National Council for the Social Studies

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A recent History News Network blog post ponders a future of "history without reading" (where visual literacy has replaced the literacy of traditional reading) and argues that history teachers "can't simply march further into the 21st century believing they can go on doing what they've always done." He points out that students increasingly consume information in online formats that include instant messaging, websites, blogs, or social networks and that traditional, print-based, reading is in serious decline (think newspapers).

Can you imagine a future of history without (traditional) reading? If so, are you preparing your students for this future? Or, is the role of a history teacher limited to teaching with conventional sources?

Tags: digital, literacy, reading, sources

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Conventional resources X web2.0 resources. Of course our students must know how to read and write, but they information is non-sequestered and therefore we must move away from sequestering them with traditional text.

I recently had a U.S. History class read the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, but didn't pass out the book, just embedded it from google books in my blog and we all read online at no cost...this is only one small step towards moving history away from traditional text to student / user generated historical information.
Great idea! I did something similar by copying (select chapters from) Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick from the Web and pasting it into a Word document. From there I inserted images, links, and comments in the document to help my students better understand the book.

A useful activity is to have students find appropriate links, images, and comments to insert into books and essays. It's a way of developing digital-age literacy skills.

Folks, there are many historical text available online through Google Books, University of Virgina E-text archive, Project Gutenberg, and more.
We are living in the midst of a dramatically changing world. I would argue that has changed so quickly that many Social Studies teachers have not processed how the instructional techniques, strategies, and materials that they used even 5 years ago are not reflective of the world that our students live in now and what we are supposed to be preparing them for. I think this doesn't mean that we must abandon conventional sources altogether, but the world is only going to become more digitial and teachers must embrace this in their instruction in order to prepare their students for the future.
Wow, what a great question; could take the spring to explore!

First the good news: things probably could not get worse than they existed from, say, 1967-1997. Therein, students were subject to the worst of committee-written textbooks.

Even the teachers began to despair on the point of even teaching history. World and western history became non-subjects in many a school. "Social studies" sucked up the time once spent on history and geography.

And of course, once graduated, adults had the TV to divert them; with no need to spend free time (though more of it there might be) on reading.


Borders, Barnes&Noble, and Amazon were a powerful antidote to these; reading of history by adults had to have improved after these grew.

That's a good thing, as most of my most powerful memes still come from reading a good book.
These are all great ideas. I too, have used digital sources of books for class purposes, especially since getting a book approved and then purchased in my district is next to impossible. I particularly have used excerpts from The Jungle by Upton Sinclair during my teaching of the progressive era in U.S. History by copying and pasting into a word document. I still use "traditional reading", but very rarely do I use a textbook in my class. I do not like the textbook that our district recently approved, and worst off, I do not even have enough for every student. It is hard to use what one does not have.

I would love to use more digital sources as well to prep my students for the digital future, but unfortunately I am in a technology deprived school. I have pulled various items/sources/sound bytes/video clips from a variety of sources. Youtube is a great source for these if you have not used it. I however do agree with Laura when she says that we can not completely abandon conventional sources all together. Just the thought of getting rid of conventional sources makes me think we are closer to Isaac Asimov's The Fun They Had.
I bought my own projector 5 years ago (keep praying that the bulb lasts) and my own speakers and laptop. The equipment in my school is way too slow and the stuff my students produce at home does not open on the school machines. Thanks to a grant, some of that will change this year, but in the mean time, I just couldn't rely on the school to supply me with the stuff I need and want to use. My laptop is portable. I carry it with me whenever I travel, and take it in to school often.

I just saw a demonstration of the Livescribe pen, and ordered my own. I think this pen, audio video recorder will really change the way I work and interact with my students.

I cut and paste documents, images, and use information from museum and PBS web sites daily. My problem with You tube is the quality. It is blocked in my school, but much of what I find there I can download onto my laptop and play in class, if I want, but PBS usually has video clips that are much more relevant. I also use the How Stuff Works videos, but many of them are also old and of rather grainy quality.

I wouldn't use an entire book with a class any more than I would use an entire film. We must be selective, and allow class time for interaction with the text (in whatever format we select) and between students. Hearing students analyze something and listening to their perspectives are much more valuable to me than their mere acceptance of the conclusions and observations made by others.

My students receive a text book at the beginning of the term which they take home. I use that as a basis for much of the homework assignments, but I only use selected parts of it, and use a range of resources from a range of wonderful websites as the jumping off point for most class discussions and processing activities. My students construct a lot of graphic organizers, write skits, commercials, newspapers, magazines, slide shows and some have constructed really interesting digital displays using PowerPoint, Imovie and Picasso.
I reject the premise of your question. You are implying that either you should prepare for illiteracy, or you are limiting teaching to conventional sources. Is that really the choice? Let's model an historian's capacity for nuance please. I would be careful about some assumptions being made in your question. First of all, the notion that electronic material does not qualify as "print" needs to be reconsidered. Whether reading on a laptop, a phone, kindle etc. reading text is still the way information is conveyed. Rules for comprehending language are not somehow altered or revolutionarized because paper is not involved. The challenge for students and teachers is to evaluate the validity and reliabiliy of electronic sources just like paper ones. I will proudly claim that I will not prepare students for a future where reading does not exist, but will enthusiastically and diligently work to make sure they have reading skills (yes, scanning, skimming and then reading left to right and no skipping lines). I dare say a future without reading is a frightening proposition because it implies there is also no need to write and all the reflection tha goes along with that process. Just because the media for delivering information has changed does not mean humans have been neurologically reconfigured to absorb, distinguish, discriminate and apply any differently than 10 years ago. In fact, the few studies that exist on multitasking on electronic devices appear to suggest that no human is actually capable of completing simultaneous tasks nearly as effectively as devoting attention to one at a time. Of course, the plethora of tools available make for exciting learning experiences, but lets not mistake technology for a curriculum. Technology is fundamentally a means to an end and not the end itself.
I am currently enrolled in a class titled "Integrating Technology into Social Studies" so this is very relevant to me. In class we are presented with oodles of different types of technology to interest students more and make learning more relevant to them, all of which are online. So, in twenty years or so I can deinitely see a paper free history curriculum for schools who can afford to be technology based. I think history teachers should be proactive and seek out new technologies that could make their job easier, and their instruction more meaninful to their students.

On a different note, I think having students read the same texts online rather than on paper is great simply for the sake on the environmet and the cost of paper. :)
Given the state of today's textbooks, it may not seem like such a bad idea to teach history without traditional readings (see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html). I don't think it matters whether students are reading from a traditional textbook or from a website or blog- as long as the learning taking place is meaningful. Traditional textbooks are still widely used, and I think that technology can greatly enhance historical learning among students, especially in the form of primary sources. I personally believe that there is just a sense of satisfaction that one can receive by reading a book versus reading off of a computer screen, but in today's changing world, if a website can reach student's understanding better than a textbook, why not utilize it? There are more ideas expressed on the internet than there could ever be printed in a single textbook, which could serve as a double edged sword for a student; but with the right guidance, I believe that a student could gain a better perspective of history and the world and become a more informed citizen by utilizing non-traditional readings online.
Another thing you may want to consider is literacy levels. My 11th grade US History class is using 8th grade literacy level textbooks! When did this happen? And to top that off, most of them don't even read the textbook. How can I teach the Civil War in its entirety in the one week time span that I have when they can't even comprehend the textbook? It has been such a dilemma. I use clips to illustrate main battles and visual charts/depictions of major war strategies, etc. You just can't expect your students to be able to learn solely from the textbook anymore. And with so many technologies out there, they are really useful as an alternative way to teach and learn.
I would have to disagree with you on this one Teddy. Charts and depictions and clips are great to supplement reading. Unless an 11th grader is reading at a 7th grade level there is no justifiable reason for a self-respecting school to purchase textbooks at such a low reading level. If a college-bound student cannot independently comprehend the written material, it's hard to imagine they can independently solve any problems. How will they be able to distinguish between hard facts and interpretation? How can they be expected independently and responsibly evaluate the quality of the steady stream of information coming their way in any form? Sounds like they may gain by having information partially digested and regurgitated for them in the short term, but how they'll ever be able to function as adults worries me.
A funny thing about reading levels...The Wall Street Journal has forever been listed as being written at an 8th grade reading level. Yet I'd wager that the majority of the readers of this forum would have a tough time really digesting most any given article. Why? Content, context, and background knowledge.

For example, an editorial today says, "Not so long ago, the Fed was fretting about the risks of deflation, which is a declining price level and is something to be avoided. Several Fed governors had hoped to use the deflation argument as a justification to resume more active asset purchases, or "quantitative easing." But deflation is hard to detect in an economy in which commodity prices are rising".

Got that?

Or, take the simple word 'profit'. We all know that, right? Maybe not. To me, profit is the return on invested dollars that the teachers pension fund makes--we take the taxpayer's dollars, invest them in lots of companies, and watch the pension fund grow so that my retired teacher friends can afford a summer home in Florida. In reality, however, 'profit' is a technical term which means what little is left over after a company pays its overpaid CEO's and underpaid truck drivers; buys ads at the X-Games, Huffington Post, and on CNN/MSNBC/TheOffice; pays workers in a supply chain that runs throughout the world; pays taxes to Uncle Sam, the State, the city, the school district, the park district, the Help Me Grow 0-3 toddlers office.

On the flip side, give a select group of your students a book on the NFL or World of Warcraft. Their reading level may well improve dramatically.

In the case of the civil war, we give them almost no background knowledge. They don't know geography, they don't know military ranks, they don't know what it's like to walk a mile, let alone from Ohio to Georgia; they've never been hungry, or cold; they don't know a regiment from a platoon, they simply have not been exposed along the way to the knowledge necessary. Yet what would we give up to give them that knowledge?

On top of not preparing them, we then give them terribly exciting titles like "A Resurgence of Nationalism" to draw them into the story.

What high school student could resist a compelling yarn like that?!!!

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