image of Dr. Abby Reisman leading PD at Questar III on October 5.

Dr. Reisman leads a PD session at Questar III on October 5.

On Thursday, October 5, Questar III welcomed noted education scholar Dr. Abby Reisman, who led a full day professional learning experience on the design and implementation of document-based lessons in the history classroom. Dr. Reisman is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education in the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Division at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. More than 30 social studies teachers from across the region attended to learn strategies to make historical analysis accessible to all students.

Throughout the interactive work session, participants practiced strategies that historians use to develop an understanding of the past. Like historians, participants analyzed and interpreted primary sources to develop a historical narrative. They also explored perspective and the implication of perspective on the reliability of sources.

Dr. Reisman emphasized the difference between general reading comprehension strategies and the distinct disciplinary based strategies that require students to analyze text as a piece of evidence. At its heart, Dr. Reisman explained, “We have to undo the certainty of history.”

A foundational principle to this work was the concept of cognitive apprenticeship. Cognitive apprenticeship, like a traditional apprenticeship, allows students to learn from an expert through observation, guided practice and independent practice.

Through apprenticeship, individuals learn through observation and then by slowly taking on smaller tasks under the guided assistance of the expert. To create a narrative of the past, historians look at primary source documents, e.g. diaries, letters, images etc., and consider the perspective of the document’s creator to determine its reliability as a source.

To support student skill development teachers must first model historical thinking skills by verbalizing their thinking for students as they decode a primary source. In this way, teachers demonstrate how historical experts interpret text. These short 5-minute mini-lessons help students to “see” how an expert decodes a piece of historical evidence.

Subsequent activities provided educators with strategies they could use in their classroom to facilitate disciplinary-based instruction. Participants also practiced modeling strategies which can be used in the classroom to help students to read, analyze and contextualize primary source documents.

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