In a recent post, I shared some of the lessons that I learned while teaching world history this semester. I also gained insight into another tension that I’ve always confronted while teaching a history lesson: do I tell a story or do I answer a research question? Strayer’s Ways of the World was enlightening because he often focuses less on an event, say World War 2, than on its connections to other events, cultural phenomena, and social movements. I really liked this method and used it as a model for several of my lectures, but it does seem like it’s often in tension with other ways of organizing a lecture. Here are what I see as some of the pros and cons of each way of organizing the lessons:
Narrative / The Story of History
- PRO: It can be very entertaining for students, especially if it’s told in an engaging, soap opera-like way.
- PRO: It provides the basic historical facts that students need to make sense of the past.
- CON: It uses up class time–can this passive reception of historical facts be done at home through flipping the classroom?
- CON: It presents your interpretation as if it is the only possible interpretation–as if it is historical fact. It doesn’t necessarily allow students to formulate their own opinions on the past.
- CON: History is not always neat and tidy, and there is not always a good standard to help determine why you’re including one piece of information and why you’re omitting another.
Cause and Effect of Events
- PRO: It encourages a higher level of thinking: making connections between events. Even if you’re the one doing all of this higher level of work, it models for students how this might work.
- PRO: It allows you to highlight certain themes throughout the semester, such as the importance of nationalism or the limitations of ancient communication technology.
- CON: Students may not have the basic skeleton of knowledge, which you’re attempting to flesh out with this method.
Question of the Day
- PRO: By providing a clear direction for the lesson, the question focuses the lesson in a very targeted way. If the information does not relate to the question, it is omitted.
- PRO: It models research.
- PRO: You allow students to engage in the major interpretive debates about a particular field of study–for example, why did Rome gain its empire?
- CON: Depending on how the lesson is taught, students will need certain background information that they may not have or that is not easily delivered by one reading. You may be exposing them to it for the first time in class, and so they may feel overwhelmed.