This is the second part of an article series that reviews how good history practices lead to beneficial adult outcomes. The first part can be found at (Part I) Learning History Creates Better Adult Outcomes: Teaching History Beyond Achievement Tests.
Student Choice and Interests
Good history classrooms consider student choice and interest. Choice means students can choose certain aspects of the curriculum. Allowing choice can be accomplished by giving students reading options, letting students choose topics for year long projects, permitting students to choose different formats to present information, and much more. Giving choice to students increases the probability that the history curriculum will be relevant to the systems that influence student learning. For example, while teaching, and observing teachers, I often hear how students do not feel motivated to learn, they do not understand the point of the assignments. These students do not feel like their interests are being heard, therefore they shut down and do not participate.
When students are given choices of what to read for an assignment, then they will need guidance in choosing. If this is for projects, you may find the article Helping Students Narrow A Project Topic useful.
Teaching about themes like slavery and racism can be difficult. If you need help, or just want to add flipped classroom techniques to your classroom, check out History Forge’s videos. The one above reviews racism through political cartoons.
Students lack motivation when they feel like the curriculum does not meet their interests. Effectively teaching to all interests is difficult because classrooms are filled with diverse learners. What’s more, student interests are becoming more varied because of the growing racial and socioeconomic diversity in American classrooms (Nasir, 354). History teachers must ensure that we take advantage of the systems in which students operate (Dewey, 1938, 71). For example, some students will find important social issues are not included in the history curriculum, such as the impact of slavery on modern African Americans.
Dewey wrote about these different interests in his book Democracy and Education; he valued the “congeries of loosely associated societies” (Dewey, 1916, 95). When students are given power of interest and choice, then they choose issues that have meaning to their identities and/or community, which promotes superior adult outcomes. Another example of allowing for choice and interest is when teachers use Project Based Learning (PBL). A specific PBL example is students completing a quarter long Mock Senate exercise. The teacher creates regulations and stipulations for the Mock Senate, but students choose any topic or issue they feel needs to be addressed. This power of choice and interest creates a highly engaged civic body of students who are attentive to reform (Capella, 262-263).
Students participating in something like a Mock Senate gives them the ability to solve problems, which validates their learning.
This video explains the Mock Senate process.
In order to promote history teaching that allows student choice and interest, research into history education must be focused on the outcomes that they produce, especially when considering well-being.
Hostetler explored the problems with educational research in general and believed that when education researchers ask “what is good?”, then we should be basing that question on the well-being that is being produced (Hostetler, 16). The outcomes that must be produced are materials, scaffolds, teacher trainings, and devices that help history teachers incorporate student choice and interest into their classroom.
Conclusion to Part II
In order for history classrooms to produce positive adult outcomes, students should be allowed to express their interests and make choices about the curriculum. Giving students problems to solve, such as the issues with racial discrimination in America, or completing a large scale Project Based Learning exercise, like Mock Senate or National History Day, will allow students to make choices based on their interests. The final part of this article series will focus on how research practices can help support good history teaching.