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Better Document-Based Teaching and Learning

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Santa Monica High School's TIIP-supported activities explore document-based teaching and learning. Our grant focused on professional development to help us be better teachers, but we also learned about how to assess historical thinking and better engage students. Our final goal was to demonstrate improved historical thinking across multiple grade levels on Document-Based Essay Questions.


Team Santa Monica at the TIIP showcase 2011 displaying their projectOur team consists of 5 teachers in two small learning communities who wanted to embed the process of "thinking historically" throughout the core of our history instruction.  We know that our students will be looped with team members, perhaps several times, over the course of their 4 years at our high school.  Our hope is that more focused instruction about and assessment of historical thinking will affect students' abilities to write well about historical topics.  We also want them to be truly college-ready for history.


Perhaps more importantly, we want students to leave our classes with skills that could be used in the digital age.  After all, the multiplication of documents has not necessarily led to an improvement in the quality of information disseminated. 




Team Picture

Santa Monica High School's TIIP Team professional biographies

Santa Monica High School link here.

The website that our students use to complete our classwork and document-based learning assignments.

Our professional development plan



The materials we present here are tools we have found scaffold skills well, whether you have a team working with you, or are implementing the strategies over the course of a year by yourself.  These lessons address the problems of pedagogy identified by Sam Wineberg (Stanford University) and Bob Bain (University of Michigan).  We recommend strongly that teachers read Wineberg's Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts in order to understand the framework for and thinking behind the assignments featured here.  The Library of Congress has information about Barbara Stripling's Inquiry Learning at their TPS quarterly (Summer 2009).  Each problem of practice listed below, however, has a brief description.


PROBLEM OF PRACTICE:  Picturing the pastStudent Sample 2:  Romanovs

Sam Wineberg discusses in his book the degree to which students' understanding of the past is based on pictures they already carry around with them in their heads [Chapter 5: Picturing the Past]. These pictures shape their thinking and can have strange filtering effects on the sources they see and read. They also defy correction unless explicitly addressed.  Our task as educators is to uncover, examine, and re-draw these pictures, as necessary.  Click on this link to see how to get strategies for helping students.


PROBLEM OF PRACTICE:  Students as historians

Bob Bain encourages teachers to put students in the role of historians in reconstructing the past by explicitly explaining the different voices at work in the classroom and asking students to identify those voices in multiple lessons.  This skill is especially important to scaffold over time because it isn't second nature, but the time invested can pay rich dividends, especially in document-based essays.  The lessons at this link are a few ways to engage students in the practice of being historians.         


PROBLEM OF PRACTICE: Reading historical texts

Student WorkSam Wineberg compares the differences between students and professionals in Chapter 3 of his book  [On the Reading of Historical Texts].  Wineberg differentiates between good decoding and actually thinking historically while reading. (Read an article summarizing the pedagogy of historical thinking from the Library of Congress.)  Historians are able to debate with the text as they read it, constructing not only the picture of the past that the author intended to convey but also the likelihood that such a picture is accurate.  Click here for more information about tools to help students think historically while reading.




PROBLEM OF PRACTICE:  Digital media and document analysis

Students think of the skills they use in history class as being separate from the skills they need as consumers of digital information.  Many universities are questioning whether young students can appropriately detect bias and misinformation disseminated through the internet.  The information on this page explores how students should apply their historical thinking skills to digital media, and gives examples of how necessary the skill is.


PROBLEM OF PRACTICE:  How to assess historical thinking

Generally, our team agreed to use already existing benchmark/common assessments to measure changes in students' abilities to think historically:  a document-based question in both grades 10 and 11.  But we found other tools for everyday use in class to be just as helpful.  Explore the link to learn more about these assessments, and the findings of our research during this grant, which included other types of assessment of historical thinking skills.


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