Essay on Reading Like a Member of a Content Area Discourse Community

Published: 2021-07-16
1474 words
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Wesleyan University
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After reading the text titled Reading like a Historian: A Document-Based History Curriculum Intervention in Urban High Schools I established the knowledge that historians have always been enthusiastic about the use of primary sources since late 19th C. However, little has been done this far to assess how effective the primary sources are for teachers delivering curriculum in high school history classrooms.

My reading as a discourse community member, focused on the key organizations and research scholars that have contributed to the discourse on the utilization of primary resource to in training history lessons. The main organizations mentioned in the text include The New England Teachers Association. Others are The American Historical Associations Committee of Seven(Reisman, 2012). This article presents a study involving extended curriculum intervention given to 11th grade students from five different high schools across San Francisco. They were given a curriculum designated as Reading like a Historian which used the Document-based Lesson as a new activity structure that is different from the traditional instructional approach involving the use of textbooks. Students assessed different historical accounts as carried on different texts.

I was keen to assess how the quasi-experiment was designed for the intervention group. The quasi-experiment was designed to assess the impact caused by the intervention approach in instructional curriculum delivery. It measured four different aspects: 1) the overall historical thoughts of the students, 2) their ability to apply historical thoughts in issues they face. 3) Their level of factual knowledge, 4) and their ability to comprehend written texts (Reisman, 2012). As a member of a content area discourse community, I see these four measures as objective elements in assessing the impact of the intervention on the participants. When MANCOVA Analysis was done, the results showed that the intervention had brought significant effects on the four measures mentioned above.

For a long time, history teachers have been using lectures and recitation to deliver curriculum content to their students (Shanahan, Shanahan & Misischia, 2011). The American Historical Associations Committee of Seven stated in 1899, Learning history through the analysis of different primary sources could give insights onto the series of events and the nature of historical process (Reisman, 2012). Primary sources would also make the past events and people to appear more real. The New England Teachers Association also indicated that learning history through the study of primary sources allow students to invoke patience, inquisitiveness and imagination, making it more engaging than the plain reading approach that teachers have been using in their traditional recitation.

As a member of a content area discourse community, I am interested in the main point of the article, which is a reiteration on the renewed call to improve adolescent literacy in history lessons by tying literary instruction to content in order to engage the students on domain-specific reading skills. Research findings also support the need for students to be exposed to multiple sources and genres for history curriculum to make them differentiate history texts from other fictional texts in language classes (Reisman, 2012).

Classroom instruction with primary sources makes historians to view texts from an epistemological perspective (Shanahan, Shanahan & Misischia, 2011). They value sources that characterize history as human constructions whose veracity can be probed. Historians need to use three heuristics when reading historical texts. The first heuristic is sourcing- where historians are required to probe the purpose and source of a historical document before adopting its content (Reisman, 2012). The second heuristic is contextualization, where historians are required to give each primary source document on a spatial and temporal context. The third heuristic is corroboration, where historians are supposed to draw comparisons across multiple historical accounts drawn from different sources (Nokes, Dole & Hacker, 2007).

The idea of relying on primary sources to deliver class instruction on history lessons is pegged in the rationale that classroom teaching and learning should be pegged on subject matter as a core aspect (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008). History being a discipline that focuses more on subject matter than the literary dimension used in the text, there is increased risk for history teachers to ignore literacy as a foundation in developing history discipline (Shanahan, Shanahan & Misischia, 2011). The teachers of history who use the long tradition of recitation and lectures may often feel that they lack viable approaches to support their students reading of texts. This is the reason that warrants the use of primary sources as a way of engaging students in the learning process (Reisman, 2012).

Reading like a Teacher

This article presents a heightened level of sophistication in its choice of literature when compared to the comprehension ability of adolescent students in High Schools. There would be need to replace several synonyms to simpler words for the students to get the points discussed in the article. Difficult words that would pose challenges to students include MANCOVA Analysis, quasi-experiment, ANCOVA, Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test, Common Core Standards, heuristics, juxtaposition, control design, conceptual framework, text base model, situation model, cognitive processes, solitary texts, mental map, event model, documents model, inter text model, epistemological understanding and explicit strategy instruction (Reisman, 2012). Others include simulation, inquiry-based history interventions, post-holing, state curricula, rehash, one-treatment classroom, and one control classroom. As a teacher, I would make a point of emphasis on these relatively difficult words and proceed to explain each one of them to enhance the comprehension of students. Other difficult words like corroboration, contextualization, and sourcing have been defined forthwith in the text, thus making them easier for student comprehension (Wade, Buxton & Kelly, 1999).

As a teacher, my learners have been used to the common instructional method involving recitation and lectures. They would find the new approach on analysis of primary sources quite new for them. However, most of them can comprehend history texts well and make conclusive deductions from them. This offers a good starting point, save for the new difficult words construed to be beyond their current level of study. I would take time to explain each of the difficult words before assigning the reading task to the students. The text has high language demands, making it sensible for the instructor to explain the meaning of the difficult words that students will encounter in the reading exercise.

Most importantly, the article presents a visual explanation for the steps taken in a Document-Based Lesson. It also presents a table that compares the differences between Reading like a Historian approach and the Traditional Textbook Instruction. Other visual representations include a table showing percentages of participants represented in the Treatment and Control Classrooms. These elements would help the students to quickly visualize and compare different elements discussed in the prose text. However, there is a grave challenge for students who will read the text, as a greater portion of the text has relatively complex statistical analyses. The High School students might be able to understand the simpler statistical ratios like mean, standard deviation, and percentiles. However, they are less likely to understand advanced statistical ratios taught at higher levels such as the Cronbachs ratio for measuring reliability; and Cohens constant for measuring interrater reliability (Reisman, 2012).

The discussion section of the article on Reading like a Historian presents a longer prose that is relatively easier to read. As a teacher, I would prefer that the students read the initial sections of the article and the discussion section where the results are discussed in familiar prose. They would have to pay less attention to the results section that has complex statistical analysis that would be difficult to comprehend. They would only have to interpret the implications of the complex results statistics as carried in the discussion section.

As a teacher, I would be much interested in the outcomes of the intervention to determine the role that teachers have to play to realize success in the intervention. The text indicates that skilled teachers with sufficient knowledge of the subject matter caused a more effective impact on curriculum delivery as compared to average teachers. Students that attended the treatment classes far outperformed those that were in the control classes. This shows that there is positive effect in improving curriculum when students are engaged in direct reading of the subject matter through the Document-Based Lessons. There was a significant difference in the impact achieved through sourcing and close reading- as they are more active approaches in history instruction that are textbook-driven.


Reisman, A. (2012). Reading like a historian: A document-based history curriculum intervention in urban high schools. Cognition and instruction, 30(1), 86-112.

Nokes, J. D., Dole, J. A., & Hacker, D. J. (2007).Teaching high school students to use heuristics while reading historical texts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(3), 492.

Shanahan, C., Shanahan, T., &Misischia, C. (2011).Analysis of expert readers in three disciplines: History, mathematics, and chemistry. Journal of Literacy Research, 43(4), 393-429.

Wade, S. E., Buxton, W. M., & Kelly, M. (1999). Using thinkalouds to examine readertext interest. Reading Research Quarterly, 34(2), 194-216.

Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008).Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40-59.

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