History in Every Classroom
Bringing History Home (BHH), a K-5 curriculum and professional development project, started in 2001 and was part of several TAH grants. Focused on moving history from the margins of the traditional elementary curriculum into the mainstream of the school day, the project prepares all regular K-5 classroom teachers in participating school districts to teach sequential history units.
The BHH curriculum consists of two instructional units per grade level, with lessons that center on trade books, historic images, documents and statistics, and activities to engage students in contextualizing, analyzing and synthesizing the information sources. Seven years after its inception, the BHH program is taught in six Iowa school districts, and elements of the curriculum are spreading to schools in various other states.
With approximately 1,000 student learning assessments collected from more than 120 K-3 classrooms, BHH provides additional evidence for the growing body of research into how children learn history. (See Evaluation of the Teaching American History Project: Bringing History Home II).
So how did history learning become a part of the K-5 classrooms in the project?
By exploring the intersection of our grant components with teacher attitudes and expertise, we begin to understand how and why the project impacts classroom instruction. The intersection of project and teachers includes the following elements:
- School-wide teacher participation.
- A longitudinal and sequential professional development design.
- Teachers learning history through the process of adapting and teaching instructional units.
- Respecting the reality of teachers’ working conditions.
- When teachers encounter history as an interpretive, constructivist process, they become excited about teaching it.
- Incorporating literacy and meta-cognitive strategies into history explorations to enhance student learning in history.
- When history timelines and maps are transformed from static resources into dynamic construction activities, they are powerful learning tools.
- Student learning enhances and inspires teachers’ interest in history.
- When exemplary teachers serve as mentors, they jump-start new teachers’ enthusiasm and preparation to teach history.
Our TAH grant proposals centered on preparing all K-5 teachers in participating schools to teach history. In order to secure and inspire the universal participation of teachers, our project design team prioritized pragmatic considerations when designing curricular units and workshop activities.
We knew we had to keep expectations for teacher time commitments to a reasonable level. While we always secure teacher participation through recruitment rather than administrative edict, we can’t count on teacher self-selection arising from a love of history. We found that fairly significant monetary and book stipends seemed to be the most powerful sign-up motivations for the initial participants, while the participants in the second grant were swayed to join the project by the enthusiastic testimony of veteran BHH teachers.
Regardless of the motives that led to their involvement, 100% of the regular classroom teachers in BHH schools participated in the program. This is an important element of the sequential model we use. The self-contained nature of most lower and middle elementary classes means that almost every regular classroom teacher conducts lessons in social studies. If only a few teachers in a school participated in the BHH workshops, only a fraction of students in a school would learn history each year. This would completely derail our goal for students to develop increasingly more sophisticated skills and understanding in history from year to year throughout the elementary grades.
While the project probably would not be successful if we didn’t privilege pragmatic choices, our emphasis on the practical also stems from a desire to not take advantage of teachers’ generosity of spirit and time. It is humbling to work with groups of people whose professional lives are already quite taxed, but who are willing to rise to the occasion of learning new skills and perspectives.
This essay is drawn from "History in Every Classroom: Setting a K-5 Precedent," found in The Teaching American History Project: Lessons for History Educators and Historians by Rachel G. Ragland and Kelly A. Woestman (Routledge, 2009).