It’s official. Our book, From Story to Judgment: The Four Question Method for Teaching and Learning History, is out in the world. Judge for yourself!
Whatever happens with the book — whoever reads it and whatever they get from it — writing it did a ton for us. Having to explain the Four Questions patiently in print certainly made us clearer about our method and the thinking skills it aims at. In the book, we work through specific examples of how to answer each of the questions in a skillful way. Creating those demonstrations, knowing that we’d have to share our work with an adult audience of professionals, forced us to practice what we’ve been preaching in a sobering and edifying way. The book has already made us smarter, better teachers.
We hope that reading our book does the same for you. We think the odds are good. If you’re reading this blog post, you’re already an unusual teacher. You’re looking for things to read and do beyond what you’ve already figured out on your own and with colleagues. You’re hungry enough about your craft to seek more stimulation, more advice, more engagement about how to engage students in thinking about the human world in your classrooms. It’s safe to say that you are more likely than the average teacher to read a book like ours. You’re also more likely to implement whatever you learn from it independently in a way that improves your teaching practice.
Most teachers don’t do that. That’s not meant to be a knock on “most teachers.” Lord knows that our field is challenging enough as it is without adding independent professional learning to the mix. Math majors who become teachers start their careers pretty much knowing all the math they’ll ever need. History and the social sciences produce no undergraduate experts. Even if you’ve got a masters or doctorate in one of our disciplines, what you don’t know vastly exceeds what you do. And history keeps piling up, to say nothing of fresh discoveries and interpretations of our past. That should keep us all plenty busy.
But the reality is, a book on how to teach and learn social studies will help primarily those with the drive and discipline to make changes on their own. That’s a minority in any field; ours is no exception. So, I’m thrilled the book is out and available. And I believe that *you* will profit from it, without any supplements.
But there’s a lot even a spectacular book, let alone one by first-time book authors, simply cannot accomplish.
Our book is an expression of our consulting practice. We’ve done lots of workshops with teachers from lots of different kinds of schools. We learned a ton doing that. Eventually we wrote it down, and now our learning is out in the world as a book. Fortunately, writing a book is only one way to share what you’ve learned with a larger community.
And so, on to the next 4QM project. We’ve discovered, again through our consulting practice, that designing workshops around 4QM-aligned curriculum materials is a tremendously effective way to train teachers in the techniques that have improved our own pedagogy. For example, we recently wrote a unit on the rise and fall of the Roman Republic for a client. We then built workshops around that curriculum, working through each of the Four Questions as we went. The workshops were productive and the teachers, both veterans in the topic and those new to it, appeared to profit. And the teachers got to leave the workshop with the curriculum ready to go for their classes.
We used that same curriculum again with groups of teachers from another district. Again, the value of teaching an open hand of model, 4QM-aligned curriculum was clear. We’re under no illusions about that second workshop. It demonstrated a method for teaching students to tell a great story, take it apart, and practice thinking skills along the way. But for those who aren’t going to teach ancient Rome, they need one more step: bona fide 4QM curriculum for the courses they actually teach.
Workshops, books, and demonstrations are all terrific. For teachers with the drive and time and gumption to work things out for themselves, that’s all you really need. But there’s no good reason that a quality curriculum has to be fashioned teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom. We’re not interested in scripting daily lessons. Only teachers know who they and their students are in the classroom, and so only teachers are well equipped to make pedagogical decisions at that granular level. But we are very keen on providing teachers with the resources they need to build daily lessons for their own students that harness the power of story and lead them, step by step, from story to judgment, giving them practice in core thinking skills along the way.
Meanwhile, a new school year is underway. Once the dust settles, we’ll get going on our next project, writing 4QM curriculum materials. Meanwhile, you hard-core folks should buy the book. I’m quite confident you’ll know what to do with it.