In our last post on Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts we met Elizabeth, “the invisible teacher.” Today we meet John, “the visible teacher.” While Elizabeth liked to sit in the back of the room and watch her students debate, John never stops talking. He is constantly moving around the room firing questions at his students. His students respond with one or two word answers and then he expounds on their answers. He leads them in intense and passionate discussions of primary documents.
At first glance, John may appear to preside over a teacher-dominated classroom in which students are generally passive, but there is more going on here. As Wineburg describes it:
The air is electric, students lean over in their seats, ask thoughtful and stimulating questions, and stay in the room to continue discussions after the bell has rung. John is pure energy–laughing, pacing, bantering with students, gesturing excitedly. No ordinary teacher, John is a master performer who has seized the collective imagination of thirty-five adolescents and has led them on an expedition into the past.
John has a two-fold goal for his history classes. He wants to get his students excited about the content of the past while teaching them how this content was discovered. If Wineburg’s description is accurate, it is clear that he does both very well. Though John is more hands-on than Elizabeth, he is still leading his students in a reconstruction of the past. His dramatic and dynamic style breathes life into historical actors who are long dead.
Elizabeth and John: Two very different styles–two very effective history teachers.
Are you an Elizabeth or a John?