June 5, 2007

K-12 teachers of history need close-reading skills

Over the weekend, the American Historical Association Council Endorsed the National Council for History Education's Statement on Teacher Qualifications. Among the better parts of the statement is developing historical "habits of mind," including an understanding of how to read and utilize primary sources. That phrase came from the K-5 teacher guidelines. (The 6-12 guidelines insert in depth before understanding.)

Maybe my high school history teacher and undergraduate alma mater socialized me early in the importance of respecting primary sources. As a college teacher, I've found that my students tend toward eisegesis as a substitute for exegesis. (2 points for anyone who knows the difference.) Not everyone succumbs to the siren song of sloppy reading, but sometimes I find myself engaging in a pedagogical Turn Back, O Man to pull students back to the text. (No, not literally: I'll sing the Erie Canal song in class, but not Stephen Schwartz. I'm referring more to a performative environment as a way to engage student interest in a text.)

The temptations vary by age, I think: those 20-25 are tempted to interpret readings through an "it fits with my preconceptions or doesn't" filter, while older students are more tempted to conflate their preexisting notions and something they read in class. When I read, I tend to imagine a dialog with the text. I still don't know how to make sure students have a similar orientation.

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Posted in Education policy on June 5, 2007 10:59 AM |