As an educator I enjoy the challenges of my classroom: the challenge of teaching historical thinking; the challenge of meeting the needs of a diverse body of students; the challenge of connecting interesting content with effective pedagogy; and the challenge of leveraging current technology to enhance student learning experiences and 21st century skills. In my teaching career I have engaged with many different types of learners, ranging from high school students to college students and current high school teachers. These experiences taught me to question my assumptions about how to effectively communicate history and social science content. For example, I regularly administer map quizzes in my world history classes. As an undergraduate, map quizzes and a solid knowledge of geography formed the foundation of my understanding of global connections and I want to be sure my students have the same building blocks. Two years ago, I noticed a decline in map quiz scores despite giving students both the quiz terms and the map template beforehand. I soon realized that with the increasing availability of tools like Google Maps, my digital native students were not practicing the spatial skills needed to plot map terms by hand. Now, every semester I deliberately discuss strategies for reading maps and how to locate the terms based on known reference points and encourage pre-service teachers to do the same.
I am committed to teaching historical thinking and information literacy in each class session. All of my syllabi offer learning objectives which emphasize transferable skills emphasized by the American Historical Association’s Tuning Project. In my courses, focusing on historical thinking means practicing sourcing, contextualization, corroboration, and close reading with primary source documents or media articles at least once a week. One of my favorite examples of this exercise is from September 2015. Journalists clamored to find juicy information in Hillary Clinton’s newly released correspondence and singled out an email with the subject line “gefilte fish.” I brought this email to my students’ attention, asking them to use historical thinking skills to analyze the document. After lively speculation during the sourcing phase they used the date of the email to search out the context, which correlated to a trade dispute in 2010 when Clinton was Secretary of State.
In order to meet the needs of each diverse group of students I use small group work to supplement the course materials and encourage the participation of those who are not as well-practiced in the larger class discussions. Small group work in “Historiography of World History,” for example, allows students to critically engage with historical scholarship surrounding different topical themes such as the periodization of world history and the use of gender analysis for historical study. I stress the importance of critiquing interpretations of historical documents as well as the context and manner in which historical arguments are presented. In these lessons, the students venture beyond the boundaries of the texts and their previous knowledge to question accepted narratives and formulate their own historical arguments. In fact, I am often amazed at the transformations that take place during the course of class discussion. Recently, my world history students were intrigued by a primary source written by a Jewish trader on the Silk Road. The trader indicates that he is willing to grant his wife a divorce since he has been away from home for so long. This document inspired one student to wonder how the topic of divorce was handled in the Torah. We looked up the text in class and continued our discussion of the economic and social factors related to this specific case. As we discussed, the students asked about the treatment of divorce in the Bible and the Qur’an as well. I encouraged them to look up the relevant primary source material as homework and post the documents to our online discussion board. During the next class the students compared and contrasted the texts, fascinated by the common theme of economic stability and marriage in the three books as well as the information on the status of women revealed through the sources. The most rewarding outcome was that every student in the course participated in the discussion and critically engaged with the documents and the historical context.
As Director of Social Studies at Cleveland State University I strive to make the connection between history content and pedagogical strategies in my courses clear. I have found that being transparent about my goals and teaching decisions encourages students to invest in the topic and their education. In my world history courses, for example, I explain my thematic approach to world history and demonstrate how various case studies, such as the Silk Road, the partition of India and the World Wars illustrate global connections. A key part of my first day routine is to construct classroom guidelines with the students and post them to our course website. This process fosters a conversation about both student and instructor expectations for the semester. I also model clear instructions in my assignments and provide my students with planning worksheets as well as detailed rubrics for each essay.
I regularly employ technologies such as Google Apps, Blackboard, and Microsoft Office 365 to accommodate diverse learning strategies and teach 21st century skills in my classroom. I have lectured for classes ranging in size from 10 to 200 and have been delighted by the enthusiastic response of the students to multimedia resources such as the British Museum’s “History of the World in 100 Objects” and MIT’s “Visualizing Cultures.” In 2012 I trained in Google Apps for Education. Using a combination of Google Apps and Blackboard, I develop websites for each course and incorporate interactive maps into my lectures and assignments to promote geographic literacy. In my 300-level world history course, for example, students use Google Sites to create their own “Document Based Question” (DBQ). Each group creates an original DBQ using eight to ten primary documents. The students then participate in a peer review exercise, answering another group’s DBQ and offering critical feedback. Students must not only think historically about each document, they learn to anticipate the process of historical thinking in their audience. The Google Sites platform creates the ideal environment for this assignment and promotes student interaction both in and outside of the classroom.
I harbor a passion for teaching that was strengthened during my training in secondary education as an undergraduate and further enhanced by my experiences at Cleveland State University and Binghamton University where I was honored to receive the Graduate School Excellence in Teaching Award in 2007. I strive to maintain a comfortable and stimulating learning environment for my students, as well as encourage them to work with me individually on writing skills, the techniques of studying for essay exams, and oral presentation methods. Learning begins in the classroom, but as an educator I have learned that it is solidified by individual interaction and personal attention to nurture each student’s potential. With this in mind, I am committed to helping each student develop the critical and historical thinking skills that will support them in the pursuit of personal success.