Part VI of The Current State of Assessing Historical Thinking: What Scaffolding Exists and How Can It Be Improved?

Teachers know they must build scaffolds, but producing scaffolds is more challenging each passing year. Creating scaffolds does not stop at teachers adapting curriculum for differences in reading levels or learning disabilities. There are additional socioeconomic, political, and natural circumstances affecting students that teachers must address by scaffolding curriculum.

A United States teacher may need to adapt curriculum for students who do not speak English, are from cultural groups which represent “the enemy” in dominant, conservative, American narratives (American Indians, Muslims), and students who simply cannot afford to ride the bus in the winter (Attewell, 2011, Renn, 2013).  There are additional circumstances than the ones listed; teachers knowing about these conditions does not help when they have little time to build scaffolds for their students.

Something as simple as access to busing can affect a students likelihood for academic success.

The education system is unlikely to change soon enough to meet the needs of diverse learners; social studies educators must individually implement curriculum and pedagogy that will help scaffold assessment measuring efforts.

There are lines that connect scaffolding and historical thinking.

After reviewing the research studies over creating inquiry assessments, scaffolding does not seem to be a priority. The lack of scaffolding cannot be due to a disconnect between research interests because there are obvious connections between scaffolding and students being able to historically think.

For instance, in Monika Waldis’s (2015) research study, German students mastered thinking skills with greater ease when they analyzed history that they were familiar with, such as “The Nazi Boycott of Jewish Business,” compared to “Trade Relations with Japan.” Unsurprisingly, Waldis found students are comfortable with familiar topics, which can support their willingness to take theoretical leaps necessary for critical thinking. Despite scaffolding being an obvious connection, Waldis did not describe how this concept of familiarity could be applied to helping students progress through a historical thinking model.

How do you get students to think outside the box?

Waldis is not alone in missing scaffolding; the two following exemplar articles also demonstrate how researchers did not consider the differentiated needs of students.

Coming Up Next

The next part of this article series will focus on two articles that describe how students can obtain historical thinking, but neglect to mention how scaffolding should play a key role


Attewell, Paul and David Lavin (2011). “The Other 75%: College Education Beyond the Elite.” In E. Lageman’s and H. Lewis’s (Eds.) What is College For? The Public Purpose of Higher Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Corliss, Stephanie B., and Marcia C. Linn (2011). Assessing Learning From Inquiry Science Instruction. In D. Robinson and G. Schraw (Eds). Assessment of Higher Order Thinking Skills, 219-243.

Hicks, David, and Peter E. Doolittle (2008). Fostering Analysis in Historical Inquiry Through Multimedia Embedded Scaffolding. Theory and Research in Social Education, 36(3), 206-232.

Lee, John (unpublished chapter). Assessing Inquiry.

Lee, P., & Ashby, R. (2000). Progression in Historical Understanding Among Student Ages 7-14. In P.N. Stearns, P. Seixas, and S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing Teaching & Learning History: National and International Perspectives, 45-94. New York: New York University Press.

Levesque, Stephane and Penney Clark (2018). Historical Thinking: Definitions and Educational Applications. In S. Metzger’s and L. Harris’s (Eds.) The Wiley Handbook of History Teaching and Learning, 119-148. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

McGrew, Sarah, Joel Breakstone, Teresa Ortega, Mark Smith, and Sam Wineburg. (2018). Can Students Evaluate Online Sources? Learning from Assessments of Civic Online Reasoning. Theory & Research in Social Education, 46(2), 165-193.

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History (2013). Silver Spring, Maryland: NCSS.

Reich, G. A. (2009) Testing historical knowledge: Standards, multiple-choice questions and student reasoning. Theory & Research in Social Education, 37(3), 325-360.

Renn, Kristen and Robert Reason. “Characteristics of College Students in The United States”. In Renn’s and R. Reason’s College Students in the United States: Characteristics, Experiences, and Outcomes, 3-27. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Shemilt, Denis (2018). Assessment of Learning in History Education: Past, Present, and Possible Futures. In S. Metzger’s and L. Harris’s (Eds.) The Wiley Handbook of History Teaching and Learning, 449-472. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Selwyn, Doug (2014). Why Inquiry? In E. Ross’s The Social Studies Curriculum, 267-288. New York: State University Press.

Vanderslight, Bruce (2014). Assessing Historical Thinking & Understanding: Innovative Designs for New Standards. New York: Routledge.

Virginia Tech. SCIM-C: Historical Inquiry. Retrieved from

Waldis, Monika, et al. (2015). Material-Based and Open-Ended Writing Tasks for Assessing Narrative Among Students. In K. Ercikan and P. Seixas (Eds.), New Directions in Assessing Historical Thinking (pp. 117-131). New York: Routledge.

Wallace, David Adams (1987). The Past as Experience: A Qualitative Assessment of National History Day, The History Teacher, 20(2), 179-242.

Wineburg, Sam. (2001). Picturing the Past. In Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (pp. 113-136). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

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