Writing in History Class

Over the first days at the Summer Institute, I’ve been thinking about the differences between teaching Language Arts and History, specifically how teaching those different subjects has affected how I teach. In some ways I felt more freedom as a Language Arts teacher, because I felt like I wasn’t really sure what I was doing anyway, so I might as well experiment.

Even though our school doesn’t put a strong emphasis on content memorization and we’re not beholden to any state or federal testing, I think I feel a stronger impulse to content delivery in history. I also get the sense that students have come to expect that, especially by eighth grade. I’m also aware that is, for the most part, what is emphasized in the Upper School, and so I don’t want to leave them totally without the skills to learn from that style of teaching.

On Friday as we created the maps of the way that writing circulates in our classrooms, I realized that I felt pretty good about the opportunities I was creating for circulation in some classes, but not others. Because of the nature of my blended learning class (students meet two days a week in person and on other days research independently and write online), I think that writing circulates more widely and naturally. I’ve also built more opportunities for students to make personal connections in their writing to the topics that we study in that class.

Throughout the Institute, I want to continue thinking about how I can hone the ways in which I ask my students to write in my middle school history classes, beyond taking notes or writing essays. When I reflect on it, students do have some good opportunities for non-analytical writing, but I think there’s room to create additional opportunities and to vary instructional methods by using writing.

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4 thoughts on “Writing in History Class

  1. I’m super interested in your thinking here! I totally agree that for some reason I feel a little more freedom in writing assignments in my English courses than when I’m teaching history. That said, I had the pleasure of watching an awesome TC teach 7th grade Social Studies last year and I too am thinking that while I do make good writing opportunities in those courses, I could be doing more! Can’t wait to hear more about your thinking on this!

  2. I’d be interested in hearing more about your goal for having your history students write. I’m constantly questioning myself and have become a huge fan of not taking anything for granted.. So why have them write? What do you want them to gain? What are they missing now?

  3. I’m interested in the circulation idea. I’m teaching readingand we do a fair amount of writing (mostly as response), but I’m interested in the circulation idea and want to hear more about it. Are there any resources you can point me to? Thanks. And keep posting; this is good stuff. -Philip

    • Thanks, Cindy! Definitely looking forward to chasing these questions.

      Those are great questions, Jessie. I think I’d like to get students writing more as a way for them to engage with the content rather than be passive receivers of it. My 8th grade students especially are very interested what will be on the quiz, and I’d like to push them to make more personal connections to the material that we are studying.

      Philip- When we were talking about circulation, we were thinking about who sees the writing in our classrooms. With my Upper School class (discovery.caryacademy.org/ushistory), students post their responses on the class blog and we invite outside experts to post as well. With some of my other classes, there are fewer opportunities for students’ writing to circulate/be seen by others than me.

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