History Alive! An Alternative Program for Engaging Diverse Learners

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               An Alternative Program for Engaging Diverse Learners

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Auckland Library]On: 06 December 2014, At: 14:21Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Educational ForumPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/utef20

    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.

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  • Bower

    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.

    PROBLEM-SoLVING GROUPWORK

    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,

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  • ResearchIn Practice

    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 Byzantine Jews,European Christians, and Muslims. Thepresentation required the students to worktogether in selecting appropriate music andvisual aids, as well as in writing a script forthe presentation. Because the task requiredthe use of many different skills, each groupmember would have something of value tocontribute. Furthermore, most of Gardner'sseven intelligences are utilized by studentsas they create their multimedia presenta-tion. For example, they use visual/spatialintelligence when they pick images repre-senting their view of the Crusades, musicalintelligence when they incorporate song,bodily /kinesthetic when they act out eachscene, and interpersonal as they work onthe presentation together.

    "As students prepared for the presen-tations, I noticed that the high-status stu-dents no longer dominated the discussionand that the students worked together more

    equitably," said Debra . "Students createdcomplex multimedia presentations includ-ing choreographed sword fights with intri-cate commentary and television programscomplete with clever commercials. Due tothe unique experience, they learned andremembered the details of the Crusades allyear long. "

    INTERACTIVE SLIDE LECTURE

    This strategy turns lecturing into adynamic experience.Students view, touch,interpret, and act out historic images thatare projected onto a large screen in front ofthe classroom. Kelly, a high school U.S.history teacher, found the technique a greatway to reach his students.

    The first time Kelly lectured aboutturn-of-the-century European immigration,his students were unimpressed with hiscareful organization of materials and use offamily anecdotes to enhance the lectures.The next year he taught the same materialvia an interactive slide lecture. With an old35mm camera and a set of close-up lenses,he made slides of 10 different aspects ofEuropean immigration.

    To prepare for the lecture, Kellychanged his students' seating arrangementso that each student could see both the slidescreen and the overhead projection screen.A space was left in the front of the class-room to allow students to touch the slidescreen. The lesson began with an image ofimmigrants leaving a crowded dock in Eu-rope.

    "That first slide was like magic," Kellysaid. "I asked students to describe every-thing they saw in the picture and then tostep into the slide and act out what theythought was happening." Kelly pretendedto have a microphone in his hand as heinterviewed his students. "Why are youleaving? What do you hope to gain inAmerica? How do you feel about this?" Hearranged his questions in increasing com-

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    plexity, putting into action Bruner's (1960)notion of the spiral curriculum. With theslide as a prop and the semidark room forcover, Kelly's students were soon able toanswer his questions in great detail andwith appropriate humor.

    When the five-minute role-play wasover, Kelly asked students to list reasonsimmigrants left Europe. Several hands shotup, and Kelly was immersed in a rich dis-cussion. He listed more than 15substantivereasons for immigration on the overheadprojector, the majoritysupplied by students.

    Kelly continued to use slides in thisinteractive way for the rest of the immigra-tion lesson. For example, the students expe-rienced the immigrants' transatlantic jour-ney by huddling on the ground in front of aslide of a steerage deck as Kelly moved theprojector back and forth like a rocking ship.The experience continued with a slide ofthe main hall at Ellis Island. The studentssat on chairs in front of the slide, eachstudent wearing a sign with a differentforeign name printed on it. Kelly played therole of an immigration officer, Anglicizingthe students' names as they were processed.

    By the end of the lesson, Kelly's stu-dents had vicariously experienced the im-migrant condition. Rather than relyingsolely on linguistic input, the lesson chal-lenged students to use their visual!spatial,bodily /kinesthetic, interpersonal, andintrapersonal intelligencesas well .This gaveall of his students access to the concept ofimmigration and motivated them to learnmore; after the lesson, the class read a shortplay Kelly had written about his family'simmigration history and even shared theirown families' stories. "1was amazed at howdifferently students reacted to this lessoncompared to my lesson the year before. Ifyou give students a chance to think forthemselves and to go back in time to relivea bit of history, you are going to create amuch more powerful learning experience."

    SociAl STUDIES SKILLS

    In this strategy, students work in pairsto complete fast-paced, skill-oriented taskssuch as mapping, categorizing, interpret-ing political cartoons, graphing, identifyingperspectives, and analyzing primarysources. The teacher begins an activity bybriefly modeling the skill and then chal-lenging students to practice that skill againand again. Students receive immediate feed-back as they work. Terry, a seventh-gradeworld history teacher, adapted the strategyto teach his students about the Maya calen-dar.

    Terry is passionate about teaching his-tory---especially the often-ignoredhistoriesof Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But aftera lecture and a worksheet about the Mayacalendar failed to ignite his students' inter-est in ancient Latin America, he experi-mented with a new method of presentingthe materials.

    The next time Terry taught about thescien...