history alive! an alternative program for engaging diverse learners
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History Alive! An Alternative Programfor Engaging Diverse LearnersBert BowerPublished online: 30 Jan 2008.
To cite this article: Bert Bower (1994) History Alive! An Alternative Program for Engaging DiverseLearners, The Educational Forum, 58:3, 315-322, DOI: 10.1080/00131729409335348
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History Alive!An Alternative Program
for Engaging Diverse Learnersby Bert Bower
A group of innovative California so-cial studies teachers, representing a dozenschools throughout the state, found that,during the late 1980s and early 1990s, theirstudents were coming from ever more di-verse backgrounds-ethnically, culturally,linguistically, and academically. Workingin isolation, these teachers began to createinteractive teaching strategies designed toreach their diverse student populations.They discovered that when history is taughtusing an active, student-centered approach,students not only remember their lessonsbut truly appreciate how history affects theirown lives.
These experiences prompted the teach-ers to form Teachers' Curriculum Institute(TCI) in 1989.The goal ofTCI was to createa series of innovative instructional practicesthat allow students with diverse learningstyles to "experience" history in the class-room/ rather than learn it in a traditionalenvironment where lecture, recitation, andseatwork predominate.
TCI aims to spread these innovativeyet practical strategies, known as the His-tory Alive! (Bower, Lobdell, and Swenson
1994) approach, to a much larger group ofsocial studies teachers. Since its inception,teachers at TCI have trained hundreds oftheir colleagues to apply the approach intheir own classrooms.
TENETS OF THE ApPROACH
TCI teachers carefully and thought-fully combined educational research andtheory with the realities of classroom teach-ing. Three tenets underlie every piece ofcurriculum they develop:
1. Studentshave different learning styles.Gardner (1983/x), argued that new ways oflooking at human intelligence must be de-veloped:
In my view , if we are toencompass adequately the realm ofhuman cognition, it is necessary toinclude afar wider andmore universalsetofcompetencies than hasordinarilybeen considered. . . . I have formulateda definition of what I call an'intelligence./ An intelligence is theability to solve problems, or to createproducts, thatare valued withinoneormore cultural settings.
Bert Bower taught high school social studies for eightyears and has written a series ofsocial studies
texts. In 1990 he received his doctorate in socialstudies education from Stanford University. As
co-founder and Executive Director ofTC!, he hashelped create an organization that facilitates
dynamic approaches to teaching history.
Gardner argued that the human mindhas at least seven relatively autonomoushuman intellectual competencies-linguis-tic, logical/mathematical, musical, visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal,and intrapersonal. Each HistoryAlive!activ-ity taps into as many of these intelligencesas possible.
2.Cooperative interaction increases learn-ing. Researchers report that cooperativegroupwork promotes higher studentachievement and productivity than eithercompetitive or individualistic teachingmethods (johnsonand]ohnson 1981).How-ever, Cohen (1986) discovered that whenstudents perform a collective task, some aremore influential than others. She developeda type of cooperative groupwork that mini-mizes status inequities among students andhas resulted in more equitable group inter-action and learning gains (Bower 1990).
3.All studentscanlearn. The third tenetbehind the History Alive! approach is theidea of the spiral curriculum. Championedby educational theorist Jerome Bruner in hislandmark book The Process of Education(1960), this is the belief that all students canlearn if a teacher shows them how to thinkand discover knowledge for themselves.Each HistoryAlive!activity carefully spiralsfrom the basic to the more advanced, thusgiving all students the building blocks forhigher-order thinking.
Each activity is structured to lead stu-dents through a step-by-step process of self-discovery. Students first explore a historicevent, idea, or personality by using elemen-tal cognitive skills-observation, descrip-tion, identification, recall-and are thenchallenged to use ever higher levels of cog-nition such as synthesis, application, andinterpretation.This enables students from avariety of academic levels to learn togethereffectively and gives all students the cogni-tive building blocks they require to reachwhat Newmann, Onosko, and Stevenson
(1990) called higher-order thinking.Defined broadly, higher-order think-
ing is the challenged and expanded use ofthe mind; lower-order thinking is the rou-tine, mechanistic application of the mind.Lower-order and higher-order thinkingskills can be carefully dovetailed into oneanother to form a seamless series of stepsthat challenge students to learn more byprogressing from the fundamental to thesophisticated. By leading students throughthis step-by-step process of self-discovery,teachers ensure that students from a varietyof academic levels will have the conceptualinformation necessary to answer complexquestions.
The teachers at TCI developed a seriesof practical classroom strategies that en-compass these three fundamental beliefs.These strategies will be illustrated by themethods that six teachers used to adaptthem to their own classrooms.
During problem-solving groupworktasks, students are arranged in groups char-acterized by individuals of heterogenousrace, ethnicity, gender, and perceived aca-demic ability to work on challengingprojects. These projects-preparing a dra-matization of a historical episode or draw-ing a visual metaphor to represent a histori-cal period-require the use of multiple abili-ties. In this way each student can contributesomething to the group effort. Debra, a sev-enth-grade world history teacher, utilizedthis strategy to teach her students about theCrusades.
Debra was trained in cooperativelearning techniques championed by vari-ous researchers (Kagan 1989; Slavin 1983;Johnson and Johnson 1975). She utilizedthese techniques in her classroom by put-ting her students in heterogeneous groups,giving them challenging tasks, assigningroles, promoting positive interdependence,
The Educational Forum ' Volume 58 Spring 1994316
and allowing for both group and individualaccountability. She discovered, however,that when students worked together in agroup,one or two students seemed to domi-nate group interaction. She was determinedto find a way to get all of her studentsinvolved.
Debra turned to the research of Cohen(1986), who discovered that when studentswork together on a collective task, an un-equal status orderemerges.High-status stu-dents tend to dominate group interaction,leaving their low-status peers out of theloop. To overcome these status problems,Cohen advocated creating academic tasksthat require the use of a wide range ofabilities. She recommended telling studentsthat while no individual will be good at allthese abilities, everyone will be good in atleast one .
Debra created a multiple-abilitygroupwork task revolving around the Cru-sades. Each group was to create a multime-dia presentation about a group affected bythe Crusades, including Byzant