Learning to Open Up History for Students: Preservice Teachers’ Emerging Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Jun. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(3), May/June 2011, p. 260-272.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article investigates the ways in which novices construct tasks that demand students’ interpretive and evidence-based thinking in history.
This article also examines novices’ capacity to attend to and create space for their students’ interpretive and evidence-based thinking when taught to do so in their methods coursework.

The article addresses to the following questions:
(a) To what extent do preservice history teachers open history to interpretation in their teacher education coursework and student teaching?
(b) To what extent do preservice history teachers create tasks that demand interpretive and evidence-based thinking?
(c) To what extent do preservice history teachers attend to their students’ interpretive and evidence-based thinking?

Method and Participants
Analysis of methods course assignments, student teaching observations, and assessments of candidates’ disciplinary knowledge led to the construction of three cases of novice teachers’ efforts to teach these ways of thinking to their students.
The participants in these three cases were preservice history teachers: Gabrielle, Lily, and Anna.
Gabrielle entered the program with strong disciplinary knowledge, Lily’s developed significantly, and Anna’s developed slightly.

In their field placements, Gabrielle and Lily student taught at local high schools, Gabrielle with 11th graders and Lily with ninth graders and 10th graders.
Anna student taught at a middle school in an eighth-graders.



By the end of the year, Gabrielle emphasized both interpretive and evidence-based thinking, Lily emphasized interpretive thinking, and Anna emphasized neither.
Anna consistently represented history as a predetermined set of facts to be mastered, leaving little room for students’ ideas.
Lily learned to focus on her students’ interpretive thinking in class over time without promoting historical thinking.

Only Gabrielle attended to students’ interpretive, evidence-based thinking actively in the classroom by asking questions about evidence use, responding to student comments, acknowledging students’ interpretations, or prompting students for explanations.
Gabrielle focused on students’ interpretive and evidentiary thinking using different strategies (i.e., modeling historical reading, text-based discussion)

Furthermore, preservice teachers’ field placements surely influenced their practices.
Both Anna’s and Lily’s mentors did not emphasize students’ interpretive or evidence-based thinking in their lessons; it was not a priority for them.
In addition, both Lily and Anna worked in school districts that framed their eighth- and ninth-grade U.S. history courses around mastery of specific factual information—whether through required multiple-choice assessments in Lily’s case or through district standards that included a long list of details in Anna’s case.

In contrast, Gabrielle’s mentor embraced discussion-based lessons and inquiry.
In addition, Gabrielle’s teaching demonstrates key aspects of PCK.
She developed representations of the subject matter that helped learners develop their disciplinary understandings.
Gabrielle also recognized and responded to her students’ interpretive and evidentiary thinking.

Moreover, Gabrielle entered the teacher education program with strong disciplinary understanding and quickly developed PCK, whereas Lily and Anna entered the program with weak disciplinary understanding.
By the end of the year, Lily had developed strong disciplinary understanding and limited PCK; Anna’s knowledge in these areas did not develop markedly.

The author argues that Gabrielle’s incoming knowledge may have enabled her to focus more directly on designing lessons and assessing students in her teacher education coursework.
In contrast, Lily’s attention to understanding history may have complicated her efforts to learn to design lessons or assess students.
Having a limited conception of the discipline left Lily and Anna with far more to learn in their one year of teacher education.
Furthermore, Lily’s and Anna’s field placements further complicated their learning since neither had placements that promoted historical thinking.
As a result, Lily and Anna did not have the same opportunity to develop tasks that demanded students’ interpretive and evidentiary thinking.
Gabrielle’s case indicates that it is possible for novice teachers to develop lessons that open up history and focus on students’ interpretive and evidentiary thinking.

The author concludes that Gabrielle, Lily, and Anna went through the same teacher education program and experienced the same emphasis on interpretive and evidence-based historical thinking in their last two methods courses.
Yet, their ability to focus on these aspects of their students’ thinking and construct tasks that demanded such thinking varied greatly.

Updated: Nov. 20, 2013