Learning world history has the potential to develop adolescents into thoughtful, active citizens. This is especially true when students are taught in ways that engage them with complex issues and help them make connections between what they learn and their personal goals and experiences. However, instructional time in social studies is limited because of the current emphasis on standardized achievement testing in other content areas. Furthermore, in the specific field of world history, the scope of material covered, coupled with debate over what should be taught, has made it difficult to present a curriculum that is meaningful and relevant to students. As a result, the study of world history may be seen as tangential or incoherent.
The purpose of this action research study was to introduce an innovation aimed at helping students think deeply and find personal relevance in the study of world history. Specifically, visual imagery and reflective journaling were used to help students to become proficient in historical thinking and to fully engage in the study of world history. The study was developed according to a mixed-methods design: the quantitative data collection tools were pre- and posttests and a student survey, and the qualitative data collection tools included discussion transcripts, reflective journals, student-created presentations, and observations.
Results showed that the use of images and reflective journaling enabled students to develop some critical thinking skills, such as making claims, supporting claims with evidence, and considering divergent perspectives. Furthermore, students' awareness of their connections to the world around them increased, as did student performance on tests about historical events and concepts. Unfortunately, students did not reach proficiency in factual knowledge on post-tests in the class, despite these increases. However, this study highlights the benefits of explicitly connecting students to historical thinking through the use of images and journaling that allow students to explore their own thoughts and deductions.