READI for History

The READI approach to history aims to help students understand that we can never really know what happened in the past. We have only traces of the past that were created by the people who lived at the time and that make up the historical record. The historical record reflects competing perspectives on what happened and thus there is no one, singular history. The essence of history is interpretation, not catalogues of names, dates, and events. Historical accounts are arguments for particular interpretations. They reflect the perspective of whoever created the account based on the available and selected traces and inferences made to connect the traces in service of an interpretative claim. It follows that historical accounts can be contested and indeed often are. This epistemological orientation to history underlies the emphasis that contemporary standards place on identifying perspectives and arguments when reading history. It also generates the need for specific inquiry practices when examining the historical record (e.g., sourcing, corroborating, and contextualizing) and making temporal and causal inferences.(For more information on the READI perspective on history see Goldman et al., 2016.)

READI History Learning Goals

The epistemological orientation to history as interpretation flies in the face of traditional history instruction that relies on history textbooks. Students read them uncritically and regard them as the authoritative source. Thus, shifting students’ epistemic cognition regarding history is one important learning goal of the READI approach. It provides purpose for two additional learning goals: using close reading and historical inquiry strategies (sourcing, corroborating, contextualizing) when exploring documents and other traces of the past. As students shift their understanding to history as interpretation rather than as facts to be memorized, they come to see that they need to pay attention to perspective: When, why, and who produced the document or physical artifact. Comparing across multiple documents, or corroborating, can help students see differences in perspectives and evaluate the credibility of documents. A particularly difficult historical inquiry process for adolescents is seeing a document in the context of when it was produced rather than from a present day perspective. This is difficult because they know little about the past and tend to base their reactions on their own present day experiences. As they acquire more knowledge of the past and of multiple perspectives and frameworks for looking at the past, they become better able to contextualize primary sources. Three additional READI learning goals in history involve (1) using information from different documents to construct evidence-based claims, (2) trying out different analytic lenses, including gendered power relationships; societal systems (e.g., economic, political); governance systems (e.g., feudalism, colonialism); or patterns (periodization, immigration), and (3) evaluating historical interpretations for coherence and completeness as well as the quality of the evidence and reasoning.

Instructional Designs for Achieving READI Learning Goals in History

The READI History design team approach to designing instruction to support students in achieving the READI learning goals rejected the idea of drop-in short duration “replacement units.” Rather, design team teachers (both middle and high school) overlaid the READI learning goals on the content they were required to teach over the entire academic year. They charted out when and where they would initially introduce specific historical inquiry practices, layer in additional ones, and then cycle back to deepen already introduced practices. As well the texts students read and the inquiry questions they were to investigate over the course of the year became increasingly more demanding. This overlay and layering approach allowed for increasing sophistication of the historical inquiry practices in conjunction with “covering” the mandated content.

The cases in history are illustrative examples of how four history teachers overlaid the READI learning goals on mandated content at different points in the instructional year as well as at middle and high school levels. The cases reflect varied content (Current events, American History, Ancient Civilizations, the Middle East) and emphasize overlapping subsets of the READI learning goals. Across the cases, similarities and differences in design reflect the point in the academic year when the case was implemented as well as the grade level of the students. Keep in mind that these cases show only a slice of the instruction, not the whole picture. They intend to feature instructional practices of the READI approach that are critical to supporting students in making the transition to historical inquiry.

Further reading: Shanahan et al; Ko et al. READI History Learning Goals.