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Reading Apprenticeship Goals in History

Reading Apprenticeship Goals in History

Gayle Cribb invites her high school history students into her disciplinary community by providing the literacy support that makes it possible not only to read history texts but also to “do history”:

We solve problems of unfamiliar vocabulary or vocabulary used in unfa-miliar ways, syntax uncommon in our contemporary context, references we do not yet know, and our own interest, motivation, and stamina. Historical conversations about point of view, the occasion and purpose of documents, the reliability of sources, historical context, and causality and historiography flow out of this work. As students engage documents, their questions emerge. They notice contradictions, bump into their own sets of moral standards, revisit other texts, wonder about implications for today’s world, and develop historical empathy. Deeper issues and thinking seem to emerge naturally from these text-based conversations. It’s almost as if, when students get close enough to history, they are able to think historically.

Gayle’s students take on the work of reading history as disciplinary apprentices. They are apprenticing to the texts, tasks, reasoning practices, and motivations for working in the particular ways of historians.

The processes of apprenticing students into the discipline of history are represented in Box 8.20, a set of student goals for building disciplinary knowledge.

In Classroom Close-Up 8.13, from Gayle Cribb’s mainstream history class, students—including her special needs students—employ several of the student goals for “Building Knowledge of the Discipline of History”: they understand the nature of a primary source document, use historical schema to consider how language may change over time, and use historical contextualization to understand a particular workplace during the Industrial Revolution.

Gayle Cribb has several English learners and special needs students in her mainstream high school U.S. history class. Here she describes a discussion of a primary source from the Industrial Revolution in which three of these “special” students—Ineko, Harry, and Austin—enable the others to learn from them—socially, cognitively, and as disciplinary thinkers:

“We were studying various vignettes from workplaces of the time, and one was a sweatshop. Groups had a paragraph, and they were Talking to the Text and trying to work it out. There was a phrase ‘a stint of work on the sewing machine.’ So one of the big questions was what was a ‘stint.’ Somebody thought it meant time because of this, this, and this context clue. Ineko, a Japanese exchange student, had looked it up [on her electronic translator] and said it was a unit of time.

“Another student pointed at her and burst out, ‘You can’t use electronic devices in the classroom. That’s against the school rules. That’s not fair.’ So then we took that on and talked about it. We talked about differences—differences in need—and what was it like for Ineko to read the textbook every day. She was writing Japanese characters above practically every word. What did it mean for her to read something in English? Was this a fair tool, and was it unfair to them? What would be an equivalent tool they could use?

“We looked in the dictionary. The definition was similar, about a measurement of time.

“Someone said, ‘Well, I thought it was a pile of clothes.’ So we talked about whether that was a possibility and asked did it make sense in context. And then Harry [a student who rebuilt a Model T that he drives and who knows all about farm machinery from the nineteenth century] said, ‘When was that dictionary written?’ So we checked the copyright. Then he said, ‘That’s how we use it now, but that might not be what it means in 1900, when this is from. It changes, how people use words over time.’

“Then each group talked about which was the best definition, given all of that. They each were to write an individual position—it means this because of that. Several students wanted to know, ‘But what’s the right answer?’ I said, ‘There isn’t a right answer. All of this thinking is really good thinking, and you have to decide for yourself which you think is the best definition for this piece.’

“At that point Austin [a student who initially believed he would fail in a college prep history class due to his learning differences] said, ‘I actually think it’s both, and the reason is a pile of clothes takes time to do the work on, and so actually a pile of clothes is a measurement of time.’ Everybody went, ‘Oh, yeah . . . !’

“Afterwards, I thought, elements of that discussion were very disciplinary. If a group of history graduate students were talking about that primary source, they could have had the same conversation about the word ‘stint.’”

In a history classroom, students learn about the discipline of history and themselves as readers of and actors in history by way of the following discipline-specific goals.


I know how to identify and use diverse types of historical documents and artifacts.


I know the differences between primary sources and secondary sources.


I “source” a document or account to evaluate its credibility and point of view by identifying who wrote it, when, why, and for what audience.


I compare documents or accounts to look for evidence that what is written is credible and to find other points of view or perspectives.


I know how to order events and assess their duration and relationships in time.


I actively work to build my schema about particular times and places and how they differ—the geography, people, customs, values, religions, beliefs, languages, technologies, and roles of men, women, children, and minority groups.


I use my historical schema to understand what it was like in times and places that I cannot personally experience.


I use my understanding of cause and effect to identify historical relationships and impacts.


I understand that history is a combination of what can be observed, how it is observed, what can be interpreted, and how it is interpreted.


I am aware of my evolving identity as a reader of and actor in history.

*The 1995 Bradley Commission on History in Schools and the work of educational psychologist Sam Wineburg have been important influences on these disciplinary goals.

From Reading for Understanding, pp 274-276

DMU Timestamp: February 06, 2019 23:03

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