Williams Jr., Byron Ray (2019-08). Measuring the Impact of the Document-Based Lesson Cycle on Eighth Graders' Ability to Analyze Historical Documents. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • As a discipline, history sometimes gets a bad reputation because many students believe that it is all about memorizing long lists of dates, disputes, and dead people's names. Too often history teachers reinforce this belief by emphasizing historical content over the reasoning skills and disciplinary practices that historians engage in daily and that are transferrable from one social studies class or text to another. When students have opportunities to practice historical thinking in class, instead of just memorization, they encounter a variety of perspectives in different sources and learn to appreciate some of the nuance, complexity, and ambiguity in historical texts. In this study, two 8th grade history teachers at an independent school integrated the Document-Based Lesson Cycle into half of their classes during a six-week intervention to determine if students in the experimental group would outperform students in the control group on assessments of content knowledge and historical reasoning skills. Most of the Document-Based Lessons were developed by the Stanford History Education Group and are available on its website. Modeling of historical thinking by the teacher, analysis of multiple sources in each class period, and discussions about procedural knowledge are key components of every Document-Based Lesson. The control group had lessons that covered similar content, but the teacher-led discussions focused on content rather than on skills and most of the sources were secondary instead of primary. Students took a four-part pretest and a four-part posttest that assessed both their content knowledge and skills proficiency. By the end of the intervention, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups in terms of their content knowledge. The three skills assessments also revealed no statistically significant difference between the groups. However, the experimental group did demonstrate a greater ability to generate plausible historical claims that are supported by multiple historical documents. There were also some qualitative differences between the two groups in their discussions and on their writing assessments.

publication date

  • August 2019