María José Rodrigo University of La Laguna ( Spain)
The contributors to this section addressed the study of the students' cognitive processes in the comprehension of history. They provided relevant data that reveal how students of different educational levels, as compared with historians, understand, learn, or reason about certain passages of American history (e.g., the American Revolution, Abraham Lincoln's attitude toward African Americans, and the building of the Panama Canal). Particular attention was paid to the analysis of students' cognitive representations of such historical events. Given that texts are used to convey those contents, the contributors also devoted a great deal of effort to understanding the textual features that may affect students' learning. The analyses of texts were carried out on school textbooks, on historical documents of different sources, or on texts created by the experimenters. Overall, the contributors shared great concern in the instructional implications of their work. Their conclusions led them to call for improving both the quality of historical texts and the teaching methods.
It is not my intention to try to capture the richness of the chapters in a dense summary. Instead, I try to organize the discussion around three important themes, explicitly mentioned by the authors, that weave in and out of different parts of the chapters. These include: (a) the approaches to understanding history, (b) the educational goals for learning history, and (c) the instructional means for teaching history. Understanding, learning, and teaching history are clearly related issues. Our conception of what history is may influence the educational goals we pursue when we include it as a subject in the academic curriculum. In turn, these goals may influence the methods we develop to teach history to students.