History is a series of events and causal relationships, stories and tragedies and successes, that when strung together weave narratives of peoples and places. To teach this has proven quite tricky throughout American education. Any history teacher watching Jay Leno and his random trivia questions cringes in horror at the utter lack of historical understanding in the greater American populace. However, one must ask, “If we teach history every year in school, why do the students retain so little of the information?”
This is the perfect time to invoke Einstein’s famous quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” After a number of years of teaching history chronologically, I made the curricular decision to shift to a thematic approach. I am privileged to work in schools that allow me the flexibility to make these types of classroom decisions.
Depending on the needs of the learning community, I can lead workshops varying in length. The workshop includes:
- Investigate the scholarship related to thematic teaching of history with the writing of Sam Wineburg, Eric Foner, David Perkins, and James Loewen.
- Discuss the concerns related to this approach
- Identify themes for investigation in each course
- Craft essential questions related to each of the themes
- Build an architecture of inquiry related to the investigation of the themes
- Share examples of units, classroom practices, resources and ideas
- Collaboratively build a unit of study
- Discussion about the viability of interdisciplinary connections