Skip to main content

Strategies that promote historical reasoning and contextualization: a pilot intervention with urban high school students

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of two types of historical problem-solving instruction with advanced urban high school students’ (N = 231) ability to reason with and contextualize historical evidence. Contextualization is a critical heuristic in the process of disciplinary thinking among historians. Yet, prior research shows students face significant challenges when contextualizing information (Reisman and Wineburg in Soc Stud 99:202–207, 2008; van Boxtel and van Drie in Cognit Instr 30:113–145, 2012). Seven teachers who collectively taught 14 sections of social studies were randomly assigned to explicit instruction in sourcing, contextualization and corroboration (a) that emphasized the role of individual cognition or (b) the same explicit instruction plus small group and whole class discussion. Students were administered pretests on relevant content knowledge and a historical writing task. After a one-week intervention, students completed a parallel writing task and a second reasoning task that required short written responses. After controlling for teacher and pretest scores, the findings indicated that students who were taught the cognitive approach scored higher on historical writing (ES = 0.33). Further analysis revealed they included greater contextualized thinking (ES = 0.44) and use of evidence (ES = 0.32) in post-intervention essays; in contrast, sourcing scores were comparable. Students in both groups performed equally well on the second reasoning task. Findings highlight the importance of teaching writing explicitly as part of history instruction and the role of cognition to enhance learning.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. For an exception, consider the National History Day competition, in which students conduct their own research.

  2. We refer to online resources throughout this manuscript to afford readers greater understanding of the unit.

  3. Nokes (2013) introduces related concepts of “macro- “and “micro-contexts” to distinguish between broad and immediate factors involved in contextualizing.

References

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Susan De La Paz.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Magdalena Gross (change in affiliation: Adobe Education).

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file 1 (PDF 3080 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

De La Paz, S., Wissinger, D.R., Gross, M. et al. Strategies that promote historical reasoning and contextualization: a pilot intervention with urban high school students. Read Writ 35, 353–376 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-021-10183-0

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-021-10183-0

Keywords

  • History education
  • Social studies education
  • Writing
  • Contextualization