Data Collection: Teaching Social Studies Skills and Historical Thinking

Historical Thinking, or learning social studies skills, focuses on a student’s ability to analyze, evaluate, and create arguments and solutions based on a method of inquiry. There are several ways students can demonstrate their cognitive ability to historically think, including analyzing primary sources, developing original answers based on their observations, and supporting their findings with evidence and rational.

My preservice teachers believe that historical thinking is important. When I ask students about historical thinking, many of them realize they do not have a good definition, or they give me a shallow answer. Since my students have at best a poor understanding of historical thinking, how can I collect data that will inform me of their level of understanding and how will I use the data to adjust my practice? I do not want to simply explain what I think is best because the students still may not understand.

Brookfield describes this himself; “We may exhibit an admirable command of content and possess a dazzling variety of pedagogical skills, but without knowing what’s going on in our students’ heads that knowledge may be presented and the skills exercised in a vacuum of misunderstanding” (Brookfield, 22).

In regard to historical thinking, I possess more knowledge than my students, but I need to ensure that I do not go over their heads with my teaching. In order to teach historical thinking effectively, I need to collect my students’ opinions on what they believe it to be and how it should be taught.

Practical Data Collections

1. I could give my students four to five short teaching scenarios and ask them to order them from the lesson that has the most historical thinking to the one that possesses the least. Students could then justify their ranking in a paragraph. The results of this data could be shown to students and an online discussion could follow.

2. I could give students an assignment that measures historical thinking, something similar to a lesson from Stanford’s History Group. I would collect their responses, measure the amount of historical thinking, and then give students a rubric to show them how I graded. Based on the formative assessments, students and I could identify what about historical thinking they understand and do not understand.

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