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NaBloPoMo 14 — teaching reading

15 November, 2010

NaBloPoMo 14 — teaching reading

(note: flashy auras happening, so spelling/typing likely to be affected)

Hmm. I’m teaching methodology and historiography next fall. Not my turn. Grrr. On the other hand, I’m looking forward to undoing some less-than-effective teaching. Some of that is down to me. I don’t think it’s that I’ve been doing things badly, but I haven’t really seen what wasn’t working as clearly or as soon as I’d like.

But I need to make some changes even sooner than fall. Next term, I’m going to have to start changing my assignments for reading and analyzing primary sources. I’d been focusing on getting students to talk about what sorts of evidence a text could provide, and put the text in context. Mostly, I can get them to talk about authorship and purpose, but more and more, the students aren’t connecting those things to the text. There’s no overall understanding. So starting next semester, the exercises will focus on context and really giving detailed discussions of how the document fits into the time period — as well as some discussion of what’s going on in them. And I will probably also have to get them to write out vocabulary lists, to be honest. I won’t quiz them, but my students are not so good with words.

In the methods class — and in my future upper-division classes — I will be working more and more on getting them to read secondary works critically. I was trying to figure out when I learned to read articles, and I never was taught. But as an undergrad, we were assigned a lot of what were then DC Heath Readers (called Problems in European History). For those unfamiliar, the readers focused on a time period and/or series of major questions, and were made up of seminal and/or famous works (abridged) that addressed those things. We were never asked to compare the view of X versus Y, but we were asked to reiterate and discuss the various arguments. So I guess there was some sort of absorption of the ideas of argument and historiography without explication. Me, I’m going to be more explicit and those things are going to be integrated into every class I can manage, and if I can’t get pre-assembled ones, I’ll just choose articles myself. I’m also going to have to push the vocab skills and the “look up what you don’t know/understand” skills. Most of my students simply don’t look things up — they just keep reading. I’m gong to have to tell them (many times) that I still run into references and allusions I don’t get, and *i* look things up. And I will have to teach them to recognize the signposts of academic writing: fore example, when do quotes indicate a quote, and when do they (also) indicate an allusion to a larger idea? And what are hermeneutics?

However…. before doing that, I think I will ask you all to help me. Do you know of any similar collections or titles? Do you have ideas of controversies or subjects on which there are clearly very different interpretations that are also likely to be interested to undergrads? Leave recs in the comments, and I will put together one big “sources for teaching” post!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 November, 2010 6:18 am

    Well, John Tosh's collection Historians on History includes multiple POVs on some of the major historiographical movements of the last century, and it's pretty well balanced in most categories. I've used it with senior undergrads with moderate success. I don't think I learned how to read secondary work critically until I was in grad school! I didn't do a lot of history, though, as an undergrad; outside of religion/theology, I don't remember a lot of classes where the assigned sources really engaged each other at all. The big exception? Con Law, where we were expected to write case briefs and most of them included significant minority opinions. I did have an "issues in Japanese history" book at one point, but it wasn't really all that good.

  2. 15 November, 2010 1:03 pm

    "Causes of the Civil War" has produced a literature that falls quite nicely into generations beginning with apologetics/justification by both sides in the immediate aftermath and then going through just about every fashion in late 19th and 20th century historiography.

  3. 19 November, 2010 7:58 pm

    I don't know quite whether I think it succeeds, but this seems to be what Barbara Rosenwein's and Lester Little's collection Debating the Middle Ages was for, and it has four themes in it of which you could pick just one (quite possibly gender as that would connect best with other periods).I don't think anyone knows what hermeneutics are, myself. It's a word we produce like archaeologists use 'ritual'.

  4. 20 November, 2010 4:42 pm

    That DC Heath series still exists – from Cengage (via their purchase of Houghton Mifflin). You also might look at the readers that publishers will let you put together IF you can't find what you need already available online (given that I am not familiar with your subject area). Modeling is still the best starting point – from there, teaching is still an art 😉

  5. 23 November, 2010 4:01 pm

    Ooh — Jon, I have that one sitting on my shelf. As I do the Tosh book …Kelly, good idea, although I'm thinking that JSTOR is much cheaper!

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