Rethinking History Education

What is the best way to teach history? 

Educators have wrestled with this question for many years. They have experimented with many different techniques, some more successful than others. Most of my experience in high school history classes involved heavy lectures, lots of notes, and A LOT of reading from the textbook. I was constantly rereading my notes with the hope that I would get at least half of the multiple-choice questions correct on the end-of-unit test. But, right after I took the test, all of that information I had spent nights studying was pushed into the back of my head (and very quickly forgotten) to make room for more. As I begin to think about my own history classroom, this is something I want to avoid for my students. 

What if instead of teaching history, we taught students to be historians? 

We can present the facts but then let them explore the events, people, and historical questions themselves. Allow students to “man the bow” of their learning. It can be tempting to rely on PowerPoint lectures for fear of skipping over important information or lessening our authority as teachers. However, when we allow students to investigate the past, we not only help them take control of their learning, we create a classroom environment where everyone can learn from each other (including the teacher). 

This does not mean we must toss lecture-style teaching to the side completely. There are some instances, I believe, where this is the best way to present particular historical topics. However, we should create our PowerPoint presentations with caution. We must be mindful of the number of slides, the quantity of information, the color, and the pacing of our lectures. This will help ensure the most engaging teaching possible. Likewise, we must also consider the relevance of any hands-on teaching methods. Every activity should correlate directly with the lesson and information for that day. Considering these things will help make school less boring, and students will be more confident to take control of their own learning. 

Creating lessons where students are more engaged and in control will also aid classroom management. For example, students tend to misbehave in class when things get boring, fiddling with their papers, doodling, texting, and even leaving the class halfway through. However, teachers can avoid this when we encourage students to find their own answers to historical questions.