Salem State College

Methods in Teaching History at the Secondary Level

Salem State College, located in Salem, Massachusetts, has significantly expanded its scope and mission since its founding in 1854 as the Salem Normal School; however, the College has retained its commitment to providing the best education and training possible for the region’s aspiring teachers. The “Methods in Teaching History at the Secondary Level” course exemplifies this commitment. The existence and structure of this course serve as a model of the type of cooperation needed in colleges and universities across the nation between education and history departments.

Building upon four other education courses that constitute the “secondary education” minor program, the methods course serves as the capstone of this minor track for Salem State College history majors. This combination of a disciplinary major and a pedagogical minor prepares students for the intellectual and practical challenges that await them as high school history teachers. As the methods syllabus demonstrates, the course challenges students to think of themselves primarily as historians who teach. It also encourages them to translate their own methods of learning history (reading scholarly works, analyzing all kinds of primary sources, discussing their conclusions) into their teaching methods. The students draw upon their experiences, their pedagogical and multimedia training, the course readings, and their outside research to create innovative unit plans and other classroom materials that utilize primary sources, local history, and the latest in scholarly thinking, and that correspond to the relevant state frameworks.

Although the methods course is officially an education course (EDU 341), it is taught exclusively by members of the history department. More specifically, the history department’s Secondary Education Coordinator teaches the course. A tenure-track member of the history department, this coordinator works closely with colleagues holding similar positions in other arts and sciences departments and with colleagues in the education department to be able to advise students about the requirements for licensure in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A real strength of the Salem State College program is that the conversation about how to teach effectively is not confined to the education department and does not end with the conclusion of the methods course. Instead, the history department’s secondary education coordinator also supervises the methods students when they do their student teaching, so that the discussion continues, as the history students become history teachers.

EDU 341-01: Methods and Strategies For Teaching History at the Secondary Level

Instructor: Dr. Brad Austin

I have never heard anyone say he left teaching for a more important job
—A participant in the University of Dayton Symposium on the Humanities, March 2002.


This course is designed to introduce students to the methods and strategies of teaching history at the secondary level. In order to offer a true introduction to the challenges of teaching history in high schools, this course will involve active discussions in the college classroom and frequent observations of teachers and students in local high schools.

This course will focus on several topics and themes that are of great importance to practicing and aspiring teachers. These will include recent debates about the teaching of American, European, and world history, creating active learning opportunities based on primary sources, the utility of lecturing, methods of historical inquiry, teaching writing while teaching history, the use of primary and secondary sources in the classroom, curriculum development and aligning with state standards, the use of technology in teaching and in student research, the benefits of incorporating local history into Unit Plans, and assignment design and evaluation. It will be a busy term.


This course has several specific goals and objectives. They include the following:

1) To provide students, through readings, discussions, and observations, with a true introduction to the numerous challenges faced by high school history and social studies teachers.

2) To equip students with the intellectual and practical tools they will need to address these challenges.

3) To introduce students to the most recent trends, debates, and thought about curriculum development and classroom management strategies.

4) To give students many opportunities to prepare sample course materials and lesson plans, to develop their skills in doing so, to see how others might approach similar topics differently.

5) To allow students to sharpen their communication skills by presenting their ideas and projects to their peers and colleagues.

Required Readings

Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn, History On Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past (1997).

Samuel S. Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (2001).

Readings from coursepack.


  • Classroom Participation and Discussion: 20%
  • Quizzes and Reaction Papers: 20%
  • Report on Observation of Local High School 10%
  • First Drafts of Bibliography: 5%
  • Unit Plan Rationale and Objectives: 5%
  • Unit Plan Outline: 5%
  • Final Unit Plan: 25%
  • Evaluations of Others’ Unit Plans 10%
  • Total 100%

Classroom Participation and Discussion

This class will be successful only with the active participation of all students. You should attend every class session and be ready to discuss the assigned readings with your colleagues.

Quizzes and Reaction Papers

Students will periodically take brief quizzes or write short reaction papers about the readings.

Report on Observation of Local High School

Students will write a 3–5 page paper about their experiences as an observer of a practicing high school teacher.

Creation of a Unit Plan

This is the most important project of the semester, both in terms of practical utility and theory. Through this project, students will get the chance to think as an active historian and a teacher. (We will discuss whether or not this is a false dichotomy.) Students will submit over the course of several weeks, a draft bibliography, a draft unit plan rationale and list of objectives, and a proposed outline for the unit plan. Considering comments from both the instructor and their colleagues, the students will revise and complete the unit plan.

Evaluations of Others’ Unit Plans

Students will produce written critiques of their colleagues’ unit plans’ important ideas, organization, and content. I will collect these, note their quality, and then pass them on to the evaluated student for his or her consideration.

Course Schedule

Readings and Assignments
Week 1 (Sept. 4 and 6) Introduction of Course Syllabus and Goals “The Strange Death of Silas Deane;” Nash, Preface and Acknowledgments
Week 2 (Sept. 9, 11, & 13) Historians and Teachers? How Do We Learn and Why Should We? Nash, 3–127; Wineburg, Chapters 1 and 2; “The Thesis-Driven Classroom;” and Rosenzweig, “How Americans Use and Think About the Past.”
Week 3 (Sept. 16, 18, & 20) The History Wars and the Massachusetts State Standards—For Students and Teachers Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian;” Nash, 128-258; “War and Memory;” MCAS History and Social Science Tests, Curriculum Frameworks.
Week 4 (Sept. 23, 25, & 27) Creating an Integrated History Curriculum—Incorporating Different Approaches to History Finish Nash; Students Report on Curriculum Guides for Assigned High Schools; Degler, “Why Historians Change Their Minds;” Wineburg, Chapter 6.
Reaction Paper Due
Week 5 (Sept 30, Oct. 2 & 4) “What Am I going to Do on Monday?”—Crafting Effective Lesson and Unit Plans Section from “A Catwalk Across the Great Divide;” Sample Lesson Plans from Web and Magazine of History
Week 6 (Oct. 7, 9, & 11) Getting History into Their Hands—Using Primary Sources in the Classroom Wineburg, Chapter 3 and 4;“Using Primary Sources in the Classroom;” “History Goes Digital: Teaching With On-line Primary Sources;” “Primary Sources: Second to None on the Web;” “Bringing the Internet and World Wide Web Into the History Classroom.” First Draft of Bibliography Due
Week 7 (Oct. 16 & 18)
No class on the 14th
— Columbus Day
Classroom Management: Lecturing and Active Learning Wineburg, Chapter 9; “Active Learning: Quantity, Extent Depth Count;” “Humor as a Teaching Tool;” “How to Keep Your Students Thinking;” “Effective Discussion Leading;” “The Lecture: A Powerful Tool for Intellectual Liberation;” “The ‘Change-Up.’”
Week 8 (Oct. 21, 23, & 25) Teaching Today’s Students About Yesterday’s Events: Teaching and Reaching a Diverse Student Population.How to Assess Their Work

Wineburg, Chapter 5; Census Data; School Demographic Statistics;Case Studies of Classroom Situations; AP US History Grading Rubrics.
Unit Plan Rationale and Objectives Due

Week 9 (Oct. 28, 30, & Nov. 1) Teaching With Technology Samples of multimedia materials offered by textbook publishers. November 1 is a Reading/Research Day: No Class
Week 10 (Nov. 4, 6, & 8) Teach Global, Think Local—Incorporating Local History into the High School Classroom “Voices of Experience: Oral History in the Classroom” and “Ghosts, Legend, and Haunted Houses: Using Colorful Local History Resources in the History Classroom;” Discussion with local historical society spokesperson
Detailed Unit Plan Outline Due
Week 11 (Nov. 13 & 15) No Class on the 11th: Veterans’ Day Hollywood’s History: Using Films to Teach History “The Movie-Maker as Historian: Conversations with Ken Burns;” Chapter from History by Hollywood
Week 12 (Nov. 18, 20, & 22) Individual Meetings with Instructor about Lesson Plans Students MUST Schedule Meeting with instructor
Week 13 (Nov. 25) Classroom Presentation of Lesson Plans Materials Submitted by Students
Week 14 (Dec. 2, 4, & 6) Classroom Presentation of Lesson Plans Materials Submitted by Students
Week 15 (Dec. 9 & 11) Classroom Presentation of Lesson Plans Materials Submitted by Students