Literature Review

This project began with a literature review to build understanding of how document-based learning is currently being used in history classrooms across the country, and what present research on the topic looks like. The following is a brief summary of my findings:

Document-based learning (which asks students to use both primary and secondary documents to build their own understandings of people, events, and topics) represents an exciting initiative in history education. Long embedded in AP History curriculum and testing, the document-based learning approach is now used in a variety of history classrooms, from elementary schools to institutions of higher learning, and in on-level as well as advanced and honors classes. This approach is used for a variety of purposes including formative/summative assessment, development of deeper understanding of content, and foregrounding historical thinking skills (Monte-Sano, 2011; Breakstone, Wineburg, and Smith, 2015; Reisman, 2012). In the field, there has also been a movement to use online resources and to make DBL freely available to all teachers. The Stanford History Education Group, the Library of Congress, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County are just a few examples of institutions which offer such resources for use by classroom teachers (Berson, 2013; Blankenship, 2015).

Recent research, however, has highlighted (and only just begun to address) the fact that there is a current lack of studies that examine what document-based learning looks like in “real-classroom studies” (Reisman, 2012). Particularly, current research lacks an adequate representation of student voice and responses to how they feel about their experiences with DBL in their history classes.

Based on this background information, the goals of this project are two-fold—first, to develop an awareness of possibilities and potentials for document-based learning in non-AP contexts; and second, to share analysis of student responses to DBL approaches in order to inform use of DBL in all classroom contexts.