Why Learn History Book Club // Get your copy and join the conversation!

Drumroll please! We are thrilled to announce our summer OER Conference for Social Studies Book Club pick! This month you are invited to join us in reading Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) by Sam Wineburg (IndieBound / Amazon), who happens to be one of our keynote speakers for the OER Conference for Social Studies. 

Since the 1990s, Sam Wineburg has been one of the leaders in research on historical thinking and the teaching and learning of history. He is also one of the founders and directors of the Stanford History Education Group (sheg.stanford.edu), one of the largest providers of free educational resources in the world. Wineburg believes it is essential to provide students with the critical thinking tools necessary to sort through the incredible amount of information being thrown at them every day, and to do so may require updates to traditional teaching practices. 

Our community discussion about Why Learn History will kick off with our first book club questions on July 14 right here in this thread, located in the OER Conference for Social Studies Discussion Forum. We’ll post a new question each Thursday for three weeks leading up to the conference which takes place August 3-4. So, grab a copy of the book, bookmark this thread so you can return on the 14th, and prepare for some rich discussions with other members of the community.

Our first week of conversations will cover Part One of the book. Let the reading begin!

Why Learn History // Week One Questions 

We are excited to start our book club conversation on Why Learn History (When it’s Already on Your Phone) as we make our way to Sime Wineburg’s August 4th keynote address in the OER Conference for Social Studies. Post your thoughts and answers to the questions below or add your own question. Erik Christensen will be leading the discussion and will be checking in throughout the day to respond to the conversation.  

In Chapter 1 "Crazy for History" Wineburg gives a critical analysis of American testing systems (and their effectiveness) and reaches the conclusion that "...no national test can allow students to show themselves to be historically literate."  Further, Wineburg makes the claim that multiple choice tests "convey the dismal message that history is about collecting disconnected bits of knowledge..., where one test item has nothing to do with the next, and where if you can't answer a question in a few seconds, it's wise to move on to the next. [These] tests mock the very essence of problem solving."   

  • How should teachers of history in 2022 test our students?  
  • How do you determine if your students are learning history?  
  • How do you, to paraphrase Wilfred McClay, make those hard choices about what gets thrown out of the story so that the essentials can survive?

Why Learn History // Week Two Questions 

Bloom's Taxonomy is referenced in many professional development sessions, teacher-admin conversations, and there may even be a poster of this pyramid in your classroom. Wineburg suggests that in a history classroom, Bloom's Taxonomy should be inverted so that knowledge is at the top.    

  • Do you agree with Wineburg's thesis - that Bloom's Taxonomy doesn't work in a history classroom?   
  • What would an inverted version of the pyramid look like in your practice?   
  • Is knowledge the result of critical thinking? Or is knowledge needed to think critically?  

Why Learn History // Week Three Questions 

In Chapter 7 "Why Google Can't Save Us" Wineburg dives deep into the internet's ability to deeply confuse expert and novice historians (and everyone else!). He describes several case studies that highlight how difficult it can be to assess information that we come across online.    

  • As more students are conducting research online, how are you managing the information they are exposed to?   
  • Do you teach digital literacy?   
  • How do you practice online reasoning or claim testing? How do you practice it with your students?   
  • What routines or activities have made the biggest impact to negotiating the power of the internet in your classroom?  

Post your response to the questions in the comments below as we complete our final week of the Book Club. Be sure to join us for Sam Wineburg’s Keynote Address on August 4 at 1:00 PM PDT!  

Top Replies

  • Hi everybody. Figured I wade into this thread because reading everyone's posts and being familiar with Wineburg's book got me thinking. Anyway, I often find myself TL-DR-ing my posts.  I'm sure this…

  • So far, I am enjoying the book...definitely not finished, but I'm on track(ish) to be ready to respond to Part 2 later this week! :) I find Wineburg's tone and style to be straightforward and comprehensible…

  • I want to start by pushing back slightly against the idea the Wineburg's thesis is that Bloom's Taxonomy doesn't work in our classrooms; instead, I would argue that he's saying the standard (and, frankly…

Parents
  • Why Learn History // Week One Questions 

    We are excited to start our book club conversation on Why Learn History (When it’s Already on Your Phone) as we make our way to Sam Wineburg’s August 4th keynote address in the OER Conference for Social Studies. Post your thoughts and answers to the questions below or add your own question. Erik Christensen will be leading the discussion and will be checking in throughout the day to respond to the conversation.  

    In Chapter 1 "Crazy for History" Wineburg gives a critical analysis of American testing systems (and their effectiveness) and reaches the conclusion that "...no national test can allow students to show themselves to be historically literate."  Further, Wineburg makes the claim that multiple choice tests "convey the dismal message that history is about collecting disconnected bits of knowledge..., where one test item has nothing to do with the next, and where if you can't answer a question in a few seconds, it's wise to move on to the next. [These] tests mock the very essence of problem solving."   

    • How should teachers of history in 2022 test our students?  
    • How do you determine if your students are learning history?  
    • How do you, to paraphrase Wilfred McClay, make those hard choices about what gets thrown out of the story so that the essentials can survive? 

    Post your comments below and let's get the conversation started!  

Reply
  • Why Learn History // Week One Questions 

    We are excited to start our book club conversation on Why Learn History (When it’s Already on Your Phone) as we make our way to Sam Wineburg’s August 4th keynote address in the OER Conference for Social Studies. Post your thoughts and answers to the questions below or add your own question. Erik Christensen will be leading the discussion and will be checking in throughout the day to respond to the conversation.  

    In Chapter 1 "Crazy for History" Wineburg gives a critical analysis of American testing systems (and their effectiveness) and reaches the conclusion that "...no national test can allow students to show themselves to be historically literate."  Further, Wineburg makes the claim that multiple choice tests "convey the dismal message that history is about collecting disconnected bits of knowledge..., where one test item has nothing to do with the next, and where if you can't answer a question in a few seconds, it's wise to move on to the next. [These] tests mock the very essence of problem solving."   

    • How should teachers of history in 2022 test our students?  
    • How do you determine if your students are learning history?  
    • How do you, to paraphrase Wilfred McClay, make those hard choices about what gets thrown out of the story so that the essentials can survive? 

    Post your comments below and let's get the conversation started!  

Children
    • How should teachers of history in 2022 test our students?  
    • 1. A percentage of testing on basic knowledge - who, what, when, where, how or why
    • 2. A percentage on completion of 1-2 short projects related to local standards ( one written and one in another format )
    • 3. A percentage in a  public presentation arguing for the historical background of current events
    • How do you determine if your students are learning history?  
    • 1. They ask germane questions or challenge me or another student.
    • 2. Dad, Mom, guardian, or another teacher/support person tell me so.
    • How do you, to paraphrase Wilfred McClay, make those hard choices about what gets thrown out of the story so that the essentials can survive? 
    • Start from where the students are and begin to build the essentials to move them forward....
  • I like how you think  . What jumps out at me from your response is your approach to diversity in testing or assessment. Certainly there's no "one way" to test students about historical thinking or even knowledge. 

    Again in your determination response - a diversity of sources helps to determine how students are learning.

    And I really, REALLY enjoy your approach about starting "where the students are." 

    As a follow up, how to we determine what those "essentials" are? Standards? Our own convictions? Cool history stuff? 

  • I'm familiar with Wineburg's work with SHEG and have been trying to emphasize historical thinking skills for some time now. Even as I'm reading Chapter 1, I'm thinking to myself that I have long ago drank this kool-aid. The tests we give don't measure much. I find his writing in this chapter all the more compelling - assessment has really become a dispiriting exercise for both teachers and students.

    I'm struggling most with the 2nd question - how we determine if students are learning history? And the reason for that struggle is this...  We are so conditioned to teach and learn this way. This is the way I learned history in school. This is the way my students come into my class expecting to learn. Sometimes I think that if and when I start to de-emphasize the testing/assessment and talk about the skills, my students even seem to be a little irked. It's like as if they've been driving down a road following one set of traffic laws and suddenly I'm telling them that they're not important... and that actually we're driving down the wrong road. And not only that but at least in New York State (and I'm sure we're not alone) at the end of the day, we still have that regents exam hanging over our head. And while the prompts in the test have improved somewhat ... at the end of the day it is still a standardized test. 

    So my question / pondering / worry is... Wineburg is right on with this chapter and has been for some time - BUT - this is a systemic issue. Can this possibly be changed or shifted by one teacher or one classroom? What it would look like for students to walk into the high school history classroom and actually expect to learn usable skills, rather than having to attempt to de-program years of standardized testing and filling in bubbles. 

  • Back in 2000, I attended a conference put on by the California League of High Schools in which our superintendent of education unveiled the California high school exit exam. He talked about it for quite some time. The subsequent speaker Alfie Kohn talked about “if somebody told us that we needed to raise the bar”, we probably got the wrong guy, that juxtaposition was super interesting. Standardized testing as a classroom practice doesn’t give the kids voice, isn’t how they communicate learning in a meaningful way, and won’t tell us what you need to know about whether a kid learned or not.

    We need to take stock of where the kids are at the start ofthe course, it’s kind of like going to the gym and getting on the scale at the end of the week year and saying that you gained weight, how do you know? 

  •  Your point about assessment as a "dispiriting exercise" is right up my alley. Why can't we bring some joy into assessments? I'm not suggesting that tests look like a "free for all"  -  suggests 'parameters' below. I'm a big believer in the ideas that:

    • assessments can be fun
    • aren't the end of the road for Ts or Ss

    Slight change of topic, but if you're interested in bringing joy into your classroom, check out this conversation from 2021.

    community.oerproject.com/.../52431

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