Teacher Educator Lesson: Making Thinking Visible


In this lesson, teacher candidates are introduced to the nature of historical reading and thinking and the necessity of making these ways of thinking visible and explicit in their classrooms. Candidates first engage in a demonstration lesson in which they compare two news accounts of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in 1898. They then view and discuss two high school students' responses to the same documents. A framework for historical reading is presented, which introduces candidates to four ways of reading historically: sourcing, contextualizing, close reading, and corroborating. To illuminate this framework, candidates watch a flash movie that includes expert historians reading and thinking aloud about the skirmish on Lexington Green in 1775. Finally, candidates return to the Spanish-American War topic and use the framework to create scaffolds to help students analyze a primary source.

Learning Goals:

  • Candidates will see that reading and analyzing texts is central to understanding and knowing history.
  • Candidates will understand a framework for explaining and teaching historical reading to their students.
  • Candidates will understand that teaching ways of thinking and reading requires seeing and modeling those modes of thought.
  • Candidates will apply the framework to create reading scaffolds for students.
  • Candidates will be introduced to the Historical Thinking Matters website.

Notes to Teacher Educator

This lesson is designed for a teacher education class that lasts approximately 2.5 hours. "Candidates" is used to denote the students in your teacher education class; "students" is used to denote the pupils these candidates may be teaching in field placements.

Preparing for the Lesson

  • Read and review entire lesson.
  • Make class set of copies of:
    • "Journal" and "Times" documents (Step 1)
    • Spanish-American War Warm-up organizer (Step 1)
    • Think-aloud commentary for Matt (Step 2)
    • "Four ways of reading" handout (Step 3)
    • "Barker" and "Mulliken" documents (Step 4)
    • Think-aloud commentary for Chuck (Step 5)
    • "Beveridge" and "Camps" documents without questions (Step 6)
  • Optional copies:
    • Questions for "Why historical thinking matters" presentation (Step 4)
  • Have available for class viewing (on LCD projector with speakers):
    • Spanish-American War introductory movie (Step 1)
    • Think-aloud clip of Matt (Step 2)
    • "Why historical thinking matters" Flash presentation (Step 4)
    • Think-aloud clip of Chuck (Step 5)
  • Assign homework: Have candidates read "Cognitive Apprenticeship" article. You might assign the entire article or excerpts. In the latter case, have students read up to "Writing" subtitle, skip the intervening sections, and start again at the "Method" section.
    Collins, Allan, Brown, John Seely and Holum, Ann. "Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible." American Educator. (Winter 1991). http://www.21learn.org/arch/articles/brown_seely.html

Plan of Instruction

STEP 1. Use demonstration lesson: 1 Day lesson from the Spanish-American War investigation
  1. Introduce the day's lesson: Tell candidates that they will learn more about literacy and history and about specific disciplinary reading strategies—what they are and what they look like. They will encounter examples of "visible thinking" in clips of both students and expert historians.
  2. Write the lesson's framing question on the board. (Which account is more believable? Why?)
  3. Candidates engage in lesson.
  4. Check candidates' understanding.
    • Share and discuss answers to the lesson's framing question.
    • Check that candidates have noticed and can cite examples of inflammatory language.
    • Check that candidates have noticed that the sources tell a different story and use different evidence.
STEP 2. Watch Matt read.
  1. Ask rhetorically: Let's say we give these two documents without the graphic organizer to your students. How would students read them? How could you help them read more carefully?

    Tell candidates that how they read these documents is not necessarily how their students will read them.

    Many students will read quickly. Skilled students may monitor their comprehension of the words they are reading. They may notice that the sources tell two different stories, but may not wonder why.

  2. Ask, "What was the role of the reading questions in this activity? What might the authors of your assigned reading (Collins et al.) call them? What other scaffolds/supports were there in the activity to help your reading and analysis?" (e.g., documents are edited, graphic organizer that facilitated comparison, movie)
  3. Tell candidates that you will now show a short clip of a student reading the same documents.

    Explain that he is doing a "think-aloud." He is reading the text aloud and sharing what he is thinking and wondering as he reads. This procedure, in Collins et al. language, makes Matt's thinking visible.

    Matt is a high school senior who completed Advanced Placement European and American history courses.

    Tell candidates to keep in mind the following questions as they watch:

    • What do you see Matt do?
    • What are Matt's reading strengths and areas for growth?

  4. Show the think-aloud twice. Candidates jot down notes on his reading.
  5. Pass out commentary, read, and discuss. Emphasize that sourcing is a historical reading strategy that many readers don't automatically do.
STEP 3. Introduce four ways of reading historically.
  1. Use the discussion around Matt's think-aloud to transition to this introduction. Sourcing is central to historical thinking and reading. Naming this reading act helps students to identify, understand, and learn it. Notice that the term "sourcing" is more concrete and specific than the term "critical thinking."
  2. Pass out handout with the site's framework that captures and communicates historical reading. Briefly introduce and explain that more explanation and examples follow in the next activity.

    Sourcing: Considering a document's attribution (both its author and how the document came into being)

    Contextualizing: Situating the document and events it reports in place and time.

    Corroborating: Checking important details across multiple sources to determine points of agreement and disagreement.

    Close Reading: Reading carefully to consider what a source says and the language used to say it.

STEP 4. Watch and discuss "Why historical thinking matters" presentation (Flash movie).
  1. Pass out "Barker" and "Mulliken" documents used in the presentation. Tell candidates they will now switch historical eras and topics and watch an introduction to historical reading.
  2. While watching, candidates should consider these questions:
    • What do historians do?
    • According to the movie,
      • What is historical thinking?
      • Why does historical thinking matter?
    • While showing the presentation, use the pauses between slides to check candidates' understanding or elicit questions. You might also use these pauses to allow candidates to try reading these excerpts historically. For example, before slide 8, candidates could compare the documents and share where they are similar and different.
    • Possible discussion questions (in addition to the questions above):
      • If historians ask questions, what kind of questions does this include?
      • Review the example.
        • What, according to each source, happened on Lexington Green?
        • What in the source supports that claim?
        • Using the multiple documents in the presentation (visual and textual evidence), what happened on Lexington Green?
        • Think about the reading you did today. What four things does Collins et al. say we need to do to teach students a way of thinking?
      • Make these points:
        • Modeling, scaffolding, feedback and practice are critical to teaching students ways of thinking and analysis.
        • In this lesson, we have seen models (examples in Flash presentation), scaffolds (questions on documents, naming ways of questioning documents), practice (opening lesson/Flash presentation activity) and feedback (your responses to students' contributions to the discussion). To teach students historical thinking, they must see examples and models of that thinking.

Note to teacher educator: In the next step, you will transition from Lexington back to Spanish-American War. This may be a good place for a short class break.

STEP 5. Watch Chuck read.
  1. Tell candidates: You now have an introductory framework for thinking about historical reading and thinking. Let's return to the Spanish-American War topic.

    This module asks students to answer the question: Why did the U.S. invade Cuba in 1898? While learning more about the specifics regarding the causes of that war, students will also learn that historical events have multiple causes. We are going to watch another think-aloud of a student that shows us something about how students are likely to think about historical cause.

    Chuck, the student doing this think-aloud, is an eleventh grade Advanced Placement U.S. history student. In this clip, he has just finished thinking aloud while reading the two newspaper articles about the Maine.

  2. Show clip twice.
    • Ask: How is Chuck thinking about historical cause?
  3. Pass out commentary.
    • Ask: What does the commentary point out about Chuck's thinking that we, as teachers, would want to challenge and/or strengthen?
  4. After discussing the commentary, remind candidates that their teaching task includes planning instruction and scaffolds to help students read more carefully and historically. The next activity requires they practice this.
STEP 6. Practice: read, analyze, and create scaffolds for historical reading.
  1. Pass out "Beveridge" and "Camps" documents. Note to teacher educator: be sure to use the version of these documents without questions.
  2. Candidates read both documents and consider these questions for each:
    • How does this document help you answer the inquiry question?
    • How could this document challenge Chuck's assertion that the sinking of the Maine caused the war?
  3. In pairs, candidates read one document a second time to practice their own historical reading strategies and identify challenging areas in the document that likely require scaffolding.
  4. Half the class creates one to three scaffolds to help students read and understand "Camps."

    Include at least one question that asks students to either source, contextualize, read closely, or corroborate. The other half of the class does the same for "Beveridge" document.

    Optional: Show think-aloud of Natalia reading each document and share commentary. These are models of historical reading—they show Natalia interrogating the document rather than reading it at face value.

  5. After creating scaffolds, candidates share in small groups or whole class in order to receive feedback.

    To view other models of scaffolds for these documents, refer candidates to the online versions of "Camps" and "Beveridge," which are accompanied by questions, vocabulary aids, and annotations.

    Note to teacher educator: You may be short of class time once you reach Step 6. Some or all of this step can be assigned as homework if necessary.

STEP 7. Close Lesson
    Summarize the day's key points.
  • Reading and analyzing text is central to the discipline of history.
  • Historians read in particular disciplinary ways.
      These include sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading.
    • These disciplinary ways of reading matter in preparing our young people to navigate their everyday worlds and to participate in civic life.
  • Historical reading processes can be taught and learned, but to do so, we need to make them visible and explicit for our students.
  • Students will need multiple kinds of support and practice to master these ways of reading, as well as specific feedback.
Suggested Readings:

Wineburg, Sam. "On the Reading of Historical Texts: Notes on the Breach Between School and Academy." In Historical Thinking and Other UnNatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001: 63-88.

Sam Wineburg explains how and why he used think-alouds to uncover historical reading processes in this research report. The article offers an in-depth look at the expert and novice thinking elicited by the documents regarding the battle on Lexington Green.

Martin, Daisy and Sam Wineburg. "Seeing Thinking on the Web." The History Teacher.

This article includes a rationale for the use of think-alouds as instructional tools and uses video think-alouds from this site as examples.

Paterson, Thomas G. "U.S. Intervention in Cuba, 1898: Interpreting the Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War." Magazine of History. Vol. 12, no. 3, (1998): 5-10.

This relatively short article extends and deepens the discussion regarding causes of this 1898 war. Paterson reviews scholarship pertaining to four contexts-the international, regional, national, and individual--that contribute to explaining this war.