Students can struggle to make sense of their history courses. AP, IB and undergraduate lower division history survey course syllabi are designed to provide students a basic historical foundation. However, the breadth of the courses means that students are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of topics presented. They struggle to understand how the pieces fit together yet find themselves lost in details, unable to construct a compelling underlying narrative that connects the past of others to our own present. In addition to the overload that many students experience, they are also challenged by the amount and complexity of the academic work they are assigned. My approach to teaching history addresses both of these issues. I provide subject matter guidance so that they can contextualize the history they are studying and understand how it connects to their daily lives. I also teach the technical skills they need to succeed in the most demanding history courses.
The most important question to answer for any historical subject is: “why does this matter?” As with any academic pursuit, those who do best are those who are the most engaged. Student’s who can answer the question “why does it matter to me” are those who are best equipped to answer the larger question of why a particular event matters historically. I begin my work by finding out about the student’s interests, motivations and experiences. By combining that with my knowledge of history I strive to provide the student with a context for their study. When students encounter history that matters to them they can engage in the thoughtful discussion, compelling narrative and persuasive argument that history teachers value and reward.
Technical Skills are Building Blocks
Reading, writing, summarization and argumentation are the central skills that history teaches and demands. Secondary skills include test taking, note taking, class participation, and the efficient and appropriate use of primary and secondary sources and research assets. Efficient reading strategies and speed reading techniques are critical for the advanced student. Fortunately, because almost all students will find these to be extensions of what they already do, they can be readily learned. Academic writing assignments follow well established patterns and norms which, when followed, decrease the time costs associated with writing and improve its overall quality. Taking overly detailed notes can be just as harmful as insufficient note taking. Whether taken during lectures or when reading, it is important that the kind of notes taken augment the students strengths and address their opportunities for improvement. Choosing the right primary and secondary sources and knowing how to use them are critical to fulfilling and surpassing teacher’s expectations for writing assignments.