content: Teaching Cause and Effect in History Texts
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