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Using History Docs

Critical thinking involves making reasoned judgments by assessing various options in light of criteria.

The importance of the student tasks

Each set of History Docs poses one or more critical thinking questions that students should be able to answer based largely on the documents within the set. These tasks require more than descriptions of the contents of the documents—students must draw thoughtful inferences and reach grounded conclusions. The tasks can be adapted to suit students’ diverse learning needs, and the requirements of social studies and history curricula at various grade levels.

Teaching the tools

Learning to think critically requires acquiring the appropriate intellectual resources or “tools”. The specific tools depend on the nature of the critical task associated with a historical document. See Strategies for investigating historical documents for detailed instructions and resources to teach students some of the tools they will need to inquire critically into the various sets of History Docs. Students should have some background knowledge on the topic prior to trying to interpret a set of History Docs. For each of the sets, historical context for teachers is provided. This can be communicated to students in a condensed and simplified form. Consider creating complementary critical thinking task(s) based on the background information and the judgments students are making about the History Docs.

The central role of criteria

Thinking critically involves using criteria as the basis for assessing options and making reasoned judgments. Asking students to make observations and draw inferences about one or more images involve consideration of criteria such as:

  • accurate and relevant observations
  • plausible and insightful inferences

Develop set-specific criteria collaboratively with students.

Opportunities for differentiation

Differentiation of learning in a critical thinking context has two foci: the complexity of the critical challenge and tools, and the level of support provided.

Differentiating the complexity of History Docs:

  • choose from among the suggested tasks those that will be most appropriate for various students
  • adjust the number of documents assigned to various students
  • select appropriate documents for students’ reading/grade level and experience with historical evidence (visual sources may be more appropriate than text-based for some students)
  • partition the documents so that smaller portions are examined at one time or by one student

Differentiating the level of support provided to students:

  • scaffold tasks
  • provide a worked example
  • model the process
  • use selected strategies for investigating historical documents prior to assigning student tasks
  • assign students to work in pairs or groups and introduce cooperative learning techniques such as “think/pair/share”

Using the History Docs with digital technologies

Many of the critical tasks can be addressed by using various digital technology tools and resources provided with the History Docs. Consider having students use:

  • powerpoint slide sorters to select, group, or rank images
  • annotation and labeling features such as callouts, autoshapes, and text boxes
  • graphic organizers and templates included with word processor packages
  • audio recording sound tools
  • text or video chat tools

Interactive whiteboard technologies

Critical inquiry can be enhanced through the application of interactive whiteboard tools.

For more information about the TC² model, please click here.