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Ownership of history: Methods of history instruction to enhance student interest and engagement

1 December 1991


Evidence, both anecdotal and academic, indicates that students find history tQ be thei~ least interesting and most boring class. Further, 17-year-olds recently failed a national history assessment. This paper explores both literature and in actual classrooms to try to determine why so many students dislike and perform so poorly in history. Four factors were foun~ to impinge on the successful teaching of history; too few··;; history classes, inadequately trained teachers, poorly written textbooks, and "total skim," name-and-date, history survey classes. The first two factors cannot be ameliorated by improved classroom methods. Therefore, this paper concentrates on actual in-class methods to overcome poor textbooks and "total skim" classes. Based on observations in secondary social studies classes, five areas were isolated which can be used to motivate and engage students in history. First, teachers should establish a friendly, non-threatening learning environment. Second, by using various peer-teaching techniques and student-managed timelines, students can be encouraged to be accountable for their own success in achieving ownership of the subject matter. Third, teachers can consider the textbook as a resource requiring supplementation with complementary reading material, especially historical fiction. Fourth, individual coaching will help to individualize instruction. Fifth, historical content should be made personally relevant to students in order to increase student interest and engagement. Along with personal enthusiasm for history and a dedication to helping students learn, these teaching methods can promote ownership of history in many more students.


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