The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Teaching History in a Place with a Different History: A SoTL Study in Progress

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Written by: Richard Hughes, Associate Professor of History at Illinois State University and Sarah Drake Brown, Associate Professor of History at Ball State University

In the United States and the United Kingdom, researchers have focused on historical thinking and its implications for teaching and learning in the elementary and secondary schools. Fifteen teaching candidates in Illinois State’s History Department have student taught in Brighton, England over the past 3 years. While this number represents only a small percentage of the program’s student teachers, the teaching candidates’ experience student teaching abroad affords history educators with a valuable research opportunity. With support from Illinois State’s Going Global with SoTL initiative, we designed a study to examine the extent to which varied clinical experiences shape the evolving professional goals and performances of developing teacher candidates in history. We began this project because we believed that analyzing candidates’ student teaching experiences in both central Illinois and in England would enable us to reconsider current classroom and clinical experiences in the history education program at Illinois State as well as contribute to research about future directions in the preparation of history teachers nationwide.

The vast literature on study abroad programs narrows significantly when one’s focus centers on student teaching abroad. Given that our research interests pertain specifically to SoTL in History, we designed research questions that align with our discipline-based research emphasis expanded to the context of a study abroad experience. Three main questions guided our work:

  • How do varied clinical experiences shape the evolving professional goals and performances of developing teacher candidates in history?
  • How do emerging history teachers navigate the tensions between theory and practice in two differing clinical settings?
  • How do experiences working with professional teachers, secondary students, and the general public in two different countries shape the discipline-specific pedagogy of history teacher candidates in terms of ongoing debates over history as content or skills?

While developing our three main research questions, we simultaneously considered what types of evidence we would need to collect from teaching candidates, how to best analyze the evidence, and at what points during the student teaching experience we would collect evidence. Because we sought to have our study intrude as little as possible on the teaching candidates’ student teaching experience, the majority of data collected and analyzed was gathered in the context of assignments and observations that were part of every student teachers’ experience (whether they were participating in study abroad or if their teaching took place entirely in Illinois). Three key aspects of data collection existed: Sarah Drake Brown conducted an interview with the teaching candidates in February when they completed student teaching in central Illinois and just prior to their departure from England; Richard Hughes observed the teaching candidates at schools in Illinois and in England and conducted interviews with the student teachers during his overseas observations; and both researchers interviewed the teaching candidates once they had returned to the United States. At all three points of contact in the context of interviews, we asked the teaching candidates to respond to questions (reworded as appropriate) that reflected the research questions identified previously. In addition, teaching candidates were asked to: describe themselves as history teachers; articulate their goals and values as history teachers; explain how they developed these ideas; and describe a typical day in their classrooms. These questions were purposefully broad and open-ended so that the teaching candidates would have the opportunity to articulate ideas that mattered to them and to their development as teachers rather than responding only to ideas that the researchers had identified as important.

An initial analysis suggests that two of the three student teachers appeared to place greater emphasis on the importance of teaching students discipline-specific ways of thinking and ways of knowing after their experience in England. The third student teacher had stressed the importance of this practice after having taught in central Illinois and continued to address historical thinking after the clinical experience in England. More in-depth analysis of our data is necessary before we are able to offer substantive evidence that supports our initial impression. We plan to examine the interview transcripts, materials teaching candidates submitted (examples of lessons, etc.), and the observation notes Hughes made when observing the candidates both in Illinois and in England in order to identify and then study the themes that emerge from the experiences of these novice history teachers. We anticipate that a close analysis of this data will help us better understand how history education programs and the various contexts of field experiences impact teaching candidates’ learning. It is our intent to examine the work of Illinois State’s teaching candidates—both in the United States and abroad—in order to better inform the practices and approach taken in Illinois State’s history education program and to inform the practices in other history education programs nationally and internationally.

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