Sunday, June 27, 2004

Teaching History for Citizenship in the Elementary School

Teaching History for Citizenship in the Elementary School. What better place to teach history than when students are little and in elementary school?

From the site:

A substantial amount of research and curriculum development completed over the past two decades can be used to improve the teaching of history to young children. This ERIC Digest discusses (1) insights from recent research, (2) insights from recent curriculum development, and (3) connections of research to curriculum development. A list of Web sites which may be used to enhance elementary teachers' history-for-citizenship lessons is provided.


Recent studies on the teaching of history to young children have investigated the development of children's conceptions of historical time (e.g., Barton and Levstik, 1996; Hoge, 1991), children's ability to construct historical narratives (Barton, 1997; Levstik and Pappas, 1987), and their explanations of historical change over time and their ability to interpret, sequence, and date historical events and images (Barton and Levstik, 1996; Foster, Hoge and Rosch, 1999). The following are generalizations selected from the conclusions of this body of research.

Brophy and VanSledright (1997, 23) found that even the youngest elementary students have a sense of history and often bring prior conceptions of the past into the classroom. They note that young students typically have trouble retaining historical information that has not been situated within a context and linked to a prior understanding. They conclude that a barren, textbook-centered approach that treats history as a thin narrative of events that simply happened may prevent students from
"developing the critical, interpretive, and synthetic thinking abilities required for cultivating historical understanding."

Barton's research (1997, 13-16) also revealed that young students, even kindergartners, possess some accurate historical knowledge; for example, that covered wagons came before cars. Older elementary students demonstrate similar understandings -- often gained without formal history instruction -- about clothing, technology, and architecture. Barton determined, however, that pre-fifth grade students "have a very limited understanding of the nature and purpose of the government, politics, and economic institutions." He also found that even when students in the intermediate grades do study these topics, "They tend to interpret them solely in terms of the actions and desires of individuals, and to misunderstand or ignore the role of government and economics." Barton notes that elementary-grade-level students typically know very little about the methods used by historians in the creation of their narratives and, perhaps as a result, uncritically accept printed historical accounts as the truth.

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