2006 Teaching and Learning Symposium

3:00-4:30 p.m., April 25, 2006
Mary Gates Commons

Session Description

The Limits of Disciplinary-Specific Metacognitive Learning Requiring Advanced Critical Thinking and Writing Skills: Rethinking the U.S. History Survey Course

Michael Goldberg - Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Bothell

In an attempt to shift from teaching historical content and analysis to teaching metacognitive historical thinking skills in my upper-division U.S. history survey courses, I identified key concepts (continuity and change, historical agency, historicity, etc.) and developed a plan to teach them using scaffolding, collaborative learning, problem-solving and formative assessment.  The class was designed so that students came to class having read the assigned material (including a survey textbook and a problem-based textbook of primary sources) and having completed participation forms meant to develop basic thinking outcomes (comprehension and application). 

The course had a strong accountability component that included formative assessment and group member assessment to improve the quality of the completed forms without burdening the instructor.  In class, after hearing a short lecture that reviewed the assigned material and set up the problem, students met in permanent groups to combine their findings in order to address the next step of the problem (analysis).  The groups then reconvened as a class to work towards a more advanced learning goal (synthesis or evaluation).  There were four summative assessment assignments: a short writing assignment, a midterm, a longer writing assignment, and a final, all requiring higher-order thinking (analysis and above) and advanced writing skills (argumentative analytical essays requiring emergent theses).  All assignments used the same scoring rubric that identified key disciplinary knowledge areas and skills as well as writing skills, so that students would be able to identify areas of weakness, address those problems and improve their grade. 

After two courses using this approach, I found first that students did indeed acquire a more nuanced and more easily transferable understanding of history.  At the same time, students without the underlying critical thinking and writing skills were unable to progress much unless these skills were taught as well, which created a heavy burden for the instructor and an annoying redundancy for students who already had a command of these skills.