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Historical Thinking in the Third Grade
Elise Fillpot
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To cite this article: Elise Fillpot (2012): Historical Thinking in the Third Grade, The Social Studies, 103:5, 206-217
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DOI: 10.1080/00377996.2011.622318
Historical Thinking in the Third Grade
ELISE FILLPOT
University of Iowa College of Education, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
This article shares ndings of how two third-grade children who have systematically studied history in grades K3 analyzed historical
sources on a topic about which they had no prior knowledge. In think-aloud interviews, the children analyzed written documents on
the 1887 Dawes Severalty Act. One of the children, who tested on the third-grade level for reading, demonstrated extensive use of the
sourcing heuristic and analogical thinking to contextualize and interpret the documents. Care and imagination seemed to facilitate the
childs deployment of historical thinking. Both children informed their judgments about the Dawes Act by referencing the evidence.
These ndings suggest that curriculum, rather than age, is the strongest limit on U.S. elementary students engagement in historical
thinking. The ndings also provide evidence of gifted and talented ability in the specic domain of historical thinking and suggest
that analogical thinking deserves greater attention in our efforts to understand and teach dimensions of historical interpretation.
Keywords: analogical thinking, curriculum, historical interpretation, historical thinking
In 2001 SamWineburg published a compilation of his land-
mark studies that delineated the processes historians use to
read and analyze historic texts. Titled Historical Thinking:
Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, the book chal-
lenged history educators to help students develop histor-
ical thinking skills so that they might recognize both the
uniqueness of the past and the human perspectives with
which all texts are imbued. The Bringing History Home
1
K5 curriculum and professional development project be-
gan the year that Historical Thinking was published. It has
proceeded on the assumption that if children systematically
study history as an interpretive, evidence-based discipline
throughout the elementary grades, they can begin in the
earliest school years to develop the historical skills that
Wineburg identied. An external evaluation has yielded
evidence that supports the project assumption (Kearney
et al. 2007). As the Bringing History Home (BHH) creator
and principal investigator, however, I have sought more de-
tailed pictures of student thinking than can be captured
in a pencil-and-paper assessment. Specically, my question
has been whether and how third-grade children can learn
and deploy the historical thinking heuristics that Wineburg
identied.
As part of my pursuit of this question, in May 2009
I conducted a think-aloud interview with Jamie, a third-
grade student in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For the interview,
Address correspondence to Elise Fillpot, University of Iowa
College of Education, 1111 Downey Drive, Iowa City,
IA 52240, USA. E-mail: elise.llpot@bringinghistoryhome.
org
Jamie read and analyzed seventeen sources on a history
topic he had never previously encountered, the Dawes Sev-
eralty Act of 1887. The Dawes Act reduced collective tribal
landholdings in the United States by making land allot-
ments to individual tribal members and included a provi-
sion to eventually grant citizenship to Native Americans
who received the allotments. At one point, as Jamie sought
to understand that Native Americans right to vote hasnt
always been recognized, he puzzled:
Ok, now it feels like were on slavery and segregation be-
cause . . . African American men could vote in 1870, so
when were Native Americans getting to vote? Because this
is in 1887, some Native Americans must have voted after
that but the African Americans didnt get to vote until 1965
because . . . the poll taxes . . . well the voting right act that
was made in 1965, which was by Johnson, that was exactly
100 years after slavery. So how could you answer by that?
You would have to research about it.
In quality and substance, this statement is similar to
many of the other musings Jamie verbalized as he sought
to make sense of documents on a topic in which he had no
direct background knowledge. At the time of the interview,
Jamie read on a third-grade level, but he demonstrated
considerable expertise in historical thinking and knowledge
of U.S. history. His expertise didnt magically accumulate;
his school is part of the BHH project, which means that
he had studied history beginning in kindergarten. While
he had not formally studied Native American history, his
knowledge of other historical events and movements in the
nineteenth century and his ability to interpret history texts
enabled him to make meaning of sources on the Dawes
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Historical Thinking in the Third Grade 207
Act. An exploration of the strategies he used to explore
this set of original sources may enhance our understanding
of howchildrencanengage inhistorical thinking whentheir
learning has been systematically developed and supported.
Historical Thinking Skills
BHHbegan in 2001 and has been entirely funded by Teach-
ing American History grants. The program focuses on a
paradigm of history as an evidence-based, interpretive ex-
ploration of the past. In BHH classrooms; this means that
children analyze original written and visual sources in tan-
dem with several other processes that help them estab-
lish geographic and chronological contexts for historical
events (Fillpot 2009a). Sam Wineburgs (2001) argument
for teaching students to actively read history sources de-
scribes succinctly why we emphasize source analysis in our
project: Language is not a garden tool for acting on inani-
mate objects but a mediumfor swaying minds and changing
opinions, for rousing passions or allaying them . . . If stu-
dents (do not understand this) they become easy marks for
snake-oil vendors of all persuasions (83).
Wineburgs research also identies historical thinking
skills that inform what BHH is designed to prepare stu-
dents to do with sources. By conducting think-aloud stud-
ies in which he asked both novices and experts to vocalize
their thoughts as they read historical texts, Wineburg iden-
tied three strategies or heuristics history experts use to
interpret evidence. In sourcing, historians inventory a texts
attributes to take into account how elements such as the
author, date, and place of creation of a piece of evidence
inuence how the evidence should be interpreted (Wineb-
urg 1990). In contextualizing, historians consider how the
historic context of a piece of evidence inuences interpre-
tation (Wineburg 1992). And in corroborating, historians
compare various pieces of evidence to better understand
how to most accurately interpret each (Wineburg 1997).
Student Ideas about History
British research provides a foundational piece of the his-
tory learning picture by charting the shape of student
ideas about history. Ultimately, the researchers character-
ized ideas about history as levels of progression (which
could perhaps be more accurately dubbed levels of power)
that range from simplistic misconceptions to complex un-
derstandings (Lee and Ashby 2000; Lee et al. 1993; Lee
2005).
For example, in the progression of ideas about historic
evidence that Lee et al. identied (1993), the student of
history who reads evidence from the past at face value as
simple fact has very little power to develop a defendable
interpretation of that evidence. In contrast, the student who
understands that attributes of a piece of evidence shape
how the evidence should be read has much greater power
to accurately explain and understand it (Lee 2005). This
insight can inform how we develop skill in sourcing; it
reminds us to explicitly teach that when we analyze texts
we inventory and consider their attributes.
Other research ndings tell us we need to attend to chil-
drens lack of power to accurately place events in a larger
time context and to understand that change is often broad
and amorphous, untraceable to a single individual or event
(Barton and Levstik 2004; Levstik and Barton 1994; Lee
et al. 1993). These challenges point to the need to immerse
children in studying historical themes, periods, and eras
(Shemilt 2000). Such immersion may help students more
accurately contextualize the historic gures and events they
subsequently encounter.
Historical Empathy
In this brief sketch of the foundational contours of histor-
ical thinking, Ive saved empathy for last. It is an odd bird,
empathy; a contested term that requires denition each
time it is invoked. In history, empathy has typically but
not always been equated with what is more precisely called
perspective recognition. Whether perspective recognition is
an ends or a means is contested, however, with a few re-
searchers interpreting it to be a state of mind and many
others considering it a process. O. L. Davis (2001) con-
cludes that it is both, whereas Ashby and Lee (1987, 63)
contend that it is a cognitive destination, that empathy in
history is an achievement: it is where we get to when we
have successfully reconstructed other peoples beliefs, val-
ues, goals, and attendant feelings . . . it is not to say that the
pupil has gone throughany particular let alone special
process. Christopher Portals view offers a seemingly con-
tradictory vision of empathy as a means rather than an
end, empathy is a way of thinking imaginatively which
needs to be used in conjunction with other cognitive skills
in order to see signicant human values in history (1987,
89). Yet these researchers both seem to agree with Littles
belief that empathy is an ephemeral part of the historians
imaginative process, a heuristic consisting of intuition and
other feeling-based responses to evidence (1983).
In a reviewof their own and others research, Barton and
Levstik (2004) weigh into the empathy realm by delineat-
ing historical perspective recognition from what they call
empathy as caring. They identify four ways in which his-
tory inspires students to care. Among others, these forms
of care include student motivation to study history and to
make moral judgments about historic events.
Wineburg (1992, 1994) contributed to the perspective
recognition fray by identifying how good history readers
informtheir interpretation of historic evidence with knowl-
edge of the specic time and place in which it was created.
He called this contextualized thinking and classied it
as a skill or heuristic. In his think-aloud study of how
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208 Fillpot
two students in a graduate program for history teachers
interpreted selected texts by and about Abraham Lincoln,
Wineburg (1992, 1994) discovered a signicant difference
in the power of their interpretations. Counterintuitively, the
former physics student engaged in a more nuanced read-
ing of the evidence than did the former history student. By
taking into account the contexts in which Lincoln spoke or
wrote, Ellen determined that it is difcult to draw a sim-
ple determination about whether or not Lincoln was racist
basedonhis words. She concludedthat his words were those
of a consummate politician, and so they tell us more about
how Lincoln perceived his audiences values than about his
own beliefs. Ted, the history major, took Lincolns words
at face value, ignored their contexts, and concluded he was
racist. What isnt evident is why the young man did not
contextualize the texts. Perhaps he had no awareness of the
importance of contextualized reading, or perhaps his pre-
existing narrative of racism limited his ability to perceive
multiple dimensions of evidence. Whatever the cause, he
provides a strong example of the absence of contextualized
thinking.
Wineburgs study at face value may appear to be the an-
tithesis of Portals conclusion that perspective taking is at
least partly an act of imagination. In his Reading of Lin-
coln study (1992), he cites reason as the only weapon we
possess to combat problems that threaten the well-being of
the world. And yet imagination and reason may not oc-
cupy opposite sides of a divide. The prevalence of analogy
in Ellens nuanced interpretations that are listed as exam-
ples in the Lincoln study suggests that imagination is an
important tool in contextualizing texts, if we are willing to
entertain the idea that drawing an analogy is partly an act
of imagination, of making a mental leap to summon how
two disparate things are in some way conceptually related
and alike.
Most adults probably consider imagination to be a skill
commanded by children. But what of historical analysis,
perspective, and empathy? Can they also be the purview
of children? In 2009 I interviewed six third-grade children
to explore whether and how they used historical thinking
skills to engage with original sources. The rest of this article
describes two of the childrens interviews in detail.
The Exploration Context
Mrs. Johnson, a third-grade regular classroom teacher in
a midsized Iowa public school district, has been the lead
teacher and mentor for Bringing History Home since the
project pilot began in 2001. Prior to her participation in
BHH, Mrs. Johnson had no formal emphasis on social
studies in her preservice or in-service professional devel-
opment. Her excitement for teaching history using the ve
processes on which BHH lessons center was immediate,
however, and she has since designed numerous adaptations,
miniunits, and instructional models for the topics she has
taught in second and third grades. Mrs. Johnson has de-
signed some of these activities in response to project needs
for a pilot or elaboration of classroom historical thinking
strategies that were either truncated or not included in the
original BHH curriculum for pragmatic reasons.
Because we work with entire schools, very few teachers
in our project have formally studied history and most have
not encountered history as an evidence-based and interpre-
tive discipline. In BHH we have accommodated this situa-
tion by making compromise decisions about the extent to
which we embed explicit instruction on sourcing and con-
necting evidence to accounts in professional development
and the student curriculum(Fillpot 2009b). While the orig-
inal project design included source citation activities, these
were put on hold because of time shortages for professional
development and the teachers available time to teach his-
tory during the school year. An event in the early spring of
2009, however, made me aware that BHH teachers might
be informally helping students develop sourcing habits.
At that time, twothird-grade teachers inthe BHHproject
administered a photo analysis assessment to their students
that centered on an image of African Americans working
in a cotton eld. The citation on the assessment image
dated the photo in the 1890s. Several hundred high school
students in the same geographic region as the third-grade
classes had taken the assessment, and fewer than twenty de-
termined that the people in the eld were not slaves. In con-
trast, two-thirds to three-fourths of the BHH third graders
(fteen of twenty students in one class and sixteen of twenty
students in the other) inferred that the people in the eld
were sharecroppers. Because the children had studied the
transition from slavery to sharecropping, they almost cer-
tainly made their inference by sourcing (i.e., they used the
date on the photo citation and their prior knowledge to
determine how to contextualize the people in the image).
The outcome of this assessment highlights the role of prior
knowledge in forming defendable inferences. It also refutes
ndings by those who have studied inferencing abilities in
a curricular vacuum and consequently drawn age-based
conclusions about students abilities to draw accurate his-
torical inferences. If we use errors reasearchers have made
in drawing conclusions about age-related abilities to guide
curricular decisions, we may miss the opportunity toengage
young children in studying history with integrity. The op-
portunity should not be forsaken, because research tells us
there are many misconceptions in student ideas about the
nature of history (Lee et al. 2005). By teaching history as an
evidence-based, interpretive discipline from the beginning,
we may avoid or correct childrens misconceptions from
their earliest years in school and develop students critical
thinking and analytic skills. As I conducted a lengthy ob-
servation of Mrs. Johnsons third-grade class in the spring
of 2009, I continued to recognize evidence of fairly sophis-
ticated student historical thinking. In addition to teach-
ing the established BHH Industrialization unit during her
social studies periods, Mrs. Johnson used reading sessions
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Historical Thinking in the Third Grade 209
to implement her new instructional model. The model
aligns sets of original historical sources with a trade book
to engage students in making predictions and inferences.
In the other BHH unit activities, Mrs. Johnson read aloud
trade picture books, both historical ction and nonction;
students analyzed documents and photos individually and
in groups; the class added events and people to the timeline
it had been constructing throughout the year; and the class
placed signicant geographic locations on the U.S. map it
also illustrated throughout the year. For the nal synthesis
project, each child wrote a chapter book on industrializa-
tion. Students with IEPs for writing were given the option
to dictate their chapters after they wrote an opening sen-
tence for each one.
As I observed all the activities Mrs. Johnsons students
were experiencing, I became more and more curious about
the childrens individual skills. In the course of the group
activities and whole class discussions, students voiced strik-
ingly insightful interpretations of sources. In their vocal
statements and their writing on KWL source analysis
guides, I recognized students engaging in sourcing, con-
textual thinking, and corroboration at various levels of
mastery. I began to wonder how the children would en-
counter sources without the benet of written guides and
their peers comments.
Interview Methodology
In deciding how best to study whether, and possibly how,
BHH students use the heuristics Wineburg identied when
they encounter original historical sources, I chose to use
a think-aloud interview method. Think alouds provide the
possibility to glean the sorts of insights into the interme-
diary processes of young childrens thought (Ericsson and
Simon 1984) that Wineburg (2001) gleaned from focused
interviews with individuals at the secondary and postsec-
ondary levels. The vocalization of thought that is the hall-
mark of a think aloud is perhaps even more critical in
studies with children than in those with adults, because
writing ability can severely limit young childrens abilities
to express their thinking. I did not want writing ability to
interfere with the students expression of their thoughts as
they encountered a set of sources. I also did not want simple
vocabulary questions or other diversions to derail the chil-
drens explorations. By assuming the interviewers role in a
think aloud, I would be able to interact with the children on
a limited basis to help reveal their abilities and inclinations.
Ultimately, I conducted two sets of interviews. In the
rst interview, which will not be discussed in detail in this
article, students analyzed photographs related to a topic
they had studied in one of their history units. Six students
fromMrs. Johnsons class participated in the interview; one
boy and one girl from each of three general groupings for
reading ability: belowgrade level, on grade level, and above
grade level. This group of six was drawn from a total class
of twenty-ve students, of which three students achieved
above grade level in reading on a nationally standardized
test, fourteen achieved on grade level, and eight achieved
below grade level. In 200809, in the Iowa public school
in which Mrs. Johnson teaches, 28 percent of the children
were enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, which
serves as a proxy for socioeconomic status.
When I began the interviews, I did not have plans for
a second study. The childrens performances on the inter-
views, however, piqued my curiosity about their abilities
even further. To what extent could they interpret evidence
on a topic that was not related to one they had previously
studied? With time to the end of the school year running
out, I quickly designed a second think aloud to conduct
with the two children who had displayed the most adept
historical thinking on the rst. The two students who par-
ticipated in the second interviewwere Jamie [student names
are pseudonymous], a ten-year-old boy who tested on the
third-grade level for reading, and Tara, a nine-year-old girl
who tested above the third-grade level for reading. Neither
child qualied for the schools academically gifted and tal-
ented program. Throughout the Segregation and Industri-
alizationunits, however, the twochildrenhaddemonstrated
exemplary intellectual engagement in the books, original
sources, and questions Mrs. Johnson posed.
The evidence set for the second interview centered on
purposes for and consequences of the Dawes Act of 1887,
whichdividedNative Americanreservations intoindividual
allotments. The sources consisted of:
Three sets of statistics, two in table format
Seven statements advocating various aspects of Indian
policy that eventually were included in the Dawes Act,
made by either private citizens and groups or govern-
ment agency ofcials prior to the passage of the legisla-
tion
Two statements by Euro-Americans opposed to the
Dawes Act made prior to its passage
One statement in opposition to privatization of reserva-
tion land, made by the Seneca Tribe prior to passage of
the Act
Two federal laws, the Dawes Act and earlier legislation
that ended the independent nation status of tribes within
territories claimed by the United States
A statement by Theodore Roosevelt about the effects of
the Act, made four years after its passage
A map visual illustrating Native land holdings as a per-
cent of land in the contiguous United States in 1850,
1865, 1880, and 1990.
To help the children read and comprehend the written
documents, I abridged and edited the texts syntax into
simpler language. Even so, I ended up reading a few of the
pieces aloud for Jamie.
As the interviews progressed, I asked three primary ques-
tions in the following order:
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210 Fillpot
1. What was the Dawes Act?
2. What was its purpose?
3. Was the Act successful?
Because the children had experience with a think-aloud
protocol from the rst interview and from reading com-
prehension think alouds, we were able to dive right into
the evidence set with little direction on my part. I did not
tell the children anything about the topic or nature of the
evidence before we began, except that the written docu-
ments had been revised to make them easier to read. The
interviews unfolded in two stages. In the rst stage, which
was the lengthiest, the children analyzed the sources one
a time. In the second stage, I posed the primary questions
sequentially in the order listed above.
Jamies interview lasted a little over two hours. We took
one break for lunch and recess. Taras interview lasted ap-
proximately forty-two minutes and included no breaks. The
lengths of the interviews were not predetermined but were
allowed to last as long as the children were engaged in an-
alyzing the sources. The interviews were audio and video-
taped and then transcribed from the audiotapes by a third
party.
To analyze the transcripts, I dened a statement as a
childs vocalization that was uninterrupted by the inter-
viewer speaking or providing a new piece of evidence for
analysis. The childrens statements were coded for align-
ment with Wineburgs heuristics of sourcing, contextualiz-
ing, and corroborating (2001) and with caring as broadly
dened by Barton and Levstik (2004). After an initial cod-
ing, I reperformed the coding, compared the differences,
and in a third step reconciled the differences by recoding
again the statements for which there was disagreement in
the rst and second codings. I ultimately used the categories
that emerged in the third step. (The validity of this analysis
would have been improved if the coding had also been con-
ducted by one or more additional raters, but I do not work
with anyone who has the sort of operational knowledge of
the categories that the coding required.)
For purposes of coding, I delineated sourcing as the ex-
plicit vocalization of a document attribute, typically the
date of creation or author. I delineated contextualization
as references to historic events, gures, and concepts that
the children summoned from their own prior knowledge as
they sought to construct meaning from the sources. Cor-
roboration was delineated as references to using more than
one source to inform an interpretation of the evidence.
During the coding process, some statements did not t
neatly into the categories in the existing frameworks. Or
perhaps it would be more accurate to say that these state-
ments were not specically enough dened by any of the
heuristics or tools. In considering the nature of these state-
ments that seemed to require more specic delineation, I
identied three categories that would convey their natures
in greater detail: clarifying basic comprehension of terms,
drawing analogies between historic events or themes, and
making causal connections between historic events.
Interview Analysis
Sourcing
Twenty-two of Jamies statements included examples of
sourcing. From the very beginning of the interview, he at-
tended to dates. His rst statement in the interview, after
he read aloud the rst document, was:
Do I still read the years, cause I usually do . . . like what we
were doing last week about the Library of Congress, you
have to write where you got the pictures.
Later, after reading the Dawes Act itself, Jamie looked at
two other sources he had already read and mused,
This is the same year as this, 1887. This is in February
8, 1887, this is from the 19s. It would help us to know
what day this was. I thought that was the 19s but its not,
its reported of the board of the Indian Commissioners . . .
if it was created in January maybe there was something
going on that none of this tells us. Maybe the Indians did
something that maybe the whites dont like or the whites
are just prejudice against them and taking their land for no
reason.
By recognizing a gap in dates among the documents
maybe there was something going on that none of this
tells usJamie edged into sensing a need for rudimentary
corroboration, of nding information in other sources to
provide clarity, which we will explore more in a moment, In
these examples, Jamie uses dates to situate the chronology
of events and ideas or perspectives that are implied in the
documents he is reading. In some of his musings, however,
he uses both dates and document authors to make sense of
what is going on:
. . . so we are going to buy pieces of the reservation for, well,
for ourselves in 1876. The U.S. government annual report
for 1876. U.S. government. Are the U.S. government buy-
ing this?
2
In a more advanced realm of sourcing, Jamie uses his
knowledge of the probable white ethnicity of government
ofcials in the nineteenth century to informhis understand-
ing of their perspectives and motivations in the documents
they wrote. After reading a poster advertising former reser-
vation land for sale, Jamie puzzled over the men whose
names were listed at the bottom of the ier. Had they cho-
sen their role in the land sales or were they doing the gov-
ernments bidding?
So back to the question, Walter L. Fisher, is there an elec-
tion for that . . . does he ask the president before he does
this or is it just his job? Thats a hard one [the document]
even though it has a picture.
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Historical Thinking in the Third Grade 211
In another instance, Jamie wonders not just about the
values of individuals in the government, but about white
society as a whole:
maybe we are trying to close down the reservations so they
dont have anywhere else to go and they would just have
to come to us and we would, I dont know if we would
treat them equal because its in 1881 and right after slav-
ery and this is segregation but native Americans werent
segregation . . .
The latter statement reveals Jamies prior knowledge of
segregation and draws us further into the overlapping ter-
ritories of sourcing and contextualization, where sourcing
becomes a more nuanced tool because the source attribute
itself is contextualized. The coding count for the sourcing
statements may be low when we consider this overlap with
contextualization, as well, for in various instances Jamie
responded to a piece of evidence by describing something
related either to a documents time or to the authors per-
spective but did not actually repeat aloud the evidence at-
tribute and so I did not code it as sourcing.
Contextualizing
Contextualized thinking is evident in eighteen of Jamies
statements. He used contextualization in some instances to
anchor his sense of the time in which the documents were
created and at other times seemingly to enhance his com-
prehension of the material in the evidence. In an exam-
ple of simple contextualizing, Jamie intersperses his own
knowledge as he reads aloud a document, voicing his own
comprehension checks as he proceeds:
Indians should wear civilized clothes, farm, live in houses,
ride in Studebaker wagonsarent those the pioneers?
send their children to school, drink whiskeyisnt that
like a bad drink?
In trying to make sense of the connection between citi-
zenship for tribal members and the right to vote, however,
he displays a more sophisticated engagement in contextu-
alizing, one in which he is seeking to understand not only
the whats of voting but the historic whys.
Jamie: Ok, now it feels like were on slavery and segregation
because slavery ended in 1865 and African American men
could vote in 1870 so when were Native American, because
this is in here February, well, 1887 so Native Americans
must have voted after African Americans. But did Native
Americans have to pay taxes to vote until 1965 because,
really, I dont know that.
Interviewer: Poll taxes?
Jamie: Yeah the poll taxes.
Interviewer: How could we nd that out?
Jamie: Well the voting act right that was made in 1965 which
by Johnson that was exactly 100 years after slavery. So how
could you get your answer by that. You would have to
research by it, what kind of research would you have to use
by it, would you have to use the internet or would you have
to use your schema. I probably should know this because
we done the segregation and slavery unit for a really long
time. We didnt do much on poll taxes we just read 3 books
about it, I dont know for sure, on the internet probably.
Interviewer: On the internet absolutely and then what
would our search terms be?
Jamie: Key search word is poll taxes . . . We could type in
poll taxes and if it doesnt show up poll taxes, laws, if that
doesnt show up, poll taxes, it would have to be something
with poll taxes. When did poll taxes end because I know it
started in 1870 probably did go on until 1965.
Corroborating
These musings demonstrate not only overlap between
sourcing and contextualization they are an example of
Jamies inclination toward rudimentary corroboration as
well. As he circles around the question of Native voting
rights, he voices a desire to clarify his understanding with
research from additional sources and his sense that read-
ing just three books on a topic is not adequate to inform
his historical knowledge. This wish for additional evidence
to determine a date is not corroboration in the sense that
an expert reader compares multiple pieces of evidence to
determine how to interpret one. As an invocation of the
power of multiple sources, however, I perceive that it is on a
continuum toward developing that skill. Fifteen of Jamies
statements included references to corroboration, and a few
of these suggest he has more than an emergent grasp of
the importance and uses of corroboration. As he pondered
the purpose of the Dawes Act, he referenced the maps that
illustrated the changes in land holdings and put them into
play with the legislation itself:
I think its more land by reading this because this little
paragraph right here after the tribe members received their
land pieces there may be extra land left over and sold to
non-Indiansnon-Indians are whites which in 1887 this
is what year was this in, close to this, Indians didnt have
as much land as the whites do. Its pretty much the halfway
mark on the US so they get more than half because of the
half way mark plus there is a little areas that the whites
have in between so you can tell by that and this because in
1865 this law hasnt came yet but just imaginehere is an
1880 picture, this is 1887, here is the half way mark again
and they get half for sure. And look at all this through here.
Indians only had like one-fourth of it and then if you look
like another 100 yrs later they dont even have a 4
th
of that.
As the examples above illustrate, its rarely a straightfor-
ward process to isolate historical analysis skills from one
another when they appear in a complex meaning-making
deliberation. Complicating the somewhat Quixotian task
of isolating the skills for identication, one of Jamies
approaches to interpreting the sources didnt seem to t
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212 Fillpot
comfortably in the original coding categories. The ap-
proach, constructing analogies, seemed to facilitate Jamies
basic comprehension, contextualization, and sourcing by
bringing his prior knowledge to bear on newly encountered
historic elements.
Analogical thinking
Analogy is by nomeans newtothe worldof history teaching
andlearning. In1987 Peter Rogers arguedthat the study of
history provides us, inter alia, with a stock of repertoire . . .
of analogies whichtogether constitute a frameworkof refer-
ence, a way of looking . . . (14). Analogical thinking has
not, however, received much attention, and as Ian Myson
(2006) of Great Britain observes, little work has been done
on using analogies in history classrooms. Because analogy
was not on my research radar until it surfaced in the in-
terviews, I was surprised and particularly intrigued by how
extensively and effectively Jamie used it to facilitate both
simple and critical engagement with the sources. Fifteen of
his statements on the Dawes Act interview included uses
of analogy. Sometimes he put analogy to use in the service
of simple vocabulary comprehension:
The difference betweenbarbarians anda civilizedpeople is
the difference between a herd and an individual. Where ev-
eryone owns everything together saving and competingI
know what competing means since I like baseball. Its like
one teamversus anotherthey have nomotive or reward.
Sometimes, simple vocabulary comprehension morphed
into lengthy connections that ultimately enabled him to
recognize historic perspectives:
Jamie: We need laws that make Indians adopt the ways of
non-Indians. What are they saying, adopt?
Interviewer: It means to take them up, to sort of make it
your own.
Jamie: Like when you adopt children, is that what they are
kind of using? . . . So the non-Indians wanted the Indians to
be like them but they cant do that because the Indiansdo
you knowwhat Amish people areok we sawsome people,
last weekend, maybe, I didnt know for sure because I had
never saw Amish people before, we were on the road and I
told my dad I feel sorry for those people and he said why do
you feel sorry for themI am like well Dad they dont have
as much as stuff as I do. And he said thats how they live
they are happy that way they live in nature they grow their
own crops and stuff because we were going down the road
because we saw this family walking a boy with bare feet
and there was a mom and we saw a young boy riding down
the street and we also saw these two women in the eld. It
comes down to this what I was saying earlier I wanted them
to be like me I wanted them to live in the same houses, not
the same houses,
Interviewer: Same kinds of houses
Jamie: Yeah. My dad said they dont do the same stuff as us,
like I am a Catholic and their religion is Mennonite. And
since not everybody lives the same as us., we are Catholic
and we can look back in history and we are different from
Jews like Jews dont believe Jesus is the son of God they
still think he is going to come but Catholics think Jesus is
the son of god, but the Indians dont really want to be like
the non-Indians just like the Amish people dont want to
be like us. They like the way they live now.
Is it possible to read Jamies efforts to make sense of
white and Indian relations in the nineteenth century as
anything less than a rich act of imagination: the act or
power of forming a mental image of something not present to
the senses? As he talked, my own mind lled with images
of a young boy and his father driving together, of Amish
children riding horses in the twenty-rst century streets of
Iowa, and even of a child at some moment encountering
the reality that there exist spiritual faiths different than his
own. But this isnt only a story about barefoot children or
religious faiths; it is a story about Jamies awareness of his
own process of learning to respect foreignness when he sees
it (VanSledright 2001). He did not make things up fancy
free and then assume he understood a perspective that is
foreign to him, reducing it to something akin to his own
experience. He is recognizing, not taking, the perspectives
of others, and this recognition is the direct result of Jamie
bringing his imagination to bear, via analogy, on a historic
document.
Analogy also helped Jamie grapple with causation and
change. Further along in the interview, as he considered the
purpose of the Dawes Act, he referenced several documents
and considered their implications:
On the next one lets see what it tells usIndians adopt
the ways of non-Indians and absorb them into the non-
Indiansthe non-Indians want a law to make the Indians
come into their world instead of their own world. Its just
like the planets, its just like that we are on this planet
here and they are this planet over there and they want to
make them come over here to make this world bigger they
probably want this to be all non-native American land.
And at the conclusion of the interview, Jamie turned to
analogies to comprehend the enormity of the Native loss:
Jamie: This is kind of reminding me of WWII, when the
Jews were taken away. It reminds me of, the acres were
like the people . . . it reminds me of that because I know
so much about WWII . . . and the 8 million I remember
because I am reading a book Memories of Anne Frank . . .
and I always think of that when I see millions when doing
math or when we say millions I always think of that because
6 million people were taken away and only like not even 500
survived . . . Anne Frank escaped to Switzerland and then
the Neverlands (sic) and the Germans invaded it . . . I wish
she would have survived 2 more weeks because she died
2 weeks before Russians took over. You know what was
pretty sad was only Otto Frank survived . . . I dont know
how long he survived after that. My dad would be so sad if
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Historical Thinking in the Third Grade 213
he lost all of us. He would be sad if we just got pneumonia
or something.
Interviewer: Ok, lets come back to this question, Jamie.
Im afraid Im going to exhaust you. Lets nish up . . . I
can give you more things to study about the Holocaust and
Germany for this summer if you like.
Jamie: Not the Holocaust, please.
Interviewer: It is very sad to study. It is very sad. It probably
makes your heart hurt.
Jamie: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Ok, so we have this has happened to Indian
land. We have this map, we have this poster, we have this
quote from Teddy Roosevelt, so lets come back to this
question again. Was the Dawes Act successful?
Jamie: I think it was. Kind of looking at this one. [He stands
and points to pieces of evidence.] I think it was this one, too.
I think it was these two, I mostly think.
Again in this excerpt, we nd Jamie using analogical
thinking to comprehend the import of a concept in the
documents he is exploring. In this case, analogy is accom-
panied by a strong measure of sympathy as well. He seeks
to comprehend the scale of the theft of Native American
reservation lands by comparing it with statistics of human
loss by murder in the Holocaust, a loss about which he cares
deeply, partly because he has made a personal connection
to Anne Frank. It is interesting that he also expresses sym-
pathy for Annes father, not because he identies with him
directly but because Jamie imagines how his own father
would feel if he lost his children. Just as he recognized the
otherness of the Indians and the Amish, Jamie seems to
recognize an otherness of fathers.
This passage is striking for another reason as well. In
twelve statements during the interview, Jamie expressed
care that people have been harmed by prejudice-based poli-
cies and actions. His discussion of the Holocaust and the
Frank family is one of the longest interview passages that
seems to center on care. This in itself is perhaps not re-
markable. What is remarkable is Jamies seamless shift from
engaging in empathic care to answering a question using
perspective recognition. To answer the question Was the
Dawes Act successful, Jamie did not use the Native per-
spective with which he sympathized. He used the perspec-
tives of the people who advocated for passage of the Act,
which meant that he assessed the Acts success according to
the purposes for which it was intended. This forms a vivid
contrast with Taras reasoning when she responded to the
question, Was the Act successful?:
Tara: No, I do not think by this that its successful, that its
going to work.
Interviewer: Tell me your thinking, why do you say that?
Tara: Smashing, the engine breaking up these tribes . . . Its
sweeping apart all the friends and families and their tribes
and what if they didnt want to move, maybe? They have to,
I think.
My question provided no criteria for judging the success
of the Act, and so Tara was justied in basing her answer
on her inference of how Native peoples would have felt
about the tribes being broken up. She also informed her
answer with available evidence, with Theodore Roosevelts
characterization of the Dawes Acts effect on the tribes.
Both childrens use of evidence to inform their conclusions
stands in contrast to Bartons ndings (1997) that fourth-
and fth-grade students frequently responded to questions
about the source of their information by saying, I just
kinda know. Taras thinking did, however, suggest that
she may engage in historical perspective recognition less
reexively than does Jamie. Her answer complicates the
role of care in perspective taking, for her affective response
to the consequence of the Dawes Act may have hindered
her from considering the original purposes of the Act as
criteria for determining its success.
In other ways Taras Dawes Act interview was different
than Jamies as well. Tara spoke a total of 1,081 words;
Jamie spoke 7,003. While quantity is not an indicator of
the quality of historical thought, in this case it is directly
correlated. Taras engagement in the Dawes Act interview
was not only different fromJamies, but it was alsomarkedly
different from her performance in the rst interview which
is not discussed in detail in this article. In the rst inter-
view her statements were much longer and consistently
demonstrated much more accomplished contextualization
efforts than did her statements in the Dawes Act interview.
The statements she did make in the second interview were
typically in response to extensive interviewer scaffolding;
she demonstrated greater difculty engaging in or making
meaning of the evidence set than did Jamie, contextualizing
only tentatively. Some possible reasons for this difference in
her performance on the rst and second interviews may be
that the rst interview centered on images related to share-
cropping, a topic with which she was quite familiar from
the BHH curriculum. This familiarity may have enhanced
Taras expertise and comfort level in making meaning of
the sources. That possible explanation also points toward
a major difference in the types of connections the two chil-
dren made to contextualize the evidence sets in the second
interview. Tara made direct causal connections between her
prior knowledge and the historic events in the Dawes Act
document set, whereas Jamie made analogical connections
with his prior knowledge. In her most powerful contextual-
ization effort, Tara called on her knowledge of immigration
and industrialization to infer that increased immigration
created a growing demand for land, which was met by tak-
ing Native land. A few documents later, Tara returned to
this connection:
Theyre getting rid of their extra land. Thats what this one
is . . . 1911 [reads date on the land sale yer] . . . Well, I
know that 1911 is when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
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214 Fillpot
happened, that would be industrialization and child labor,
so I think this kind of has to connect to industrialization
somehow.
While Jamie relied primarily on analogical connections
to make meaning, Tara made direct causal and chronolog-
ical connections. There are few statements in Taras inter-
view that reveal engaged imagination.
The visual nature of the evidence Tara interpreted and
contextualized in the rst interview versus the almost en-
tirely written nature of the second interview set leads to
another interesting question. To what extent, if any, were
Taras interpretations in the rst interviewmuch more pow-
erful than her interpretations in the second interview be-
cause the evidence was visual rather than because she had
prior knowledge in sharecropping and not the Dawes Act?
Perhaps counterintuitively, the less accomplished reader,
Jamie, demonstrated greater power to analyze the written
documents in the second interview than did Tara, the more
advanced reader. Was this because he used his imagination
to draw analogies that enabled him to contextualize and
infer perspectives on topics he had not studied before? The
evidence suggests this is a very real possibility, especially
when we recognize that comparisons Jamie drew between
disparate topics and time periods were not the only ways
he used analogy. His references to segregation were of-
ten preceded with the classic signal for a similethe word
likeas he used his understanding of systemic prejudice
in Jim Crow America to recognize the role of prejudice in
the perspectives of the proponents of the Dawes Act.
Throughout the school year, Jamie had expressed intense
interest in segregation history. He was always excited about
studying aspects of the topic, and, judging from his com-
ments in classroom discussions and in the two interviews,
he cared that African Americans have suffered systematic
injustice and discrimination. The extent to which he in-
vokes analogies to a topic about which he cares suggests
a connection between analogy and care. The obvious con-
nection in this instance is Jamies concern that our history
is rife with systematic injustice. A less obvious connection
between care and analogy may be that analogy is evidence
of student motivation to rigorously explore a topic. The ac-
tivation of imagination to draw analogies suggests engage-
ment that supersedes the level required to execute mastery
learning activities such as rote memorization. Care, at least
as motivation to learn, is implied at the foundation of en-
gagement in analogical thinking.
Implications for Instruction
The Dawes Act document set was a daunting one. When we
take inventory of the outcomes of the interviews, we nd
that while Jamie was more successful in his efforts to ana-
lyze sources on a history topic new to him, even the limited
engagement that Tara achieved is perhaps remarkable in
light of the difculty of the task. Both childrens interviews
provide evidence that the Bringing History Home project
helps children develop historical thinking skills. The diver-
gences in the childrens performances, however, highlight
areas to which we should attend more closely if we hope
to move students closer to Jamies level of engagement and
skill in analyzing sources. Specically, we turn to care and
analogy, elements that were prevalent in only Jamies inter-
view and that seemed to enhance his power to deploy the
three historical thinking heuristics.
If care and analogy are constructive elements of histori-
cal thinking, how should that affect instructional choices?
On a third-grade level, lets rst consider how these ele-
ments affect sourcing. To develop this skill, we must rst
teach children text attributes; that texts have authors, dates,
andplaces that they were created, andthat categories of text
exist, such as newspapers, letters, and laws. The next step
is to introduce Stop and Source (Martin and Wineburg
2008), which is an alliterative phrase that reminds children
to always inventory the attributes of a piece of evidence or
book before reading the body of the text. Stop and Source
is a good habit to develop, but knowing the identity or af-
liation of a texts creator is not useful information unless
we understand that a creator has a perspective and that the
creator perspective should inuence how we interpret their
text. When Mrs. Johnson introduces sourcing to her third
graders, she uses care to help them grasp the concept of
authorial perspective. Were she to introduce Lewis Hines
in a historical vacuum before her students studied child la-
bor, the concept of a photographer using his craft to end
the practice might be meaningless. Because she introduces
the photographer after the children have begun studying
child labor, they understand his concern that factory con-
ditions were often dangerous and unhealthy for children.
In turn, they recognize that he was motivated to take spe-
cic pictures to inuence people to end child labor. In this
way, care and historical context help children develop an
understanding of authorial perspective and move along a
continuum of expertise in sourcing.
Helping students develop skill in contextualization is a
scaffolded process as well, but as the steps to develop sourc-
ing expertise demonstrate, children develop some elements
of contextualization and sourcing in tandem. Contextual-
ization cant be divorced from understandings of specic
events, gures, themes, and eras in history. It is the process
of bringing those understandings to bear on new texts to
develop defendable interpretations. We develop childrens
skills in contextualizing by immersing them in studying
events, people, movements, etc., and situating these details
in relation to large themes or eras in history (Barnes 2002;
Bransford 2000). By situating individuals in their specic
historical times, children may be more likely to recognize
the otherness of those times from their own. In third-
grade classrooms, student motivation to engage in this im-
mersion may be activated by ction or nonction books
and/or by vividoriginal sources (BartonandLevstik2004).
By learning from the earliest grades that history is a way of
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Historical Thinking in the Third Grade 215
knowing that involves various and many texts, students are
also started along the continuum to corroborate claims in
a single text with information from other texts.
Once children understand both specic events and orga-
nizing concepts in a history topic, they may be empowered
and motivated to deploy themas analogies to contextualize
and understand new topics. Teachers can both model and
encourage students to draw analogies with history topics
andthemes they have previously studied. Some BHHteach-
ers reexively reference the units their children have studied
in that year and in earlier grades, helping the children re-
member their prior learning anduse it toaccelerate intonew
material. Cross-fertilization between history and literacy
activities may provide additional tools to scaffold explicit
instruction in analogical thinking. Literacy metacognitive
activities in which children are encouraged to make text-
to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections (Keene
and Zimmerman 1997) may encourage students to develop
analogical connections. Literacy visual organizers, Venn
diagrams especially, may scaffold student abilities to recog-
nize the limits of particular analogies, which is an essential
dimension of accurate analogical thinking.
Ona cautionary note, Taras default inclinationtouse her
own denition of success, rather than the denition found
in the evidence, to determine the success of the Dawes Act
aligns with other studies that have found we need to attend
to helping students support their historic explanations with
evidence (Barton and Levstik 1996; Lee et al. 1993). While
Taras answer is defendable as a predication of the perspec-
tive of Native Americancommunities affectedby the Dawes
Act, it nonetheless fails to engage the question by using the
terms of intent in the legislation itself. If we want students
to consider a particular perspective, Taras interview sug-
gests we need to include criteria that directs them to focus
on a specic dimension of a historic event. For example, if
we want to engage students in considering the relationship
between the goals and outcomes of the Dawes Act as they
were stated in a limited set of evidence, we might ask chil-
dren to list the goals for the Dawes Act, the outcomes, and
then ask whether the goals matched the outcomes. We may
then ask students to consider the impact of the legislation
on Native Americans and the morality or justice of these
outcomes.
Implications for Further Study
This study focused on just two childrens performance on
a think-aloud interview. As such, it offers detailed insights
into their historical thinking. The purpose of the interview
was not to capture the general state of third-grade histor-
ical thinking in the United States but to capture some of
the abilities and inclinations of children who have studied
a specic, sequential history curriculum for several years.
As a detailed exploratory, it delineates the contours of two
third-grade childrendeploying historical analysis andinter-
pretive skills and provides an example of exemplary histor-
ical thinking by a third-grade child. While this child is quite
accomplished in historical thinking, in other measures of
cognitive achievement he is average for his grade level. This
does not mean we can generalize fromhis accomplishment;
it means that reading and writing skills may profoundly
confound efforts to assess historical thinking in individual
children. This has implications for further study, not the
least of which will be the difculty of collecting data from
elementary schoolchildren that captures historical thinking
with validity and in a sufcient quantity to meet standards
of statistical signicance.
In a more positive vein, this study suggests a direction
for investigation that has been little explored in the schol-
arship of history teaching and learning; the role of analogy
in historical thinking. Are some children more than others
predisposed to the sort of imaginative connection making
that is analogical thinking? When used by students, is anal-
ogy a catalyst for perspective recognition, as it appears to
be in Jamies interview? Does analogy accelerate students
understanding and contextualization of newhistoric topics
and evidence, as also appears to be the case in Jamies in-
terview? What sorts of specic teaching practices enhance
students inclination and expertise to draw historic analo-
gies? Research into these dimensions of analogy may help
us better understand its role in history teaching and learn-
ing.
On a related note, the quality of Jamies historical think-
ing is anecdotal evidence that supports the developmental-
ist position in Gifted and Talented education. Adherents
to developmentalism advocate using the quality of origi-
nal ideas, student interests, learning approaches that center
on investigation, and talent in specic domains as crite-
ria for identifying gifted and talented children (Caropreso
and White 1994; Renzulli 2004). Jamies performance on
the Dawes Act interview suggests that young children may
have domain-specic gifts not just in reading or math or
science, but in historical thinking. If this is the case, and
if we want to nurture this particular gift, then we are well
advised to identify and support the children in which it is
found. Jamie clearly demonstrates unusual gifts within the
domain of historical analysis, but because he performs at an
average level on standardized tests, his talent was unrecog-
nized and unsupported beyond his immediate teacher and
classroom. Jamies expertise in historical thinking tells us
that even without formal extended learning opportunities,
his intellectual needs and capabilities may have been at least
partially fullled by the history education he experienced.
Conclusion
In an essay passage titled Historical Empathy Primar-
ily Does Not Involve Imagination, Identication or Sym-
pathy, Foster states that True history depends on cau-
tious inquiry and close examination of available evidence
(Foster 2001, 169). Based on my observations of students
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216 Fillpot
doing history, I cannot accept the argument in the pas-
sage title, but I dont imagine anyone in the eld of his-
tory or the scholarship of teaching and learning history
would quibble with the second statement, albeit with some
questions to clarify the intended meaning of true in this
context. But just as true always requires explication, so,
too, should phrases like cautious inquiry and close exam-
ination when they are used as a counterpoint to concepts
like imagination and sympathy. What inspires the questions
of cautious inquiry? What processes are involved when we
closely examine historic texts? In the case of a document
or an image, a close examination may yield nothing more
than an exhaustive inventory of items on the page. Or it
may yield a rich journey to new and deeper understand-
ings, through connections with other texts, conversations,
memories, and experiences. Imagination, sparked by care
and channeled into analogies, carried Jamie through such
a journey as he closely examined evidence of the Dawes
Act. This third graders experience challenges us to closely
examine our assumptions about what and how young chil-
dren can think historically and what we are doing in schools
to support such thinking. While all children may not attain
Jamies expertise in the third grade, they may develop skill
inhistorical analysis at their ownspeeds, if giventhe chance.
Notes
1. All personal and project names in the manuscript have
been changed or blinded for review.
2. Quotation marks within interview statements delin-
eate passages in the historic documents that Jamie read
aloud.
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