‘Historian’ approach to history study gets good results

Historians in the News

High school students taught how to read historical documents with an eye to reconciling conflicting accounts of history significantly improved their understanding of history, retention of facts, and reading comprehension compared to similar students studying history using a traditional lecture and textbook approach, according to a study.

Stanford University researcher Avishag Reisman, writing in the January 2012 issue of the education journal Cognition and Instruction, studied 236 11th-grade students exposed to the Reading Like a Historian program in a U.S. history course at five San Francisco public high schools, and compared the results to a control classroom in each high school. The schools represented a cross-section of the city’s student population, which is predominantly Asian, Hispanic and African-American.

The program, which Reisman developed, is premised on teaching students the techniques used by researchers to interpret historical events in order to provide them with a framework to organize and retain disparate facts. These techniques include sourcing or identifying the document’s author and purpose for writing, contextualizing the document to identify the social, economic and political environment that it exists in, comparing multiple records of events to corroborate reports and rereading the document to distinguish fact from opinion and to identify author’s emotion. To facilitate student comprehension, the program sometimes modifies the text in some primary documents, but original copies are available....

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