History Teachers: What Do You Cut?

Jonathan Rees makes an appearance on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” to discuss the ever growing second half of the United States survey course.  He discusses his frustration in trying to “make it” to September 11, 2001 in his course while at the same time teaching his students historical thinking skills.

Rees makes a great point about the relationship between the Internet and history teaching.  Why focus your survey course on facts when students can find them on Google? 

He also gives a plug to Lendol Calder and “uncoverage.”

Also, you know that you are part of a small and campy historical profession when you recognize the callers to radio talk shows.  Rees’s first caller was my friend Fred Johnson of Hope College, a historian, novelist, and politician.

Finally, check out Rees’s recent article in Inside Higher Ed on technology and the future of professors.

More Uncoverage

Here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home we have occasionally discussed the teaching method known as “uncoverage.” This method of teaching the United States survey course was made famous by Lendol Calder (pictured) of Augustana College in a 2006 article in The Journal of American History. The uncoverage model challenges the idea that the purpose of the U.S. survey course is primarily to teach students essential knowledge about the past.  Calder suggests that the survey course should be structured in such a way that helps students to “uncover” the past through a close reading of primary documents and carefully planned lessons in historical thinking.

Calder made an appearance at last weekend’s meeting of the Organization of American Historians to respond to a panel on teaching the U.S. survey course.  Jonathan Rees was there.  He reports on his experience at his blog, More or Less Bunk.  Here is small taste:


This session offered up an alternative. In his remarks, Joel Sipress outlined the framework for an argument-based model for a US history survey course. This struck me as a good thing is at allows historians to embrace a positive model for what introductory courses should be like, rather than just defining them by what they’re not. Here’s my transcription of his four points about what an argument-based model for a survey course would consist of:

* Organized around significant historical questions.
* Students systematically exposed to rival positions.
* Students asked to judge relative merits of rival positions on the basis of historical evidence.
* Students develop their own positions and argue for them on the basis of historical evidence.

Why would you want to organize your course this way? Lecturing is boring. I know I’ve defended it before and I still will (under limited circumstances), but I’ve favored teaching skills over facts for some time now in my upper-level classes. I’ve been inspired to practice what I preach all the time now.

Besides, your students aren’t learning anything in your coverage-based course (no matter how hot you think you are). It’s in one ear and out the other. How do we know this? As Calder pointed out, the scholarship of teaching and learning has come so far in the last decade or so that there is enough evidence for history teaching articles to have footnotes. None of those materials support sticking with the coverage model.

Meanwhile, over at Teaching United States History, Kevin Schultz reports on trying the uncoverage model in his American religious history course.

The Death of the Coverage Model?

Longtime readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know that we are enamored with Lendol Calder’s “uncoverage” model for teaching the United States history survey course.  We have blogged about it here and here and here and here. (By the way, check out Lendol’s article, “For Teachers to Live, Professors Must Die: A Sermon on the Mount” in our Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation).

Though I have not received it yet, the new issue of The Journal of American History has an article in the “Textbooks and Teaching” section by Joel M. Sipress and David J. Voelker entited ” The End of the History Survey Course: The Rise and Fall of the Coverage Model.”  I am eager to read it.

Jonathan Rees has read it and he blogs about the coverage model over at More or Less Bunk.   Drawing from some thoughts from Pauline Maier in another article on teaching U.S. history, Rees offers three reasons why the “coverage model” must die.  They are:

1.  The coverage model promotes teaching from the textbook.
2.  The coverage model promoted dull, institutional history
3.  The coverage model forces you to use your textbook in a crunch.

Stay tuned for more on this topic in the near future.