Developing Historical Habits of Mind through Inquiry



Teaching history is not simply about getting students to learn “the right stories” or getting them to absorb transmitted knowledge about the past; it requires teachers to find means to develop students’ historical understanding and to help these students make sense of the knowledge imparted through daily classroom instruction. As many of us already recognize, the knowledge we have about the past is never “given” or “just there” for the taking; the manner in which we come to know what we know about the past requires questioning, imagining, contextualising and (re-)constructing. History education researchers across many national contexts would agree that students need to be taught to understand the nature of historical knowledge – how such knowledge is constructed, how evidence is used to develop interpretations or support claims, how evidence/interpretation is adjudged as valid or credible, etc. – if they are to develop proper understandings about history. Acquiring proficiency in some of these processes calls for a mode of thinking (and an instructional approach) that can enable students to become confident and critical thinkers when studying history. This would involve cultivating certain historical habits of mind that work to develop students’ disciplinary ideas/understandings and help them become more adept at historical analysis. An instructional approach that uses historical inquiry as a pedagogical framework is more likely to provide opportunities for students to develop disciplinary ideas, and offers teachers with potential strategies and scaffolds to help deepen students’ understandings in more exciting ways. This article explores some ways teachers can make “the complex past” more accessible to students by helping them manage historical problems in the classroom while engaging them in disciplined inquiry about the past. It focuses on the use of inquiry as a means to develop good historical habits of mind, and demonstrates this idea by considering the ways students’ ideas (about significance, diversity, causation and accounts) can be developed through historical inquiry. 


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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