The Historical Thinking Gap: High School History Teachers’ Self-Reported Practices, Beliefs, and Identities
Date of Award
Dr. Richard Christen
Education, Secondary; High school teachers; History teachers; Social sciences--Study and teaching--United States
This quantitative study explored the practices, beliefs, and identities of history teachers in Oregon high schools. In recent decades, research from the field of history education has advocated for a shift in the way history should be taught in high school—away from a content-based curriculum to one that emphasizes “historical thinking” skills, i.e., “thinking like a historian.” But scholars have expressed concern as to what extent these skills are indeed being taught in high school classrooms. Very few research studies regarding actual high school history teacher practices exist, and those that do are primarily qualitative case studies. We also know little about why high school history teachers teach the ways they do. The study addressed three main questions related to history teaching in high schools. The first question was, who is teaching high school history? What is their education background and their demographics? Secondly, how is history being taught? Does it tend towards traditional content and instructional methods? To what extent is historical thinking being taught? And finally, why is history being taught the way it is? Two theoretical frameworks that emerged from identity theorists—community of practice (Wenger, 1998) and discourse community (Swales, 1990)—framed these questions and provided the basis for a teacher survey asking questions about teacher educational backgrounds, beliefs, communities, and identities. 186 Oregon high school history teachers anonymously responded to the survey. The data from this study suggested important patterns in the educational backgrounds and teaching practices of Oregon high school history teachers. High school history teachers tend to be veteran teachers with graduate degrees. They reported using primary sources often with their students as well as more traditional resources and instructional methods. Correlating teacher practice data with data on their educational backgrounds, beliefs regarding the purpose of teaching history and historical thinking, communities, and identities as historians, the study also showed significant relationships between teacher practices and their education experiences and beliefs but only limited relationships between their communities and identities. Further analysis revealed that teachers have complex and divergent understandings and beliefs about the role they play and the role historians play in the community of practice of history and its relationship to the discourse community of history. Teachers see themselves as historians when they understand the role of historians as the passer-on of knowledge. They do not feel like historians when they see the role of a historian as a researcher and creator of history. Both beliefs reveal they do not believe the role of a historian to be that of a teacher of the historical process. The results of this study will guide those interested in helping high school students learn how to “think like historians.”
Doughty, Marla, "The Historical Thinking Gap: High School History Teachers’ Self-Reported Practices, Beliefs, and Identities" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 24.
Copyright for this work is retained by the author.