David Cutler interviewed historian, Eric Foner, in the Atlantic magazine. The entire interview is worth reading. The article is cleverly titled – You Have to Know History to Actually Teach It. Cutler asked Dr. Foner: Do you have other specific advice for what teachers can do to more effectively instruct history students?
The first thing I would say is that we have to get away from the idea that any old person can teach history. A lot of the history teachers in this country are actually athletic coaches. I mention this in class, and students always say, “Oh yeah, Coach Smith, he taught my history course.” Why? Well, Coach Smith is the football coach, and in the spring he’s not doing much, and they say, “Well, put him in the history course, he can do that.” They wouldn’t put him in a French course, or a physics course. The number-one thing is, you have to know history to actually teach it. That seems like an obvious point, but sometimes it’s ignored in schools. Even more than that, I think it’s important that people who are teaching history do have training in history. A lot of times people have education degrees, which have not actually provided them with a lot of training in the subject.
Under Common Core, all teachers need to be writing teachers. Unfortunately many History/Social Studies teachers have not had significant instruction and/or practice in historical writing. Worse, very few teacher professional development seminars focus on this topic. As a first step toward becoming writing teachers, Social Studies teachers can increase student literacy skills by inspiring their students to interpret history through documents.
These new standards call for teachers to emphasize argumentative, explanatory/informative, and narrative writing into History/Social Studies. Many teachers are unsure how to respond to these new standards. Should teachers stop delivery of subject content to explicitly teach spelling, vocabulary, and sentence construction? Should professional learning communities (PLCs) devote a specific amount of time to writing instruction in each subject? How many writing projects should be delivered in each subject? These questions are unlikely to be answered by Coach Smith. However, free professional development is available to History teachers looking to improve their writing instruction. https://www.canvas.net/courses/helping-history-teachers-become-writing-teachers
This website will curate many of the readings and resources for the course over the next six months. We are excited to connect and collaborate with History teachers around the globe. So far we have confirmed the following Guest Lecturers: Dr. Chris Schunm (Pitt) Implementing Peer Review; Dr. Darren Reid (Coventry U) Sourcing & Contextualizing Primary Sources – modeling teacher thinkalouds; Dr. Sherri Colby (Texas A&M, Commerce) Historical Narratives; and Will Fitzhugh (The Concord Review) Teaching with Examples. We are actively reaching out to others in the Historical Writing community. Please feel free to comment or email us any suggestions. We hope to see you in class on January 12, 2015.