“How People Learn” Effective teaching in History

86f80dff7d4c3ca38804855513f857d1I have enjoyed skim reading the book “How people learn” by the National Research Council. It aims to give practical ideas on how to use current pedagogical research in the classroom.

The three key findings that the book presents are:

  1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.
  2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must:
    (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge,
    (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and
    (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
  3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

It has a very interesting chapter about History teaching. You can download that chapter here: Effective Teaching_Examples in History_How-people-learn.

The conclusion is as follows:


Often when reading books like this, it is easy to be jaded/cocky and think “I knew this already”. However, many things in this chapter serve as a great reminder that good teaching and learning in a History classroom happens when students understand that history is not the study of the past, but the study of the debate about the past. 

John Bransford, Ann L Brown and Rodney R Cocking, How People Learn (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2000).