Table of Contents

2.2 Using Investigation/Inquiry-Based Instruction for Close Reading in History/Social Studies

Basing history/social studies instruction in central inquiries or investigations engages students and develops their literacy and historical thinking skills and close reading skills of primary and secondary sources. Inquiries also help promote 21st century skills, particularly critical thinking and problem solving

Additionally, questions that guide student inquiry are specifically called for by the CA Historical and Social Science Analysis Skill standards. For example, for Grades 6–8 these skills include:

CA Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills

Research, Evidence, and Point of View, Grades 6–8

  1. Students frame questions that can be answered by historical study and research.

Inquiry-based instruction also addresses a specific standard for research from the Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies. Select the following link to reveal the standard in each of the three secondary grade bands.

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

Time to Read

Reisman and Wineburg argue that providing a central historical question helps students access and closely read complex texts. Read the following excerpts from "Text Complexity" in the History Classroom: Teaching to and Beyond the Common Core (2012) that you read in unit 1.

The first step in designing history instruction around complex texts is to give students an intellectually stimulating purpose for reading. A central historical question focuses students' attention and transforms the act of reading into a process of active inquiry. Historical questions share two key characteristics: 1) they are open to multiple interpretations; 2) they direct students to the historical record, rather than to their philosophical or moral beliefs. For example, a good historical question asks, "Why did the U.S. drop the atomic bomb?" rather than "Should the U.S. have dropped the atomic bomb?" and forces students to support their claims with textual evidence. "Should" questions, while important, too often lead students astray, and the resulting discussion leaves the text far behind.

"Historical questions can be further divided into evaluative questions, which ask students to pass judgment on historical actors and events (e.g., Was the New Deal a success? Was Lincoln a racist?), or interpretive questions, which are more open-ended (e.g., Who benefitted from the New Deal? Why did Lincoln pass the Emancipation Proclamation?)" (Haroutunian-Gordon, 2009). The most important consideration when designing a central question is whether it can be answered with evidence from the document, or whether it diverts students' gaze from the textual evidence at hand."

Reisman and Wineburg, 2012

Time to View

Watch the video, "Reading Like a Historian: Focus Question" to see examples of focus/central questions and how they are used to organize inquiry-based lessons in history/social studies.

Reading Like a Historian: Focus Questions External Link (Run Time 1:41)

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