#Histedchat: Critical Thinking in the History Classroom

Tonight’s #Histedchat is about Critical Thinking in the History Classroom.

Edmodo code: 73gc5n Please join and share your links and resources there. 

Three questions to guide our discussion:

  1. How do you define CT?
  2. How do you foster CT in your classroom? (share resources, tips, links?)
  3. Are essays the only way to assess CT in the History classroom?

This site: http://www.criticalthinking.org/ contains amazing resources, articles and ideas.

Critical Thinking

Excellent introduction to critical thinking in History by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Library‐Archives Division, 2005. Click here for original PDF.

….History has traditionally been taught not as a practice in which students engage but rather as a collection of data that they master. ʺCome on, Bart,ʺ Marge Simpson says in a recent episode of the well‐known cartoon series, The Simpsons. ʺHistory can be fun. Itʹs like an amusement park except instead of rides, you get to memorize dates.ʺ (ʺMagical History Tour,ʺ which aired Dec. 22, 2004).


Like Marge, we hate to admit that most kids find history boring and we try to persuade them that itʹs something they should enjoy. But, lulled by oversimplified generalizations and deadened by a stream of names and dates unrelated to their own lives, they know better than to believe us. It’s no wonder that they can be reluctant to engage original historical documents. ʺMy teacher made us use this Web site [American Journeys],ʺ one student told us through our feedback button. ʺIʹd rather have all the spinal fluid drained from my body.ʺ   Itʹs sad that a young person with so much spunk, intelligence, and eloquence as that correspondent should miss the benefits that history has to offer, especially its potential to be a whetstone for sharpening critical intelligence.


The past is rarely simple. There are usually more than two sides to a question: historical events are not neatly balanced rectangles but irregular polyhedrons that shift their shape as one changes oneʹs perspective. When students engage their minds on historical evidence, they practice inquiry, evaluation, problem solving, judgement, and synthesis ‐ ‐ the very skills needed to be a useful friend and an effective citizen.


Historical documents are one of the easiest and most engaging ways to teach young people how to think clearly and make sound decisions. But because students donʹt usually see primary sources in history classes, they report in overwhelming numbers that history bores them. One former student called his history classes ʺabout as exciting as a clam race. All they wanted to talk about was numbers and dates. It ceased to be about people.ʺ (Roger Daltry in the New York Post,   Oct 4, 2003).


Using primary sources puts the people back in; real people, who actually ate breakfast, went to the bathroom, had passionate emotions, and were caught in terrible dilemmas. Their own words about their own lives will often seize a studentʹs attention. And by using eyewitness accounts that come from the studentʹs own city or county, or that were created by someone in their own ethnic group, or were written by a person of their own gender and age, teachers can quickly engage students with their past. This opens the door to helping them learn to think critically.


No teenager cares about names and dates from the Civil War. But give him or her a manuscript letter written by an 18‐year‐old from the next town that describes his life in a Confederate prison, and their interest will pick up. Show them the iron collar that a Wisconsin soldier removed from an escaping slave and let them read what the slave said about where it came from, and their intelligence, imagination, and feelings will all shift into gear. Many will display a reaction like the very first we got to our American Journeys digital collection, from a student in Florida: ʺThis is soooo cool! Thanks!ʺ  Read more here.