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Recitation and Reasoning in Novice History Teachers' Use of Writing

Author(s): Chauncey Monte-Sano and Kristen Harris

Source: The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 113, No. 1 (September 2012), pp. 105-130
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Accessed: 11-07-2017 00:33 UTC

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The Elementary School Journal

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Using artifacts of teachers practices, classroom observa- Chauncey Monte-Sano

tions, and interviews, we explore how 2 novice history

teachers use writing in their middle school classrooms.
Both teachers focused on evidence-based, interpretive
writing in their preservice work, an approach promoted Kristen Harris

by their methods courses. After graduation, one teacher
continued this focus and improved his ability to scaffold
his students essay writing. The second teacher empha-
sized summary of content and proper formatting in her
use of writing, although some of her assignments inte-
grated evidence-based interpretive writing. These case
studies illustrate how 2 similarly prepared teachers con-
vey entirely different notions of history through their use
of writing. These teachers school contexts and disciplin-
ary understandings influence their use of writing. Their
experiences make the case for integrating general literacy
skills with disciplinary literacy and practicing historical
writing instruction in different contexts during teacher
education in order to meet the demands novices face in
diverse school contexts.

adolescent literacy crisis has been well documented in the literature. We
know that low-achieving writers (Graham & Perin, 2007) will likely face
greater difficulty learning subject matter (Sperling & Freedman, 2001), suc-
ceeding in college (ACT, 2005), and making it in the workplace (National
Commission on Writing, 2004, 2005). When 69% of students in grade 8 write below

2012 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0013-5984/2012/11301-0003 $10.00

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the expectations of their grade level (Persky, Daane, & Jin, 2003), the status quo is
Content area writing has been a popular approach to resolving the current literacy
crisis (e.g., Daniels, Zemelman, & Steineke, 2007). Typically, writing across the con-
tent areas emphasizes strategies, conventions, and tools that support writing regard-
less of the specific content. These general approaches to writing establish an impor-
tant foundation of writing skills. Yet, some aspects of writing are not generalizable;
they are discipline specific (e.g., Moje, 2008; Monte-Sano, 2010). Within the field of
history education, research also tends to treat writing as a generic form of composi-
tion and uses terms like thesis, evidence, and analysis. Likewise, the practice of assess-
ing historical writing is often generalized and misses the disciplinary practices in
students writing. If we are to help adolescents develop their literacy skills across
school subjects, we must consider both general and discipline-specific approaches to
writing as we identify the spectrum of what reading and writing involve in each
discipline and determine just what the development of expertise in disciplinary lit-
eracy looks like.
In this article, we look at two novice teachers with similar preparation who ap-
proach writing differently in their history classrooms: James privileges historical
thinking in argumentative writing, and Monica emphasizes skill development in
writing informative text. This article investigates these novices approaches to writ-
ing, comparing their use and teaching of writing in class, thinking about students
writing, and written feedback to students. We place the teachers instructional strat-
egies in the context of their orientations to the discipline, teacher education experi-
ences aimed at integrating writing and social studies, and teaching contexts in an
effort to understand their different approaches to writing in the history classroom.

Given the history disciplines emphasis on developing written arguments based on
analysis of multiple sources, history classes are prime sites for writing instruction.
Making the case for a particular interpretation in writing is foundational to the
discipline of history (Mink, 1987). Yet, as with other school subjects, there is a dis-
tinction between writing that integrates disciplinary thinking and more general
forms of writing that do not require disciplinary thinking.
The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS-ELA) iden-
tify writing argument, narrative, and informative or explanatory text as key forms of
writing in history/social studies (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010, pp.
64 66). Likewise, historians have identified summary or description, narrative,
analysis or exposition, and argument as different ways of writing, all of which con-
tribute to historians end goal of interpretation. Typically, writing summaries or
informative text does not involve historical analysis or interpretation, whereas other
forms of writing in history, such as argument or exposition, do (e.g., Rampolla,
2004). For historians, the end goal is historical interpretation or argument. Yet,
standardized tests often emphasize writing summaries or informative text.
Historical writing shares an argumentation framework (Toulmin, 1958) with
other forms of writing, but the nature of the data and warrants (the evidence and
connection between evidence and claim) is discipline specific (Monte-Sano, 2010;
Schwab, 1978). In constructing historical arguments, writing is often inextricable

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from a disciplinary way of thinking and working with evidence, such as recognizing
biases in sources, comparing evidence, situating evidence in its context, and taking
into account different perspectives and multiple causes (Mink, 1987). We refer to the
end goal of using evidence in an argument as historical writing because such inter-
pretive work rests on historical thinking. However, we recognize that history in-
cludes other forms of writing that contribute to the construction of an argument, and
these forms of writing are often observable in K12 classrooms.

Supporting Students Historical Writing

Just as writing in history classrooms can take many forms, so too can the way in
which history is presented. Typically, school history instruction reinforces a concep-
tion of history as a static, single story and embraces memorization of facts (Ravitch &
Finn, 1987). When teachers assign reading and writing in secondary history class-
rooms, the focus typically involves reading comprehension and summary of infor-
mation (Kiuhara, Graham, & Hawken, 2009) and the use of textbooks as authorita-
tive sources of information (Bain, 2006). Yet, such approaches to literacy and history
fall short of advancing students historical thinking (Bain, 2006) and argumentative
writing (Monte-Sano, 2008).
In contrast, reformers call for an approach to history that is more consistent with
the discipline (Wineburg, 2001). The very nature of history is interpretive; as a con-
sequence, there are multiple accounts of any historical event or issue written by
people in real situations with particular interests. A disciplinary approach to history
involves investigation into the past and constructing arguments from evidence that
has been questioned, pieced together, and interpreted. Teaching history this way
often involves analysis of historical sources, comparison of sources, discussion, and
deliberation (Bain, 2006; Monte-Sano, 2008, 2011a; VanSledright, 2002; Wineburg,
Researchers have found that writing assignments and instruction that are consis-
tent with a disciplinary approach to history support students historical writing. In
particular, argumentative and analytical writing has promoted better writing and
historical understanding for students in middle school through college. Wiley and
Voss (1999) found that college students who used multiple texts and wrote an argu-
mentative essay generated better essays than those asked to read a textbook or write
a summary, narrative, or description. These students also emerged with a deeper
understanding of the material than any other combination of text use and writing
task. Young and Leinhardt (1998) found that repeated writing in response to
document-based questions in a high school advanced placement U.S. history class
helped students progress from listing pieces of knowledge without relating them to
one another, to synthesizing evidence into a unique interpretation. Monte-Sano
(2008, 2011a) found that the historical writing of high school students who were
asked to write arguments or close analyses of primary-source authors perspectives
improved over time, as compared with students who wrote summaries of informa-
tion based on a single textbook. Although much of the research in this area has
focused on high school and college students, De La Pazs (2005) work with middle
school students of diverse abilities demonstrates that they, too, can learn to write
persuasive essays in history. In her study, a combination of explicitly teaching his-
torical thinking, text structure, and planning improved middle school students ar-

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gumentative history essays. Together, these studies tell us that writing involving
multiple texts and argument or analysis generates stronger essays than those that rely
on textbooks alone and summary.
Although there is scant research on middle school students historical writing, De
La Pazs (2005) research demonstrates that it is certainly possible for middle school
students to write argumentative history essays. Lee and Ashbys (2000) work indi-
cates that students of middle school age are capable of learning to think in ways that
support written historical argument; specifically, they are able to recognize accounts
as interpretations created by particular authors who have selected evidence. Ashby
(2004) has also found that middle school students are likely to consider the credibil-
ity of evidencea key aspect of historical argumentation. Disciplinary thinking and
ways of writing that integrate evidence-based interpretive thinking are feasible for
middle school students, but the findings are certainly not definitive, nor do they shed
light on the kinds of progress middle school students can reasonably make over time.
A better understanding of middle school students historical writing could help us
prepare teachers for the particular demands of teaching disciplinary literacy in mid-
dle school.

Inuences on Students Writing Processes

Students understanding of what a writing task entails, or task representation, is a
key influence on their written products. Flower and Hayes (1981) highlighted its role
when they argued that writers guide themselves not only with their goals, but their
understanding of the purposes of an assignment. Novices seem to lack an under-
standing of the task or purpose for their writing and have unclear goals to guide them
as they write (Ferretti, MacArthur, & Dowdy, 2000). Indeed, students and historians
do not necessarily share the same conception of historical writing. Greenes (1994)
research showed that college students were less likely than historians to recognize
that writing involved constructing an argument and situating a topic in historical
context because their discourse knowledge, topic knowledge, and disciplinary
knowledge affected their understanding of and performance on the writing tasks. If
this is the case with college history majors, it is almost certain that younger students
with far less exposure to disciplinary ways of thinking will also struggle to make sense
of writing tasks in history classrooms.

Learning to Teach Writing

Given the research on developing students writing, what do we know about
learning to teach writing? Our understanding of how novice educators learn to teach
writing is largely confined to English language arts and does not extend to discipline-
specific writing. In her seminal work, Kennedy (1998) examined teachers beliefs
about writing and teaching writing before, during, and after their teacher education
experiences across eight different programs. She found that novices were more con-
cerned with having students follow prescriptions for writing, especially when faced
with concrete situations (as opposed to focusing on teaching strategies for or pur-
poses in writing). Teachers beliefs about writing had a deep influence on their teach-
ing of writing, and the teacher education programs orientation toward writing could
have an influence on teachers beliefs about writing.

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In a series of articles, Grossman and her colleagues found that novice English
teachers use the pedagogical tools for teaching writing that they learned in teacher
education, especially those supported by conceptual tools (Grossman, Smagorinsky,
& Valencia, 1999; Grossmam et al., 2000). They defined conceptual tools as princi-
ples, frameworks, and ideas about teaching, learning, and English/language arts that
teachers use as heuristics to guide their instructional decisions (Grossman et al.,
2000, pp. 633 634). Pedagogical tools included strategies or resources used in teach-
ing. Researchers saw more evidence of these tools in novices second year of teaching
as they tried to improve their practice (Grossman et al., 1999, 2000). Further, novices
identities as teachers and writers, as well as the contexts in which they teach during
and after preservice, influence their teaching of writing (Grossman et al., 2000).
In learning to teach history and social studies in particular, researchers have found
that teachers disciplinary knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and beliefs
about students are important influences on novices teaching (Conklin, 2008;
Monte-Sano, 2011b; Monte-Sano & Cochran, 2009; Wilson & Wineburg, 1988). Bo-
han and Davis (1998) examined three preservice teachers written constructions of a
historical event based on multiple sources as well as their historical thinking about
those sources. They found a lack of understanding of historical thinking and the
inquiry process as well as limited use of evidence to support claims in their written
work. This is in some ways consistent with Smagorinsky, Cook, and Johnsons (2003)
argument that novice teachers likely graduate from preservice programs without
fully developed understandings of the concepts that shape their practice. If one goal
of history teaching is to cultivate students historical thinking and writing, then the
teachers in Bohan and Daviss (1998) study had not yet mastered foundational con-
cepts needed to buttress their practices. Yet, existing research does not lend insight
into how beginning history teachers learn to teach writing.
Although learning to teach writing involves many considerations, here we em-
phasize the influence of teachers disciplinary knowledge, teacher education, and
teaching contexts on novices approach to writing in their classrooms (Conklin,
2008; Grossman et al., 2000; Wilson & Wineburg, 1988). We share in-depth case
studies to understand how two novices translated similar teacher education experi-
ences in their classrooms and how they approach writing differently within the same
content area. Given the limited research on the nature and development of new
history teachers writing instruction, we asked four questions: (1) How often do
students write in these two novice history teachers classrooms? (2) What kinds of
writing do these two novice history teachers use? (3) How do the two novice history
teachers use writing in their history classrooms? (4) How do the two novice history
teachers teach and think about teaching writing?

This is an exploratory, comparative case study (Yin, 2003) of two novice history
teachers writing instruction during the 2 years following completion of their teacher
education program. Individual case analysis and comparison of cases used multiple
units of analysis: interviews, observations, classroom artifacts (e.g., worksheets, as-
signments), pre- and postassessments of teachers knowledge, and teachers feedback
on students written work.

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The first author taught the fall and spring social studies methods courses during
the preservice program, and both authors collected data in the first 2 years of novices
teaching after graduation. During the preservice year, a different graduate student
collected data, and the first author did not analyze data until after submitting grades
for the year to maximize teacher candidates willingness to be open and honest as
study participants.

Dening Writing
Throughout data collection, we used Applebee, Auten, and Lehrs (1981) defini-
tion of writing as any time students pens were on paper. For the purposes of data
collection, writing included anything from notes copied down from the teachers
lecture slides to an argumentative essay. Or, using Applebee and his colleagues (1981)
terms, writing included writing without composing (which involves recording
teachers thinking) and writing with composing (which involves students thinking as
they write). Similarly, writing instruction included warm-ups, notes, short answers,
essay prompts, explicit instruction, feedback, or scaffolding in support of students
completion of writing tasks.
During data analysis, we found that Applebee et al.s (1981) terms did not always
make sense for the history classroom. In particular, these categories did not discrim-
inate between times when students were asked to think historically in their writing
and times when they were asked to write that did not demand historical thinking.
Yet, given the data, we found these distinctions to be important. Therefore, in our
analyses, we distinguished different forms of writing according to whether or not the
writing demanded historical thinking, which we narrowly defined as evidentiary,
interpretive thinking. With this kind of thinking, students might reason with evi-
dence as they construct an argument or interpretation of past events. Rather than
taking all evidence as equally true, students might select and evaluate evidence to
bolster a claim. We focused on evidentiary, interpretive thinking because it is a
fundamental aspect of historical thinking that opens the door to deeper historical
thinking (e.g., recognizing perspectives, contextualization) and disciplinary under-
standing (Bain, 2006; Monte-Sano, 2011b; Wineburg, 2001). From a methodological
standpoint, it is also a broad enough definition of historical thinking to include a
wide range of writing opportunities (e.g., a short-answer response to a document-
analysis question or an argumentative essay).

This article is part of a longitudinal research project on history and social studies
teachers learning. We followed 10 teacher candidates during their 1-year teacher
education programs and continued with six of the 10 graduates (those who remained
in state with social studies teaching positions) during their first 2 years of teaching. In
this article, we focus on Monica and James (all names are pseudonyms) because they
both integrated writing regularly into their instruction; however, their use of writing
differed. In addition, in their first year, both Monica and James taught U.S. history to
eighth graders and invited us to observe units on the same topics: the American
Revolution and westward expansion. Keeping the topics and courses constant in the
first year allowed us to compare their instructional decisions more directly. Finally,

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Monte-Sano and Cochran (2009) wrote about Monica and James after their teacher
education experience, finding that Jamess disciplinary understanding was quite
strong and Monicas was still developing. We found this background helpful context
for our current analysis of Monicas and Jamess use of writing after teacher educa-
Monica majored in history as an undergraduate, but didnt enter the teacher
education program with an understanding of historys disciplinary structure and the
procedural knowledge required to do history (e.g., Seixas, 1999). Her knowledge
improved during her teacher education experience, but she did not graduate with a
completely developed understanding of the discipline. For example, when faced with
historical documents about the Vietnam War in the pretest, Monica took their meaning
literally and referred to all of them as equally valid, without considering the authors of the
documents or the historical context in which the documents were situated. Similarly,
when asked to write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with one interpretation of the
Vietnam War using the documents, Monica summarized the main ideas of the docu-
ments without constructing an argument or considering the relative merits of the docu-
ments as evidence for an interpretation. By the posttest at the end of the teacher educa-
tion program, Monica constructed an argument using evidence from the documents in
her essay but did not consistently integrate historical thinking into her reading of texts
(e.g., she periodically took texts literally, failing to detect the subtext or consider the
reliability of the sources).
James majored in history as an undergraduate and participated in National His-
tory Day as a middle and high school student. He entered the program with a deep
understanding of the structure of history and procedural knowledge. For example,
when asked to analyze documents about the Vietnam War on the pretest, James
automatically considered authors, their motivations, and the context in which they
wrote as he weighed the reliability of historical texts. When asked to evaluate an
interpretation of the Vietnam War using sources, James constructed his own inter-
pretation of the war, used various documents to support his argument, and rebutted
or explained conflicting evidence. His performance was nearly identical on the post-
test at the end of his teacher education program. However, he hadnt realized that
such knowledge could contribute to his classroom teaching he saw this approach
to history as something that would happen largely outside the confines of the class-
room until he began his methods classes.

Teacher Education Context

Monica and James graduated from the same masters certification program at a
state university in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Both graduated from
the same undergraduate institution in the spring of 2007 with a major in history.
James started the teacher education program in the summer of 2007. Monica pur-
sued an integrated teacher education route, taking four education courses as an
undergraduate and then joining the cohort in the fall of 2007. Their teacher educa-
tion program included the following courses: three social studies methods, two read-
ing, two diversity and equity, one action research, and one professionalism. Monica
and James both completed a 1-year internship in a local public school during the
20072008 academic year while taking these classes. Despite the structural similarity

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of Jamess and Monicas teaching preparation, there were some important differ-
Monicas first methods course covered a range of pedagogical methods for teach-
ing social studies, with each day covering a different teaching strategy. In contrast,
Jamess first methods course investigated the structure of history, what it means to
think historically, and a few examples of how to teach history in a way that would
promote historical understanding and thinking. The second and third methods
courses, which Monica and James completed together, emphasized teaching histor-
ical understanding rather than memorization; specific strategies to teach reading,
discussion, and writing; curriculum development; assessment; and reflection and
revision. These courses treated argumentative writing as a form of assessment as well
as a set of skills that can support historical thinking.

School Contexts
Upon graduation, Monica got a full-time job at Booker T. Washington Middle
School (the site of her preservice field placement), where she taught grade 7 world
history and grade 8 U.S. history in her first year, and only grade 8 U.S. history in her
second year. Students at Washington were predominately Black (62%) and profi-
cient in reading as determined by the state exam (79% proficient in 2008 and 85%
proficient in 2010). Additionally, nearly one-third of the students at Washington
received free and reduced-price meals. At Monicas school, the principal required
social studies teachers to integrate strategies to support reading comprehension and
writing into their classrooms. Grade-level teams decided where and how to imple-
ment these requirements with intensive principal oversight (e.g., regular visits to
classrooms, participation in grade-level team meetings in which teachers shared
examples of their practice that reflected the principals literacy initiatives). Although
James and Monica worked in the same state with the same state social studies stan-
dards, each district in the state constructed their own standardized curriculum in
order to address the state standards. The standardized curriculum in Monicas dis-
trict framed history as a series of facts presented in chronological order. Each day of
the curriculum included a specific set of information to cover without explicit con-
nections to other days or organization by major themes. Monicas district had stan-
dardized unit tests, but she did not always have to use these for her grades if she chose
to give other assessments.
After interning as a grade 9 U.S. history teacher during his preservice program,
James found a job teaching grade 8 U.S. history and grade 7 world history part-time
(he taught four of five classes) at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. In his second
year he taught grade 7 world history full-time at the same school. Students at Mar-
shall were predominantly White, non-Hispanic (72%), and proficient in reading
(92% in 2008 and 91% in 2010). Only 8% of students received free and reduced-price
meals at Marshall. In his first year, James felt he was expected to use the same selected
response unit tests as his grade-level team, although by the end of the year he re-
ported altering the tests so that they met his purposes (e.g., adding an essay prompt).
In his second year, Jamess district began to encourage teachers to integrate historical
thinking into their lessons. Jamess department had regular meetings focused on
teaching historical thinking, but James reported that it was all old information to him
and felt he already focused on historical thinking. The standardized curriculum in his

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district arranged history content thematically around guiding essential questions

and integrated sample lessons periodically, some of which include historical docu-
To determine the comparability of Jamess and Monicas students, we adminis-
tered the same historical writing task to their classes in the first year (adapted from
chap. 1 in Wineburg, Martin, & Monte-Sano, 2011). The historical writing task asked
students to (1) read two conflicting primary sources written by John Smith at two
different points in his lifetime, (2) respond to reading comprehension questions
(e.g., According to the document, what happened when John Smith met Pocahon-
tass people? and What are the differences between the documents?), (3) think his-
torically about the documents (e.g., Which document is more trustworthy? Why
might the documents say different things?), and (4) write a paragraph explaining
whether they think Pocahontas saved John Smith. Students had 40 minutes to com-
plete the task. The first author scored all students responses, and the second author
independently scored one-third of these to check for reliability. Responses were
scored reliably for reading comprehension (r .83); specific qualities of historical
argumentation, including whether students included a claim, used sources, justified
their claim, or reasoned about sources (r .92); and the number of words per essay
(r .99). In comparing the teachers, we found that the average reading comprehen-
sion, argumentative writing, and word count scores for Jamess and Monicas stu-
dents were quite similar (although Monicas students scored slightly higher). The
average reading comprehension score for Monicas students was .56 (SD .36) as
compared with Jamess .5 (SD .32). In other words, Monicas students attained an
average of 56% of the possible points on the reading comprehension measure where
Jamess students attained an average of 50%. The average argumentative writing
score for Monicas students was .59 (SD .21) as compared with Jamess .51 (SD
.34); the average word count for Monicas students was 30, whereas Jamess was 25.
Each class demonstrated a wide range of incoming skills, and we do not know how
the scores of students with consent compared to the scores of students without.

Sources of Data
Both Monica and James taught grade 8 U.S. history courses in their first year of
teaching after graduation. We observed a unit on the American Revolution in the fall
and a unit on westward expansion in the spring. In their second year, we observed the
same units of study for Monica since she taught grade 8 U.S. history. However,
Jamess teaching assignment shifted to grade 7 world history in his second year, so we
observed a unit on Latin America, specifically, the Aztecs, in the winter as well as a
unit on the Renaissance in the spring.
Data used in this article include observations of teaching, interviews with teachers,
and classroom artifacts from participants first 2 years of teaching after completion of
the teacher education program. In the first year, we observed four to six classes per
teacher, for an average of 5 hours per teacher. In the second year, we observed three
to five classes per teacher for an average of 4 hours per teacher. After Year 1, we
found that additional observations did not result in new information or data that
challenged the patterns we had identified through analysis. Therefore, we observed
less often in Year 2. Observations helped us see the kinds of writing tasks teachers

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gave students (if any), how frequently teachers asked students to write, how teachers
used writing in their instruction, and how they taught students to write.
We collected artifacts of each teachers practices throughout both units observed
each year. Artifacts included readings with short-answer questions; worksheets with
graphic organizers, fill-in-the-blank notes, or short-answer questions; lecture slides
that students were to transcribe; and written assessments along with relevant scaf-
folding. In addition, we collected students written work in response to assignments
with teachers written feedback. The collection of artifacts aimed to capture concrete
examples of how teachers used and taught writing, as well as the resulting student
written work. Artifacts also helped us see what teachers did on days in the unit that we
did not observe, giving us some sense of how typical the days we observed were.
In the first year we interviewed each teacher six times, once at the beginning of the
year, briefly before each unit we observed, after each unit we observed, and at the end
of the school year. We did not reap any significant benefits from interviewing teach-
ers before each unit; therefore, in the second year we interviewed teachers four times
but spent longer with them after each unit. In total, each year we interviewed each
teacher for 5 hours. Interviews aimed to gather evidence of teachers thinking about
their use and teaching of writing and their students written work. Interviews in-
cluded analysis of students written work; charting a complete calendar of goals,
writing activities, and written assessments for each observed unit; identifying salient
influences on teachers use of writing; and probing teachers thinking about using
writing in their classrooms.
We administered an experimental pre- and postassessment of teachers disciplin-
ary knowledge created for the purposes of the project. We are still in the process of
studying this measure. As preservice teachers, participants took these assessments at
the beginning of the first summer of their participation in the masters certification
program and at the end of their last methods course in the late spring of their pro-
gram (they took only one course after this, which did not emphasize subject-specific
teaching). They also took the assessment at the end of their first and second years of
teaching. The pre- and postassessments asked novices to (1) share their definition of
history and vision of teaching history; (2) analyze and interpret the authors, context,
and reliability of five historical documents about the Vietnam War; and (3) develop
a written argument evaluating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. These data
were used to understand teachers epistemic beliefs and historical thinking, knowing
that such disciplinary understanding is important background to understanding
teachers pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1987). In addition, the post-
assessments asked participants to analyze students disciplinary reading and writing
and develop a lesson plan with the Vietnam War documents in an effort to capture
participants pedagogical content knowledge.

Data Analysis
Throughout data collection, we analyzed observations, interviews, and artifacts
across all six participants who continued in the larger study after completing the
teacher education program. Every 6 months we wrote summaries and analytic
memos. These initial analyses led us to identify themes in novices teaching practice
and thinking that highlighted their use and teaching of writing. In preparation for
this article, we reduced the data (Miles & Huberman, 1994) by extracting excerpts

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from observation and interview transcripts that had to do with writing assignments,
writing instruction or scaffolding, thinking about students written work or teacher
feedback, and influences on the teaching of writing. This allowed us to target our
analysis of data that was relevant to the scope of this report.
We reviewed the data for each case and identified patterns in the teachers use and
teaching of writing. We then coded the data according to these patterns, arranging
data excerpts under each identified pattern. We reviewed these coded data together
to identify where we believed the data were appropriately clustered and where codes
required refinement based on challenging evidence. This led to some revisions of
codes so that they more accurately reflected the data. We also arranged data visually
to help with pattern identification. For example, we arranged all writing prompts for
each teacher chronologically, so we could attend to patterns over time. We then
verified our conclusions about each teacher by checking for representativeness, tri-
angulating across data sources, and looking for negative evidence (Miles & Huber-
man, 1994). Finally, we compared the practices and thinking of each teacher over
time, using both data displays and clustered data, in order to develop cross-case
themes for discussion.

Monica: Writing as Recitation and Formatting with an Emerging Focus on
Students in Monicas class wrote daily. However, the nature of their writing var-
ied. Monicas eighth graders wrote in response to a warm-up question and took notes
on U.S. history content daily in the units we observed. Students wrote short answers
in response to document analysis questions at least twice per unit and in response to
reading skills worksheets at least once per unit. According to our observations and
her reports of other units of study, students wrote essays at least once per unit of
Many of Monicas prompts reflected an approach to reading comprehension
called Costas Levels of Questioning (Costa, 1985). This approach sequences ques-
tions into three levels ranging from factual to inferential to evaluative. At the begin-
ning of her first full year, Monica reported, Costas Levels of Questioning is school-
wide and we have to use it. She went on to explain that the principal looks for it
when she observes and spoke to Monica about trying to include Costas levels more
in her lessons after an observation in the fall. Rather than learning about Costas
levels in her teacher education literacy courses, Monica learned about it in her first
year of teaching at a staff meeting. Many of Monicas prompts that elicited writing
reflect this approach to reading comprehension, but her instruction often remained
focused on factual information without extending to the inferential or evaluative
thinking that is possible with this strategy. Other approaches to reading comprehen-
sion that Monicas principal advocated include SQ3R (i.e., Survey, Question, Read,
Recite, and Review) and Cornell Notes. Therefore, many of the writing opportunities
we observed were intended to improve students reading comprehension more than
their writing skills or argumentation.
Recitation. Most of the daily writing opportunities in Monicas class involved
writing with minimal disciplinary thinking. Every day that we observed, students

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started class by writing in response to a warm-up question projected on the over-

head. In her warm-up questions, Monica emphasized Costas level 1 questions such
as recalling or reciting facts, reporting of concrete information in the text, or defining
key vocabulary terms. Typically, the clues to answer such questions were directly
stated in the text that was being used as a basis for questioning. The following are
examples of warm-up questions from the first observed unit in her first year:

Day 3: Use context clues from the sentences below to infer the meaning of the
underlined word. (1) George Washington was a proficient leader during the French
and Indian War. (2) Britain fought against the French and indigenous tribes of
North America in 1763.
Day 7: What was the Stamp Act Congress? How many colonists sent represen-
tatives to the Stamp Act Congress?

By Year 2, the tenor of warm-ups had not changed. Warm-up questions typically had
one right answer and did not require students to think historically. Some asked
students to find the answer by flipping through their textbook; others relied on
context clues or dictionaries.
After completing the warm-up, students wrote notes daily as Monica lectured.
Students copied notes from the teachers PowerPoint slides or filled in missing words
on note-taking worksheets. Monica sometimes used the Cornell Notes format of
writing questions in the margins to structure students note taking. The fact-based
questions Monica wrote in the left-hand column of a Cornell Notes worksheet for a
lecture on the Louisiana Purchase included, Who explored the New Territory? Who
were Lewis & Clark? Describe the path that the Corps Discovery took. How much did
the expedition cost? What happened to Lewis after? What happened to Clark after?
Monica started notes in the right-hand column and left them blank for students to
complete (e.g., Thomas Jefferson appoints Expedition started in Goal: to
reach ). Monica consistently reported her belief that writing information
helped students learn it. In her first year, Monica said, I know notes are essential
because [students] need them to study from and learn. It helps to write them down.
In Year 2, Monica explained her use of a graphic organizer in combination with notes
about Lewis and Clark: Rewriting it puts it in their brain, things that happened to
[Lewis and Clark] and what [Lewis and Clarks] experience was like.
Students also wrote short answers in response to different kinds of worksheet
questions. One form of worksheet focused on reading skills (e.g., SQ3R and Costas
Levels of Questioning) and consistently emphasized reading comprehension. For
example, an SQ3R on Andrew Jackson included prompts to survey pictures, titles,
and words in bold. Then, it listed questions such as explain why Jackson disliked the
bank or how did pet banks increase inflation? The worksheet then directed stu-
dents to read the passage in the textbook to answer these questions, review the
information, and reflect on what they learned. On the back, students also defined
several key words. Another kind of worksheet with short-answer questions focused
on analysis of primary and secondary documents. Although these worksheets in-
volved some interpretive, evidentiary thinking, they also emphasized summarizing
texts and reading comprehension. For example, a document about the Trail of Tears
stated, The marches usually began when federal troops rounded up those who

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resisted removal, and the worksheet question asked, How did the Trail of Tears
marches usually begin?
Beyond warm-ups, notes, and short answers, Monica assigned essays six times
during the period we observedthe first three observed units each included one
essay, the last unit had three essays. Of the six essays she assigned, four called for
students to summarize information or report details pertaining to a historical topic.
None of these essays included historical documents for students to use; however,
they did refer to specific pages in the textbook. Three of these essays were short,
one-paragraph essays that are typical on the states standardized tests (i.e., BCRs, or
brief constructed responses). In a first-year interview, Monica reported, The BCR is
what we do for content. One of these essays, What problems did our new nation
face? (Unit 2, Year 2), was a five-paragraph essay. Although some of these prompts
could provide opportunities for interpretive thinking, the preparation for them em-
phasized reporting information and mastery of content.
For the Andrew Jackson prompt during Unit 2 in Year 1 (i.e., What issues occur-
ring during Jacksons Presidency further emphasized sectional differences within the
United States? Pick 3 main issues), Monica highlighted information that should be
in the essay so students mostly had to report back information they had already been
told. Monica prepared her students by reviewing a section in the textbook called
Conflict over States Rights and a previously completed worksheet that had guided
class notes on this topic. During class she told students,

Sectionalism affected the Civil War because the North fought the South and they
both thought they were right about the economy and slavery. Thats an illustration
of sectionalism. . . . Get out your worksheet from earlier in the week about when we
talked about the sections of the U.S. Chapter 12, section 3, page 354 and how it
relates to Jackson is on page 379. [Students turn to page in their book.] . . . Within
Jacksons presidency, there were issues that had to be discussed. The North fought
the South. I know you remember. I want you to read through the first section and
tell me what are some issues that promoted sectionalism.

The worksheet listed four issues that increased sectional differencesthe sale of
public lands, internal improvements, tariffs, and nullificationand included the
beginning of a sentence to cue students to connect the issue to sectionalism (e.g.,
The South was against internal improvements because ). Monica reviewed
the information on these worksheets and in the textbook. Then students completed
a prewrite graphic organizer, choosing which three sectional issues to write about. In
planning and composing their essays, students selected among sectional issues that
had already been laid out and reported on them in their essays.
Monicas written feedback on these kinds of essays emphasized the importance of
content (e.g., Excellent details about the Alien and Sedition Acts, Add more de-
tails about George Washington, or Great details and examples from the text!). In
the lead-up to assignments, the prompts themselves, and the feedback on assign-
ments, essay writing emphasized summary and reflected key strategies for reading
comprehension advocated at her school. Monica affirmed her focus in interviews, as
in this discussion of the essay on the problems of the new nation: When they explain
the problem [of the new nation] they have to . . . summarize the problem in two to
three sentences, so its picking the essential details . . . its just writing to inform.

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Formatting. Although Monicas use of writing emphasized content mastery more

than evidentiary and interpretive thinking, in the end formatting and organization
came to dominate Monicas teaching of writing. Midway through her first year,
Monica explained this focus: At the beginning of the year we would do BCRs either
for homework or independently and it became obvious to me that kids just wanted to
get as much detail down and it didnt matter about sentence forms, topic sentences,
transition words, nothing. Later that year, she reiterated, Most of them had no
concept how a paragraph should be written. Her second-year comments were sim-
ilar: Kids in general will not use complete sentences. . . . They dont use transitions
or make sure their sentences are smooth.
In response to her discovery of students weaknesses, Monica focused on the
structure, organization, and style in students writing. In the first interview of her
first year, Monica shared,

So I had to make an executive decision. Do I use this assessment to test them on

their knowledge? Not care about the topic sentence just make sure you have the
facts straight. Or am I going to use this tool as a part of the learning process. Like,
heres the topic and lets think of three reasons we can have in our paragraph, and
of course we wont forget the topic or concluding sentence. . . . I was like, Im
going to shift my focus and make sure Im teaching this writing skill using the social
studies curriculum. Its not as much an assessment of do they know this like it
used to be, but they are learning to write a paragraph and I think thats more

Monica saw assessing for content mastery and assessing for writing skills as separate
foci. She decided to emphasize the latter.
Not only did Monica frame writing as separate from content, but she also framed
it as separate from historical thinking. At the end of her first year, she explained, We
dont get into analysis-type writing. Usually my BCR topics are about something that
can be divided or supported by three reasons because Im trying to enforce the
concept of a basic formula for a paragraph. Her focus on the structure of a para-
graph precluded analysis. Later that year she explained her priorities quite clearly:

Theres a formula that needs to be [in students essays]. Of course the meat in the
middle is going to be different, but there needs to be structure thats consistent
among every paper I receive. Name, title, introductory paragraph to introduce the
issue and what you are going to talk about, chunking it into certain amount of
support. . . . Three details or reasons and that and then going into your conclusions
paragraph, Therefore you can see . . . and ending it that way. Some kids, their
thought process doesnt lend itself naturally to a five-paragraph essay way of writ-
ing, but I will socialize you and make you fit your ideas to that format.

For Monica, teaching the format for writing a single- or multiparagraph essay was
paramount; content and disciplinary thinking were less important.
In her second year, Monica started using a specific writing format that had been
adopted school-wide: ATI. Monica directed students to answer the question, use
text support to back yourself up, and make an inference, as well as highlight the
parts of their essay that related to the A, T, and I in a different color. Monica ex-

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plained, This format is the preferred method of the [state exam] scorers, so were
trying to instill this in them, so when they do the [state exam], they have their answer,
text support, and inference, so we get the high scores. She went on to explain that the
language arts teachers at the school use this format, and the principal made it a
grade-level team expectation.
Even in her teacher education coursework, Monica integrated formatting into her
writing assignments. In one assignment she designed for her students, she specified
what they should write in each paragraph, included a rubric that prioritized the
organization and structure of the essay, and created a lesson on how to write good
topic sentences. The schools adopted format reinforced her emphasis on a formula
for writing. She typically walked students through the steps to complete an essay in
much the same way as she did with the previously mentioned Andrew Jackson essay.
Heavy scaffolding and modeling left little room for students thinking.
After writing their essays, students reflected on them by completing a checklist.
The checklist reflected the structure of essays that Monica emphasized: topic sen-
tences, reasons (or issues), details, explanation, and concluding sentence. Consistent
with her focus on formatting, written feedback pertained to the structure of the essay
rather than the substance of it, and specified a particular step or part of the formula
that students should attend to if they needed improvement. Throughout her use of
writing, Monica emphasized the format for writing and mastery of content knowl-
edge most often, but she increasingly included interpretive writing.
Emerging use of evidence-based, interpretive writing. Twice in each observed
unit, Monica had students analyze documents and write short answers in response to
worksheet questions. Document-analysis activities followed fact-based warm-ups
and note taking, although they occurred with less regularity. Document-analysis
questions typically asked students to identify an authors point of view and justifica-
tions for that view, consider an authors motivations, or compare ideas across mul-
tiple documents (e.g., Why did Monroe think it was necessary to say this?). Monica
felt that a sequence of background knowledge and reading comprehension first,
followed by historical thinking, helped students most.
During her second year of teaching, Monica asked students to write short
essays (BCRs) that called for evidence-based interpretations twice. Both of these
essays included historical documents upon which students could base conclu-
sionsa contrast to the other four essays that did not provide such evidence. She
did not give this kind of essay assignment during her first year. In one example,
Monica asked students to interpret a political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin and
respond to the question, What point is Benjamin Franklin making about the
importance of colonial unity? Monica directed students to use the ATI format.
Because she gave students an interpretive text to work with, it was possible for
students to make their own inferences based on the text. Although the second
interpretive essay did not use the same format, the prompt and her feedback
called for evidence to support students claims (i.e., Do you think the U.S. gov-
ernment abused their power when forcing Native Americans to relocate out
west?). Even though two of the three writing prompts she created for her teacher
education coursework and used in her student teaching placement required
evidence-based interpretation, she did not begin to ask students to write
evidence-based interpretations until her second year of teaching.

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James: Writing as Disciplinary Thinking

Throughout his teacher education year and first years of teaching, James empha-
sized the value he placed on writing. As a student teacher he asserted, This entire
semester the focus is going to be on writing. When we interviewed him as a begin-
ning teacher he reported, Another skills goal Im focusing on this year is really
improving writing and how to write. And at the outset of his second year of teaching
he echoed this long-standing commitment by saying, Writing is a big focus this
year. As expected, writing was observed in Jamess class on an almost daily basis as
either the main activity of a lesson or a cumulative assessment.
James faced some roadblocks in his first year when he learned that his grade-level
team expected him to teach the same lessons they did and deliver the same tests. At
weekly meetings, the team leader distributed a weekly plan for the grade 8 U.S.
history classes, and James initially felt great pressure to follow them, especially be-
cause he was scheduled to teach during those meetings and could not engage in a
discussion about the plans. He was visibly stressed out by this conflict, since the
teams plan did not reflect his goals. He also bristled at administering the same
multiple-choice test. By the spring of his first year, James decided he would primarily
teach as he wished and alter the team test, if necessary, or design an additional
Writing with evidentiary, interpretive thinking: Warm-ups, document analyses,
and evidence-based essays. James routinely used writing with evidentiary, inter-
pretive thinking. In every unit we observed, the majority of lessons asked students to
write responses to questions, either through warm-ups or document-analysis work-
sheets that required interpretive thinking. While James did not use a daily warm-up
in his instruction until his second year of teaching, nearly all of the warm-ups he did
ask students to complete required writing with evidentiary, interpretive thinking.
For example, in Unit 2, Year 1, the warm-ups observed provided students with a
historical image and asked them interpretive questions. On the first day of the unit,
James showed students an Andrew Jackson campaign poster and posited three ques-
tions: (1) How did Jackson portray himself during the campaign? (2) How might the
election of 1824 have convinced Americans to look for a new kind of president? (3)
What type of democracy does Jackson support?
Similar warm-ups were used later in the unit with a political cartoon about An-
drew Jackson and an advertisement for gold miners from the 1840s. When James
began using warm-ups as a daily activity in his second year of teaching, he used the
same type of prompt. In Unit 1, Year 2, James showed students a codex of the Aztec
people depicting human sacrifice and had them respond to two questions: (1) What
is happening here? (2) How does this shape your opinion about the Aztec people? In
Unit 2, Year 2, the warm-up prompt on the last day we observed included an image
of a slave ship and a question for students: What do you think is happening here? In
debriefing these questions, James pressed students to share details from the visual or
written texts that led them to their ideas he conveyed in discussion of their writing
that interpretations had to be supported by evidence.
Another way James used writing with evidentiary, interpretive thinking in his
classroom was by engaging students in document analysis at least once per unit. Most
often, the document analyses done in class led to larger writing assignments requir-
ing evidentiary, interpretive thinking, but the analysis questions themselves often

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necessitated responses with this type of thinking as well. In Unit 1, Year 1, James asked
students to consider the question, Was the Boston Massacre a massacre? To answer
this question, which allows for multiple interpretations, James provided students
with four sourcestwo images and two written accountsand asked them to note
the author of each source and answer two questions: (1) Does this source make it
seem like the Boston Massacre was a massacre? (2) What evidence from the source
supports your view for the previous column (use a direct quote or paraphrase)?
While these questions did not require students to write long answers, they did re-
quire students to analyze the documents, make inferences, and refer to evidence that
supported their thinking. Comparable document-analysis activities were observed in
Jamess other units. Class activities regularly involved writing with evidentiary, in-
terpretive thinking.
James also incorporated at least one summative writing assessment requiring
evidentiary, interpretive thinking in each of the observed units, and often used two
such assessments per unit. Most often, these summative writing assignments fol-
lowed an in-class document analysis on the topic. After the Boston Massacre docu-
ment analysis in Year 1, Unit 1, James introduced a larger writing assignment that
directed students to use evidentiary, interpretive thinking to construct an answer to
the focus question, Was the Boston Massacre a massacre? His instructions to stu-
dents were, Now that you have carefully examined four pieces of historical evidence
surrounding the Boston Massacre, it is now time for you to provide your own inter-
pretation to the question above. You will write a well-developed paragraph in which
you state your position as to the focus question; Was the Boston Massacre a mas-
sacre or not? James also advised students that he would use specific criteria to
assess their writing, including a strong opening statement in which you clearly state
your opinion on the focus question, you use evidence from at least two of the four
sources to support your opinion, and an explanation of why the evidence you
chose is most convincing. Recall from the description of the in-class document
analysis that students were asked to record evidence from the documents that sup-
ported a view of whether the Boston Massacre was a massacre or not. Thus, the initial
writing with evidentiary, interpretive thinking in the form of a document analysis fed
into the summative writing assignment with the same type of thinking.
James also specifically looked for evidentiary, interpretive thinking when evalu-
ating students responses. When asked about the Boston Massacre assignment, James
reported, The big aspect that I was looking for when I was grading the BCRs or
paragraphs today was how they were able to use evidence in writing. Were going to
continue to work on how to use evidence to back up an argument. Additionally, he
noted, Most of my comments that I focused on using evidence to support. Ill say
things like how do you know this? What evidence do you have from documents? That
was the bulk of what I commented on in the margins. In fact, when looking at the
feedback he wrote on the essays, it is evident that a typical comment reminds stu-
dents to use information from a document to support their argument. His rubric
typically valued use of direct evidence and supporting reasons above other aspects of
Teaching writing with evidentiary, interpretive thinking. While writing with evi-
dentiary, interpretive thinking was important to James, observed instances of him
explicitly teaching students to write this way or scaffolding students writing were
brief and infrequent. Instead, we observed James scaffolding students ability to think

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using evidence and interpretation, not their writing. In his teacher education year,
James did not scaffold students writing or thinking at all in his unit plan. His use of
scaffolds in general increased over time; however, the purpose of scaffolds in Jamess
instruction was to support student thinking rather than student writing. The most
explicit writing instruction we observed in Jamess class occurred during his lesson
sequence on labeling the Mexican-American War in Unit 2, Year 1. For this assign-
ment, James asked his students to select the most appropriate label for the Mexican-
American War: War with Mexico or U.S. Invasion of Mexico. For this essay, he
verbally shared a sentence starter for a thesis statement, examples of how to cite
documents, a sample business letter, a rubric, a document-analysis chart, and a
prewriting graphic organizer. The chart asked students to organize notes by docu-
ment and attend to the stance each document took, evidence provided for that
stance, and author reliability. The prewriting graphic organizer required students to
clarify their argument (i.e., their chosen label) upfront, organize their essay accord-
ing to three reasons for their argument, and support each reason with selected ex-
cerpts from the documents.
Beyond this, James reported another instance of explicit writing instruction from
his second year of teaching:

Last quarter, toward the end, I had them do a BCR, kind of a practice BCR and after
that we took a day to break it down. I showed them different models of a 4 BCR,
a high level one, a C and a bad one. We took it apart, piece by piece, and wrote one
together, so it was guided practice that way. We looked at a topic sentence. . . . We
did stuff on the board, where students came up and wrote a topic sentence, how do
we introduce a quote, which quote do we use, and we wrote an A BCR.

When asked specifically about scaffolding students writing, James admitted that he
does not do this often. I dont spend as much time as I need to structuring how to
write. Its one of those things that gets overlooked by me. . . . With the stresses of
getting through the content, its tough sometimes. He also cited the document-
analysis charts as a type of writing scaffold. For the last BCR we did an organizer
together and checked it, and I let them use that to help organize their ideas. Other
times I dont do that, depending on situation and the type of writing assignment it
is. Scaffolds for transforming evidence from historical sources into written re-
sponses requiring this type of thinking were largely absent from Jamess classroom,
as was explicit instruction from the teacher about this process.
Writing without evidentiary, interpretive thinking. James rarely asked students to
write anything that did not require evidentiary, interpretive thinking. In fact, we only
observed writing without evidentiary, interpretative thinking, such as note taking or
reading comprehension questions, four times throughout the study. Moreover, the
one observed lesson sequence most focused on writing without this type of thinking
was also the lesson sequence in which James used the most scaffolds. In Unit 1, Year
2, we observed Jamess lesson on the analysis of Aztec codices and other historical
sources in light of this question: Why were the Aztecs so warlike? Identify and
explain at least two reasons why the Aztecs maintained a culture based on warfare.
Use specific details from the documents to support your answer. On its face, this
question is not open to multiple interpretations like the questions observed in
Jamess other units were. It requires students to list specific reasons, all of which were

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provided through the class activities. James provided five documents along with
document-analysis questions and a graphic organizer to organize reasons for the
Aztecs nature according to categories (e.g., social, political, etc.). Thus, while the
opportunity to cite evidence from documents was present, the interpretive nature of
historical thinking was absent because of the structure of the writing prompt.
Regardless, James focused on evidence use in his checklist of questions for stu-
dents (e.g., Have you used at least two examples from Documents AE that support
your reasons?) and in his analysis of his students work (e.g., Some of them answered
the question but didnt use support from the documents). As with other assign-
ments, James scaffolded students thinking more than he scaffolded their writing.
The document-analysis questions and categorization chart do provide students
more scaffolding, but this prompt only calls for students to refer to evidence; it is
missing the open-ended interpretive focus of Jamess other prompts.

These case studies highlight the ways in which two similarly prepared teachers im-
plement writing instruction differently and how these differences convey contrasting
notions of history. Both Monica and James ask their students to write regularly
notes, short answers, details on a graphic organizer, essaysand each teacher as-
signed at least one essay per unit of study. Given that only 58% of U.S. history
students say they write reports one to two times a month in their history class-
rooms, the frequency of essay writing in these novices classrooms is notable (Na-
tional Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2002). However, the nature of writ-
ing in each teachers classes differed. For Monica, daily writing prioritized
demonstrations of general reading comprehension (e.g., factual recall or vocabulary
for warm-up questions) or note taking. Essay writing emphasized formatting valued
by the state test, incorporating careful scaffolding and explicit instruction. Monica
supplemented these dominant forms of writing with periodic document-analysis
questions and, in her second year, included two essays that required evidentiary,
interpretive thinking. In contrast, evidentiary, interpretive thinking dominated the
focus of writing in Jamess classwhether on daily document-analysis graphic or-
ganizers or on essays. Although his scaffolding supported the thinking required in
essays, James did not often offer explicit instruction in writing. Why did such differ-
ences exist?
Monicas and Jamess approaches to evidence-based, interpretive writing are
likely linked to their epistemic beliefs and disciplinary understandings. As docu-
mented in earlier work (Monte-Sano & Cochran, 2009), James had a more nuanced,
developed understanding of the discipline, whereas Monica had a more surface-level
understanding of the discipline. Smagorinsky and his colleagues (2003) application
of Vygotskys ideas about learning concepts used in teaching relate here. They ex-
plain how incomplete understanding is related to partial implementation in the
classroom. Using the terms Smagorinsky et al. (2003) referenced, Monica graduated
from her teacher education program with an understanding of history at the level of
a complex or pseudoconceptshe understood that history was about the past
and involved stories and details, but did not fully understand that history is centered
on interpretation of historical artifacts. This conception left room for Monica to take
on the reading comprehension focus or emphasize history as details and facts with-

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out giving students opportunities to develop their own interpretation. Monicas

implementation of Costas Levels of Questioning remained mostly fixed on lower-
level questioning aimed at recitation and recall of knowledge, using only a narrow
selection of tools to advance reading comprehension. Yet, knowledge in history is
constructed from a process of questioning, analysis, and judgment; thus her narrow
emphasis on facts in reading comprehension shows a limited conception of history
(Wineburg & Schneider, 2009).
Monica did not have a developed concept of teaching writing upon graduation
from the preservice program as well. In the absence of a clear understanding of
teaching writing, she gravitated toward the concrete strategies her school offered for
teaching writing formulaically without a disciplinary emphasis. Her conception of
the discipline left room for Monica to take in and use her schools approach to
writing, which emphasized a formula of main point, evidence, and explanation
across content areas with minimal attention to disciplinary ideas. The fact that four
of the six essays she gave students did not have a prompt that called for argumenta-
tive thinking, nor a set of documents to corroborate, analyze, and draw on as evi-
dence, shows that she missed fundamental aspects of historical writing when asking
her students to write (Greene, 1994). While in her teacher education program, Mon-
icas writing assignments (completed for coursework) included more opportunities
for interpretive thinking, but once she left the program, the norms for reading and
writing in her school took precedence.
James graduated from his teacher education program with an understanding of
history at the level of a concept (Smagorinsky et al., 2003; Vygotsky, 1987)a full,
nuanced understanding of history. He saw history as an interpretive discipline
grounded in analysis of documentary evidence, among other things. And that con-
ceptual understanding drove his approach to writing. Almost every essay, for exam-
ple, asked students to construct an interpretation based on their analysis and expla-
nation of historical documents. This approach to writing was also consistent with
some ideas about best practices in historical writing instruction found in research
(e.g., multiple documents and argumentative prompt as found in Wiley & Voss,
1999). His understanding of the structure of the discipline and his commitment to
teaching disciplinary thinking were strong enough to dilute other influences (e.g.,
the pressure from his department to use multiple-choice testswhich he did, but he
combined them with essays).
With a limited understanding of teaching writing, James may have relied on his
deep disciplinary understanding and his grasp of teaching disciplinary thinking,
developed over the course of the preservice program, to guide his teaching of writing.
Indeed, scaffolding writing in his class meant supporting students analysis of docu-
ments and organization of ideas by using document-analysis charts. But these
graphic organizers do not necessarily help students write essays. By instructing stu-
dents to record specific evidence from multiple documents concerning a central
question, the document-analysis charts organize students thoughts about the doc-
uments. Incorporating and explaining this evidence in a constructed response is
another challenge. The chart does not tell students how to synthesize similar evi-
dence from two or more documents to support one common thesis. It does not weed
out evidence that supports an opposite perspective. In short, the document-analysis
charts used in Jamess instruction only take the students halfway to writing with

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evidentiary, interpretive thinking and may be especially deficient if students lack

general literacy skills.
With regard to writing instruction and an understanding of composing, neither
Monica nor James graduated with strong concepts of how to teach writing directly.
Their methods courses spent relatively little time on the notion of explicit instruction
in writing, the process of writing, and scaffolding the development of students writ-
ing skills. The first author (as methods instructor) shared examples of explicit in-
struction in aspects of writing and scaffolds to support writing topic sentences, the-
ses, or outlines to organize ideas and evidence. The methods course also assigned
research articles documenting best practices in writing instruction (e.g., the use of
multiple documents and argumentative prompts, as Wiley & Voss [1999] and Young
& Leinhardt [1998] have found). In reflecting on the methods courses, the first au-
thor concluded that as the instructor she assumed teacher candidates took an argu-
mentative stance in historical writing and did not confront teacher candidates in-
coming beliefs about writing or writing in history. She never presented the full
spectrum of historical writing and the different ways of thinking each supports, or
explicitly identified the usefulness of argumentative writing in advancing historical
thinking. The focus on historical writing in the methods courses may have been
beneficial for teacher candidates with the same assumptions about historical writing
as the instructor, but did nothing or was confusing for those who lacked a clear
understanding of writing in history or held different assumptions. Nevertheless,
Monica and James completed a writing plan, which included a final writing assign-
ment and three scaffolds to support students writing development; however, Mon-
ica and James did not have to implement this writing plan and did not practice with
it. In addition, only three class sessions from the three-course methods sequence
focused directly on teaching writing. Monicas and Jamess literacy courses appeared
to reinforce their incoming dispositions toward disciplinary texts. Monica had two
courses focused on reading comprehension and James had onein these courses,
comprehension of texts focused on literal aspects of text. In Jamess second literacy
course, texts were treated as interpretive, especially in light of their authors and
original audiences. The literacy courses primarily focused on reading and gave little
attention to writing in the content areas.
Surely the contexts in which Monica and James taught also influenced their prac-
tice and the extent to which they felt encouraged to try out ideas from their methods
classes. Monica worked in a school with serious concerns about making Adequate
Yearly Progress (AYP) based on the state reading and math exams and a strong
principal focused on reading comprehension initiatives and the writing necessary for
success on state tests. With three times the free and reduced-price school meals
(FARMS) rate as Jamess school and a majority minority student population, the
demands on her school to support all of their student subgroups to make AYP were
considerably more imperative than at Jamess school. The school culture in which
Monica worked emphasized general reading comprehension skills and a straight-
forward format for writing valued on the state reading exams. From sharing specific
reading comprehension teaching strategies such as Costas Levels of Questioning at
staff meetings to sharing examples of students work in response to these strategies at
grade-level team meetings run by the principal, to observations by administrators
who looked for these strategies, Monicas school conveyed a clear set of priorities
(and in the time Monica was there, the schools reading proficiency rates increased).

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Beyond the school, the state standardized reading tests conveyed a similar message
and the districts standardized curriculum emphasized content coverage.
Indeed, much of Monicas use of writing reinforced her schools reading compre-
hension initiatives and the focus on improving proficiency rates on the state reading
exam. But we believe contextual constraints were only part of the influence on Mon-
icas teaching. Monicas implementation of Costas Levels of Questioning indicates
that her disciplinary understanding was also at play. The reading initiatives at her
school included room for higher-order thinking. For example, Costas level 2 and 3
questions emphasize analysis, inferential thinking, evaluation, and judgment. These
ways of reading and thinking support historical thinking, but Monica rarely focused
on these kinds of questions during our observations. One rationale is that such
higher-order thinking is not valued on the states standardized tests, and therefore
was emphasized less at her school. Another explanation is that her developing disci-
plinary understanding made her more prepared to focus on lower levels of question-
ing. The change to include two argumentative essays in her second year could signal
Monicas developing skill in navigating her context, her growing understanding of
history, or her ability to move beyond recitation when the new writing format (ATI)
opened a path toward historical writing.
Although Jamess school context presented some conflicts to navigate, it did not
provide major roadblocks to implementing the ideas learned in his methods courses.
Working with a school population that traditionally performs well on standardized
tests and a thematically organized curriculum that included resources gave James
room to pursue his goals goals that were consistent with what he had learned in
methods classes. And without the pressure to make AYP or meet major school-wide
initiatives, James had only to navigate his department in his first year. Once he
learned that there were no consequences for deviating from the departments in-
structional plans and assessments, he felt free to teach what he thought was impor-
tant. His districts focus on teaching historical thinking in his second year only rein-
forced his emphasis on disciplinary thinking and writing.
The tension between teaching general literacy skills and advanced or disciplinary
literacy forces a dichotomy that need not exist. James prioritized disciplinary literacy.
Writing was a tool used to develop historical thinking and facilitate learning. In this
way, essays measured historical knowledge and thinking more than general writing
skills. By integrating writing and thinking, literacy activities became a path to disci-
plinary understanding in Jamess classroom. Yet he focused on disciplinary thinking
without support for general literacy development. The context in which he worked
made this approach possible; but, if faced with a population with weaker incoming
literacy skills, James would have to find a way to integrate basic literacy instruction
into his practice. In contrast, Monica focused on important general literacy skills,
especially with regard to reading comprehension. However, literacy activities were
largely disassociated from disciplinary thinking in Monicas classroom. She pre-
sented historical knowledge as a fixed body of information that must be learned
before students can inquire into the past. And when she asked an evaluative question,
students may not have appreciated the shift in genre of question and assumed that
there was a right answer, as with all of the previous questionsthey may not have
been prepared for such an epistemic shift. But her sole focus on reading comprehen-
sion and finding one right answer in the text can conflict with developing under-
standing in history.

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Both teachers practices would have benefited from a greater integration of gen-
eral and disciplinary literacy skill development, instead of a focus on one or the other.
One set of skills does not necessarily have to be mastered before the other. In fact,
approaching adolescent literacy from the perspective of each discipline will likely
enhance comprehension of texts and content knowledge (Moje, 2008; Wineburg &
Schneider, 2009). Learning information and comprehension skills as students in-
quire into the past may help students develop their literacy skills and historical think-
ing. Disciplinary literacy and general literacy are complementary rather than com-
peting goals.

Just as context matters in learning to teach after preservice preparation, teacher
educators must attend to the different contexts in which novices may try to teach
evidence-based, interpretive writing. As Ball and Forzani (2009) and Grossman,
Hammerness, and MacDonald (2009) pointed out, teacher candidates need oppor-
tunities to practice particular skills of teaching and hone those skills over time if they
are to implement them successfully in their own classrooms after their preservice
program. One form of practice includes not just pedagogies, but also practicing
specific pedagogies in particular contexts. What does it mean to teach disciplinary
literacy in a suburban school where most students demonstrate proficiency in read-
ing and writing? What does it mean to do so in schools where students have not had
the same opportunities? In practicing teaching historical thinking and writing, for
example, preservice teachers could gain an understanding of the different needs of
students in various settings. A conception of practice in teacher education could also
include learning how to navigate school-based initiatives and demands while trying
to teach students disciplinary literacy. As Grossman and her colleagues reported
(2000), new teachers may return to ideas from their teacher education experience in
their second or third year of teaching once they have settled into their jobs and have
space to think about their work more broadly. Perhaps more practice in various
school contexts could minimize the gap between learning instructional strategies and
concepts in teacher education programs and implementation in schools.
If we are to emphasize disciplinary literacy as a path toward advanced literacy for
adolescents, then preservice teachers also need help learning to integrate historical think-
ing and writing, for example, with general literacy skills. Teacher education programs
must prepare teachers to integrate these ways of thinking. If students lack general literacy
skills, they may need more support than simply jumping into an inquiry-based lesson full
of historical documents; however, that may not mean students with weak literacy skills
cannot participate in the thinking that goes along with such an activity or develop general
literacy skills as they participate. Understanding the spectrum of students skills in his-
torical writing and the supports for developing writing that includes disciplinary thinking
would help prepare teachers for work with different student populations. Or teachers
may need help preparing to work in different school environments by learning more
about specific literacy initiatives in local schools and analyzing how to integrate
disciplinary literacy into those initiatives. A complementary approach would
integrate literacy and content area methods courses in teacher education (Bain &
Moje, 2010). Such an approach has the potential to integrate knowledge about
literacy and the disciplines from the beginning of teachers careers rather than

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leaving them to integrate this knowledge on their own in high-pressure settings.

Together, such teacher education reforms could prevent novices from being pulled in
different directions once in schools. Research could support this initiative in identifying
the ways in which disciplinary literacy and general literacy skills interact as students
become more proficient in reading, writing, and thinking historically.
Looking back at the social studies methods courses, we see ways to revise the sessions
focused on teaching writing in history. One key step would be to explicitly introduce the
spectrum of historical writing, the different purposes for each form of writing, and how
they might build on one another. Explicitly presenting argumentative writing and his-
torical thinking as compatible and avoiding assumptions about what writing involves
would help as well. Remembering the ultimate goal of evidentiary, interpretive thinking
may help situate other forms of writing and clarify summary writing, for example, as a
step toward more advanced forms of writing rather than as an end in itself. Research
could test out various approaches to preparing novices to teach disciplinary literacy and
determine an effective route for teacher education.
Finally, the fact that both Monica and James graduated with the same undergraduate
degree from the same institution begs the questions, What is the role of the undergrad-
uate major in preparing teachers and how might the undergraduate major best serve
prospective teachers? Graduating with such distinct conceptions of history and proce-
dural knowledge suggests that they had different learning experiences while completing
their majors; it is possible that Jamess experiences are ones to emulate. Further research
would help determine whether particular approaches to undergraduate education in
history foster stronger disciplinary understanding and thinking in students. In the mean-
time, we need to consider how to support preservice teachers who come to schools of
education with different disciplinary understandings.
These two case studies indicate that the extent of new teachers understanding of
history and writing is a central influence on their teaching of writing. If teachers do not
have an understanding of history, they will not be able to integrate literacy into the
discipline or teach the kinds of reading and writing endemic to history. Likewise, if we
want history teachers to teach writing, they need a deep understanding of writers pro-
cesses and instructional practices that support students who are learning to write. Im-
proving adolescents writing cannot only focus on generalized writing across the content
areas; instead, we must also identify and teach students discipline-specific ways of writing
and thinking. Preservice programs will need to integrate literacy and disciplinary under-
standing, offer opportunities to practice, and consider students needs in various contexts
in order to support content area teachers ability to teach writing. Moje (2008) and others
have sounded the call for content area teachers to focus on disciplinary literacy. Doing so
will require teacher educators to work together in order to cultivate novices understand-
ing of the discipline they are to teach and the literacy practices that are its foundation.


The Spencer Foundation (grant number 200900123) generously supported this work. The views
expressed herein are those of the authors. The authors would like to thank Ann Edwards, Alex
Monte-Sano, and Rebecca Silverman for their helpful feedback on initial drafts of this article;
Christopher Budano and Melissa Cochran for their work in collecting and organizing data for this
project; and Monica and James for welcoming us into their classrooms and sharing their thinking
as they learned to teach in the first three years of their careers.

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