Why do we study history? Why do we care about what happened in the past? This is a question that in only my second year of teaching, I have already been asked a handful of times. Some of this is due to the middle schoolers so subtly expressing their disinterest in the subject, but most of it is due to general curiosity and usually ends up in a great discussion. If we do not study history it is doomed to repeat itself. That is a common response to this question, but I also try to emphasize the valuable skills these students gain from “participating” in history, not just memorizing it. There is definite value in knowing the year the U.S. became a country and memorizing what your rights are under the U.S. constitution. However, at the beginning of each new class, I express that I am mostly interested in helping students develop their ability to “Think Like a Historian”.
Historians think in ways that make them investigators, readers, writers, and critical thinkers. They are also excellent collaborators. Classroom discussion and group work are what I enjoy most about teaching. I love hearing the ideas of students and watching them apply their knowledge and make connections is what makes each of my students historians. Throughout the first unit, students were introduced to what it means to think like a historian. Students were challenged to ask questions, think critically, and look closely at things such as author bias and author point of view. Then we discussed our ideas in small group settings as well as the whole group. We worked to investigate the answers to our questions and find the evidence that helped support our ideas. Skills such as collaborating with others, conducting research, thinking critically, creating informed opinions, asking questions, recognizing different perspectives, and recognizing bias are life skills that can be used in a variety of subjects and situations.
There’s huge value in knowing where you came from, and knowledge about the past can help you make informed decisions about the future. My hope is the wonderful eighth grade class at Benton Community Middle School continues to explore this idea of “Thinking Like a Historian” and embraces the challenge of using historical concepts to practice a high level of thinking.