Tag Archives: Susan De La Paz

SRSD Writing in History

This post is a follow up to my earlier lecture on SRSD writing instruction. Although, these lectures are meant for course participants in the MOOC Helping History Teachers Become Writing Teachers that will take place between January 12, 2015 – February 24, 2015, feel free to make comments, or join our Twitter conversations under the #HistRW.

Students writing


Studies of history classrooms reveal that writing instruction of any kind is uncommon, even among exemplary teachers. Thus, student essays tend to list facts rather than argue claims, leave arguments unexplained, and only draw on evidence sporadically. A majority of adolescent writers struggle in writing a simple argument in history. Recently, research has focused on the discipline-specific demands of history writing. Most specifically, how students construct a complex argument from smaller arguments from historical documents that reflect how they read, understand and cite evidence from multiple sources.

Previous research suggests that students do not learn to explain quotations or other types of evidence in their papers. Students do not develop interpretations that are supported with evidence. DBQ instruction may help students improve their persuasive essays, but not their ability to write evidence-based arguments. Explicit methods and direct instruction are needed for this. These researchers developed a Self Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) intervention. This study measured the effectiveness of the intervention on students’ abilities to write evidence-based arguments using a cognitive apprenticeship model for instruction.

Thinking w hist docs


H1 Students who receive instruction in analyzing sources and planning argumentative essays will demonstrate greater use of evidence from documents than students in the comparison group.

H2 Students will write more advanced claims and rebuttals, after instruction.

H3 Students will write longer and qualitatively better essays with greater factual accuracy and overall persuasiveness.


160 11th-grade students received instruction from four US history teachers at two schools. Scores on the written expression subtest of the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, administered before the study began, were compared to determine whether the two groups differed in initial writing ability. The students initially performed at the same levels. Argumentative essays that involved historical interpretation were used for the writing task in this study.

Instructional Framework

(1) develop background knowledge, (2) describe it, (3) model it, (4) support it, and (5) independent performance (Harris & Graham, 1996).

The mnemonic STOP reminded students to consider and generate ideas on both sides of an argument before deciding which side to support in their essay. The steps of the mnemonic prompted them to Suspend judgment, Take a side, Organize (select and number) ideas, and Plan more as you write. Teachers modeled self-regulatory statements such as, ‘‘Since I decided to put my thesis statement first, I will write it as the beginning of my introductory paragraph.”

Student essays were coded to identify all claims in favor of or against the position. The study counted the total number of claims, but controlled for the length of essay. The researchers counted and analyzed the number of rebuttals that students wrote, then explored their level of development by ranking rebuttals according to degree of sophistication.

Doc Use Means


In comparison to a control group (N = 79), essays written by students who received SRSD instruction (N = 81) were longer, were rated as having greater historical accuracy, were more persuasive, with detailed claims and rebuttals. This study suggests that with explicit instruction, teachers can shape new understandings for what students expect to write and how they perform in history classrooms. Thus, numerous writing from sources assignments, paired with direct instruction in historical thinking processes, appears to move low to average high school writers to demonstrably higher levels of writing proficiency.

The big takeaway is that History instructors now have a framework for how to compare measures of quality in student essays across grade levels. Effective writing instructors will concentrate on one or two elements per assignment, give students regular feedback, and report their growth.


Reading and writing from multiple source documents in history: Effects of strategy instruction with low to average high school writers (2010). By Susan De La Paz, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Maryland, College Park 
& Mark Felton, Associate Professor, San Jose State University.

Which Tasks Improve Historical Reasoning?

Scholars do not know the influence of specific task structures on students’ writing or historical reasoning. Historical reasoning is defined as analyzing evidence, understanding the meaning of evidence, and using evidence to construct and explain historically plausible accounts of the past (p. 291).

Do all argumentative writing tasks provide students with the same opportunity to develop their historical thinking or writing? Are some ways of framing questions to promote historical thinking and writing better than others? Can the structure of a writing prompt influence student outcomes? This study suggests YES. The type of task explained 31% of the variance in the quality of students’ overall historical reasoning.

Much of the research on history writing has focused on how students draw on multiple sources in constructing essays. Some attention has been given to comparing argumentative writing in comparison with other genres such as narratives, summaries, and explanations. Almost zero research has been done on what we ask students to write and how that affects their thinking and writing.

In developing arguments, writing is often complicated by patterns of thinking and working with evidence. The use of evidence indicates aspects of disciplinary reasoning, including recognizing biases in sources, comparing evidence, situating evidence in its context, and taking into account different perspectives and multiple causes. Historical interpretations rely on the public display of evidence to substantiate claims – a claim cannot stand without evidence.

In defining approaches to historical texts, Sam Wineburg identified discipline-specific ways of reading and thinking. For historians, primary documents are regarded as excerpts of social interactions. They have to be reconstructed with context added to make the documents meaningful.

Providing writing prompts that require close reading and consideration of the author’s perspective supports historical thinking and greater understanding. So, perhaps the structure and focus of the writing prompt affects the quality of students’ historical reasoning? These researchers sought to find out how.

The authors created four reading and writing tasks using the same documents and randomly assigned one task to each student. Each task presented the same background information adapted from the social studies textbook. They worded each prompt differently to frame the issue of Cold War causes from a variety of historical angles. The situated prompt encouraged students to imagine they heard these speeches and write as though they were living in 1947. The sourcing prompt encouraged students to focus on the motivations of each author in making their respective speeches. The document analysis prompt encouraged students to identify similarities and differences in the documents. The causal prompt asked students why Churchill and Truman spoke out against the Soviet Union and communism directly. At the end of each prompt, the researchers asked students to write “M.E.A.L.” (main idea, evidence, analysis, and link to thesis) paragraphs.

The sourcing, document analysis, and causal prompts were associated with higher student scores. The situated prompt had the lowest mean score of all the tasks. Results indicated that the writing prompts centered on sourcing, corroboration of documents, and causation were more likely to focus attention on historical perspectives than prompts that asked students to imagine themselves as historical figures. Because so much of history relies on evidence-based thinking, prompts that focus students directly on sources may be more likely to promote historical reasoning.

Unfortunately, when most history teachers assign writing, the focus is on summarization. Because interpreting history relies on reconciling multiple sources of evidence, this focus inhibits historical reasoning. So, the key takeaway from this study is – how can high school history teachers create prompts that emphasize corroboration, sourcing, and causal analysis into their classroom practices?


Monte-Sano, C., & De La Paz, S. (2012). Using writing tasks to elicit adolescents’ historical reasoning. Journal of Literacy Research, 44(3), 273-299.

This week our discussion board will focus on developing prompts like these and integrating them with your lessons that are already in progress. Please describe the grade, level and subject you are teaching, the focus of your lesson, and identify an idea for an essay that could that emphasize corroboration, sourcing, and causal analysis. The community will chime in and suggest ideas for documents, scaffolding, and fine-tuning. Follow the rule, give one to get one.