Historical Inquiry Tutorials: Scaffolding the Student Experience

Understanding history is a challenge. The following tutorials, developed by a history and social science teacher educator, an educational psychologist/technologist, and an academic historian, are designed to build a practical understanding of: (1) the nature and purpose of historical inquiry, (2) the processes and strategies involved in analyzing historical sources and using them as evidence in order to develop historical interpretations, and (3) the processes and strategies involved in reconciling various accounts of the past as part of the process of doing history. Our hope is that these tutorials serve as scaffolds or points of entry to initially support teachers' efforts to facilitate the doing of history within the classroom. The tutorials are not designed to replace teacher-student interaction, nor are they designed to subsume the teacher's instructional role. They are simply scaffolds for teachers and students, and as Goffman (1959) reminds us "scaffolds after all, are to build other things with, and should be erected with an eye to taking them down" (p. 254).
The SCIM-C Historical Inquiry Tutorial, a multimedia instructional scaffold, is designed as a freely accessible web-based tool to assist teachers and students in developing historical inquiry skills. The design of the SCIM-C tutorial is based on historical inquiry research (see Levstik & Barton, 2001; Riley, 1999; Wineburg, 2001), empirical guidelines for cognitive strategy instruction (see Block & Pressley, 2002), empirical guidelines for instructional multimedia development (see Mayer, 2001), and transcripts of historians engaging in historical inquiry. Taken as a whole, the tutorial is comprised of three sections, strategy explanation, strategy demonstration, and strategy participation (practice). The strategy explanation section is designed as a direct explanation of historical inquiry and the SCIM-C strategy, the strategy demonstration section provides an analysis of a primary source based on the transcripts of an historian's analysis of the same source, and the strategy participation section provides the user with extensive practice in analyzing a primary source with explicit feedback. We have broken these strategy sections up for ease of use.

An Explanation of Historical Inquiry

The first strategy section involves an explanation of historical inquiry - the characteristics, processes and goals of historical thinking. The tutorial provides a narrated and animated explanation of the broad picture of historical inquiry as a process that starts with the asking of historical questions. These questions are then addressed by locating and analyzing relevant historical sources in pursuit of historical evidence. Finally, this historical evidence is used to construct an historical interpretation relevant to a guiding historical question.

SCIM Strategy for Historical Inquiry: Explanation

The second series of tutorials begins with an explanation of the SCIM strategy. Grounded in research on teaching and learning history and building upon Riley's layers of inference model to support teaching evidential understanding the SCIM-C strategy focuses on five broad phases: Summarizing, Contextualizing, Inferring, Monitoring, and Corroborating. When students examine an individual source, they move through the first four phases (i.e., summarizing, contextualizing, inferring, and monitoring) and then, after analyzing several individual sources, they compare the sources collectively in the fifth phase (i.e., corroborating).

SCIM Strategy for Historical Inquiry: Demonstration

The explanation strategy section is then followed by three individual demonstrations of how to use SCIM to analyze individual historical sources. The first demonstration include an analysis of a depression era letter (1939) from a boy in Arkansas seeking financial help from the Children's Bureau. The second demonstration includes a letter (1779) from George Washington to Benjamin Talmadge, a spy for the continental army. The third demonstration involves a letter (1865) from Thomas Christie, and infantryman in the civil war, to his brother, Sandy Christie.
These three demonstrations are based upon historian think-aloud protocols using the SCIM strategy to analyze each source. Procedurally, the strategy demonstration section involves a narrator cycling through the four phases of the SCIM strategy explicitly using each phase's analyzing questions to guide the analysis. During this narration, relevant analyzing questions and evidence from the letter are highlighted

SCIM Strategy for Historical Inquiry: Participation

The final section of the tutorial allows students to practice and apply their understanding of SCIM as a strategy to support source analysis. The strategy participation section provides the user with extensive practice in analyzing a primary source with immediate and explicit feedback. During the carefully scaffolded strategy practice section the user is guided through the first four SCIM-C phases and provided with a series of identification and interpretation questions. The user is asked to read and respond to these questions and progress through the first four phases of the SCIM-C strategy is halted until appropriate responses are given.
The first participation episode includes an analysis of a depression era letter (1939) from a boy in Arkansas seeking financial help from the Children's Bureau. The second participation episode includes a letter (1779) from George Washington to Benjamin Talmadge, a spy for the continental army. The third participation episode involves a letter (1865) from Thomas Christie, and infantryman in the civil war, to his brother, Sandy Christie.
The demonstration and participation sections of the SCIM-C Historical Inquiry Tutorial provide the student with rich experiences from which to construct meaningful knowledge and skills necessary to engage in the doing of history. Specifically, students have the opportunity to observe expert historians in action, and then to practice those same strategies. These experiences with demonstration and participation, coupled with the explanation and demonstration in the first section of the tutorial, combine to create a sophisticated learning environment that (a) uses technology as a learning scaffold, and (b) fosters active engagement by students and the building of viable strategies for the "doing" of historical inquiry. But is it also important that students get the chance to begin to play with evidence and conflicting accounts as they begin to learn how to engage in historical inquiry. In order to support students' entry into the doing of history the mystery of Sam Smiley was developed. Based on work initially developed by the Schools History Project in the UK, the mystery of Sam Smiley allow students to play the role of detective in a mystery.

The Mystery of Sam Smiley

A mystery is afoot! A body has been found, identified as a local youth Sam Smiley. Working with only the evidence available your job is to analyze the data in order to: (a) build a profile of the newly departed Sam Smiley, (b) create a timeline of his last day, and (c) provide an evidence-based hypothesis of what events led to his death.
As history detectives have your students start with The Case of Sam Smiley and then move onto explore "real" historical mysteries.

References

Collins Block, C, & Pressley, M. (2002). Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices. New York: Guildford.

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press.

Lee, P. (1998). Making sense of historical accounts. Canadian Social Studies, 32(1), 48-49.

Levstik, L., & Barton, K. (2005). Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools (3nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mayer, R. (2001). Multimedia learning. Cambridge: Cambridge Press.

Riley, C. (1999, November). Evidential understanding, period, knowledge and the development of literacy: A practical approach to 'Layers of Inference' for Key Stage 3. Teaching History, 97, 6-12

Wineburg, S. (2001) Historical thinking and other unnatural acts. Philadelphia: Temple University.




The Historical Inquiry project was funded by an IDDL Research Fellowship and a FIPSE grant.
Copyright © 2004-2005, Peter Doolittle, David Hicks, & Tom Ewing, Virginia Tech
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