Reimagining the Past/Changing the Present: Teachers Adapting History Curriculum for Cultural Encounters
by Richard Sawyer & Armando Laguardia — 2010
Background/Context: How students develop a capacity to examine and imagine the past impacts how they think about the present and imagine the future. This study contributes to research about teachers’ beliefs and practices about teaching United States history through cultural encounters and nontraditional historical narratives. Although there is a small but growing body of research concerning teachers’ beliefs and practices regarding historical thinking and inquiry, little research exists on teachers’ beliefs and practices about history teaching from a cultural encounters perspective.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The study examined teachers’ perspectives of a professional development effort designed to promote their students’ historical thinking within a cultural encounters curriculum. This curriculum emphasized the role of perspective and historical narrative. The research questions were: (1) What were the K–12 participants’ specific examples of lessons and units related to historical cultural encounters? (2) How did they conceptualize their teaching for historical cultural encounters? (3) How did they begin to reconceptualize their views about a cultural encounters history curriculum?
Research Design: The study used a qualitative design to examine perceptions of 21 K–12 teachers. A conceptual framework about history teacher thinking and reconceptualization informed the design. Three forms of data— surveys, individual interviews, and lesson plans—were collected about teachers’ perceptions of practice and their applications of those perceptions in their classrooms. The surveys were administered throughout the 3-year program cycle and at the final evening colloquium. Interviews were conducted with the 21 teachers approximately 3 months after the end of the project. Lesson plans that teachers constructed at different points in the professional development project were analyzed after its conclusion.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The teachers in this study were each situated differently in their perceptions of a cultural encounters approach to teaching history. Their conceptual frameworks toward history, grounded in their own professional knowledge and teaching expertise, were an important factor in how they reconceptualized their views of curriculum. In addition, their discussions of both intended and enacted teaching provided a forum within which to experiment and try to solve emergent challenges and dilemmas that grew from their perceived changes in their views of practice. As they examined, and in some cases began to teach history through, often-excluded historical stories and voices, they confronted in differing ways their own stories and narratives in relation to traditional U.S. history.
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