Historical Thinking = Prego Sauce (It’s in there!)

BodyWork2I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working with Career and Technical Education Teachers and the Standards for Literacy in the Common Core Learning Standards.  Initially teachers find it challenging to relate literacy standards to their instruction in Auto Collision or Welding or Culinary Arts.  Then they begin to see that the reading and writing skills outlined in the standards support their students to build their knowledge and skill about Auto Collision or Welding or Culinary Arts.  For content area teachers, the point is not to have students reading and writing about Moby Dick (as one content area teacher asked me).  The point is to have students reading and writing about using adhesive bonding procedures or oxyfuel cutting principles or establishing mise en place.  Reading and writing about these concepts is how students learn about the “stuff” of Auto Collision or Welding or Culinary Arts.  It’s an essential part of the process of teaching and learning the content, not a separate piece or an add-on.

PregoWait a minute!  This blog is about historical thinking, isn’t it?  So where am I going with all this talk of reading and writing about car repair and welding and cooking?  Here’s the connection:  if we can show how the reading and writing standards help students build knowledge in Auto Collision, or Welding or Culinary Arts, shouldn’t we be able to see how the reading and writing standards support students in developing historical thinking?  The answer is yes!  It’s like the Prego Sauce commercials: It’s in there!!

Let’s find the connection by doing a close reading of one of the Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies and see if we can see where the historical thinking skills are.  Here is the first standard from the Key Ideas and Details Section for grades 6-8:

RH6-8.1          Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

When we unpack this, we learn that we want students to read something and analyze it, to figure out what the author means by the words he or she is using.  We also want students to do this with both primary and secondary sources, so, of course, we want them to know and be able to tell the difference.  We want students to be able to find evidence in the text to support their analysis, so they need to know what makes for good evidence and how to cite it.  This isn’t just historical thinking, my friends, this is HISTORICAL THINKING!!!

If you are still not convinced that historical thinking is an integral part of the Literacy Standards, take a look at this!  I’m pulling out all the stops now and bringing in Sam Wineburg’s conceptualization of historical thinking which involves Sourcing, Contextualization, Close Reading and Corroboration.  Check out the questions that we want students to ask:


  • When was it written?
  • Why was it written?
  • What is the author’s point of view?

  • What else was going on at the time this was written?
  • What other events and people are connected to this source or its author?
Close Reading

  • What claims does the author make?
  • What evidence does the author use to support those claims?
  • What words or phrases does the author use to convince me that he/she is right?

  • What do other pieces of evidence say?
  • Am finding different versions of the story?  Why or why not?
  • What pieces of evidence are most believable?  Why?

Just in case you missed it, I’ve highlighted the questions that connect to Standard RH6-8.1 that we unpacked above.  The connections are unavoidable, unmistakable, unambiguous…I’ll step away from the thesaurus now, but you get my drift.  And we only looked at one standard!  Historical thinking is deeply embedded in the literacy standards and the literacy standards are about helping our students build knowledge and skill in the reading and writing of history.  It is definitely “in there”!!

Oh, and you can still read Moby Dick if you’d like – I recommend Chapter 23, the Six-Inch Chapter.


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