Why We Need to Teach Historical Thinking Skills Now More Than Ever!

how to teach historical thinking skills

Teaching Historical Thinking Skills To Develop Informed Citizens

If our ultimate job as social studies teachers is to develop informed citizens, in a world of disinformation, our jobs have never been more important.

To help students navigate the media landscape of today- where the hottest takes get the most clicks, and where everyone pertains to being an expert and a journalist, students must become skeptical consumers of information. 

And I feel that history labs are the best tool we have to develop these skills.

I presented on this topic at NCSS, National Council for Social Studies, last week and conducted a mini-history lab with the teachers present to help them understand how these labs can become the cornerstone of our classrooms.

teaching historical thinking skills

And here’s the thing- as history teachers we have a secret weapon to help students develop 21st century literacy skills and it goes by the name of historical thinking skills.

The good news is that most of us are already developing these skills in our students, I just feel that it needs to take on greater urgency and must be the central pillar, right alongside developing content knowledge, in our classrooms!

And better than single primary source analysis, better than a standard DBQ, history labs are not just really engaging, they put more emphasis on the skills that really matter.

what are historical thinking skills

Labs place an emphasis not on gathering evidence but critiquing it, not just on sourcing the documents, but critically examining the reliability of the author and the usefulness of the source to answer the inquiry equation.

And unlike DBQs, History Labs can conclude in many different ways. Sure you could do an essay, but you could also do a historical trial, a one-pager, group presentations, multimedia presentations, a Socratic seminar, or simple reflections.

If we are routinely doing history labs in our classrooms, it will help students develop both the skills and habits of mind to navigate the media landscape of tomorrow. And that is essential if we are to prepare them for the awesome challenges of being a citizen. 

If you want to read more about history labs, check out either of these two blog posts I wrote on them- “6 reasons to replace the DBQ with history labs” and “7 Ways to Improve Inquiry with History Labs.

And to learn much more about history labs and strategies to make rigorous learning fun, please check out my course at www.engaginghistory.com


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