Part XI of The Current State of Assessing Historical Thinking: Conclusions

In the last part, described the difficulties of assessing historical thinking. Now, I will make some conclusions over the entire article series.


Considering educators did not treat historical thinking seriously until the mid- to late-1990s, there has been an impressive amount of research in how we measure and define historical thinking, on what data can be lifted from research experiments, and in how inquiry motivates students to succeed.

In this literature analysis, I found a variety of research studies that used students in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college undergraduate. Particularly intriguing was the Lee and Ashby study that examined students between the ages of seven and fourteen.

There were even pleasant surprises after I analyzed the studies over historical thinking. Before I examined all of the research, I believed there was an overabundance of focus on high school and undergraduate students in their abilities to historically think. My position was due to the lesson plans available at historical thinking websites like Beyond the Bubble, SCIM-C, The Library of Congress, and The National Archives, which nearly solely cater to older students.

Research on historical thinking is incomplete because it is difficult to implement the recommended practices into most of K-16 education. Although researchers have created categories of historical thinking, they have not scaffolded historical thinking skills, nor found ways to simplify them for younger students, or students not at grade level.

For more information on how to scaffold historical thinking lessons, check out Skills Based Grading and Grading for Mastery

For instance, different groups of researchers have described how sourcing is an important skill for students to have (McGrew, 2018, Wineburg 2001, Hicks 2008). The assessments I reviewed did not explain sourcing beyond a short definition, along with some complex examples of sourcing being used. Teachers will need scaffolded strategies in order for students to work with these skills, such as modeling or simplified versions of sourcing assessments(Shemilt, 2018).

Teachers will need scaffolded strategies in order for students to work with these skills, such as modeling or simplified versions of sourcing assessments(Shemilt, 2018).

As educators, we must find ways to develop students cognitive ability. The future is unpredictable and it is the responsibilities of teachers to prepare students for it.

Researchers examining students from multiple age groups gives me hope that scaffolding research will be appreciated. Currently, none of the studies really addressed the needs of scaffolding historical thinking and how assessment can be tailored to meet student needs. There is no explanation as to why this is the case in any of the studies, but I am able to make two conjectures based on my interpretation of the literature and my own experience teaching historical thinking to 8th grade U.S. history students for four years.

First, there simply has not been a lot of time for the inquiry models and beliefs to seep into the education system. For example, the unifying standards document, the C3 framework, was only published in 2013 (seven years ago). For all their goals, the author’s of the C3 framework mainly wanted to create a document that could help social studies departments vertically align their classrooms based on inquiry. Second, the coding mechanisms, assessment rubrics, and overall process of measuring critical thinking in history is arduous. Teaching students how to historically think is difficult. Without context, students cannot base their development of questions or their conclusions on social realities of history, economics, geography, or whatever curriculum is being used. 

Final Questions

What methods of scaffolding historical thinking have researchers tested and what were the results? Based on those results, what additional scaffolds are needed? My principal assumption is scaffolding should start with general education and then branch out to other areas. For example, a teacher assessing a specific historical thinking skill, let us say “sourcing,” could use alternative resources depending on students’ reading levels. One way of doing this is alternating the reading lexile level of certain primary source documents, which will enable students with a lower reading level to access the key information of the document. These students would then be less distracted by the words that are no longer prevalent in modern language, and can better show their analysis abilities in identifying the author and detecting their bias.

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