The essence of this practice is to sensitise students to the fact that there are different ways of receiving claims. Furthermore, the practice gives students regular opportunities to sharpen their thinking skills by providing four “claim testers” that can be applied to any claims made in the history classroom. The practice should gradually teach students how to assess claims as an automatic part of their thinking and equip students with the language and practice needed to analyse claims made in many forms, including primary and secondary sources, data charts, videos, infographics, and even in-class discussions. This practice wants students to understand the claims that people make when answering (historical) questions. But this practice also wants students to go further: to develop the skills to recognise when people are asking good questions, to begin to assess other people’s claims – to use intuition, to use authority, but most importantly to use logic and evidence to assess claims in determining whether or not they are trustworthy. An important characteristic of this practice is its recurring nature – it is not a one off lesson or activity but more a method of teaching to be applied throughout classes over a prolonged period of time.
The main issue that the practice addresses is the trap many students fall into when it comes to processing and dealing with new information, which is to take information at face value. Learners can take information for granted, can be unable to make a judgement on its reliability and they either don’t recognise bias and don’t always know how to correctly use sources that are biased. Examples of students taking information at face value include not looking for additional evidence that either supports or challenges the information they find, not asking (critical) questions about the origins and purpose of a source, and copying the information that they find first. Thus, this practice aims to teach and encourage these exact skills.
This practice has no set resource requirements or fixed format as it is more about using an approach, which can be used flexibly during all kinds of history teaching in many different contexts. This practice does not have a specific timeframe but should be thought of as a long term practice, one that is incorporated into teaching and learning on a daily, routine basis. This practice has a wide target group as ideally all students of history should aim to think critically when given claims. Using the four claim testers to test claims effectively can be done in classes of any size and a broad age range.
It is advised to first have an introductory lesson to the claim testers, how they work and the general benefits of thinking in these terms when you encounter information. The activities outlined below can be used as suggested content for this starter lesson on the four claim testers.
A possible title for an introductory lesson to this approach could be: How do we decide what we believe?
This scenario can also be adapted to the match the context:
Putting a poster with the claim testers in the classroom can be useful tool to remind students of these and refer to them. It is very important for students to see teachers modelling claim testing by making it a regular part of class work, which this practice encourages. The practice works most effectively when used repeatedly over a long timespan as it wants to teach students certain skills and approaches to their learning that require time and repetition to allow students to “relearn how to learn”.
An effect of successful claim testing should be evident in students’ writing as they begin to use these same strategies to show how they arrived at or are supporting their conclusions. A further effect of this practice, if applied effectively, should be that students routinely ask questions such as to what degree do you trust claims, whether or not you should ignore a claim or whether or not claims need further investigation, whether they need new questions to be asked about them. Students will slowly ponder these questions as a matter of reflex whenever they encounter new information in the classroom. A related effect of the practice is that students think before they pass along potential misinformation and that they develop a healthy skepticism to their learning.
The practice is based on research by Antonia Gough (EUROCLIO Trainee) and Steven Stegers (EUROCLIO Acting Executive Director). Steven was informed by this practice when Constance van Hall (author of Big History – een vakoverschrijdende oriëntatie op de wetenschappen) introduced the practice during a meeting of the World History Committee as part of the Dutch History Teachers Association in 2018.
This practice was initiated by the Big History Project which is a free, online social studies course that puts skills development and student engagement first. BHP delivers a big picture look at the world, and helps students develop a framework to organize what they’re learning both in and out of school.
Their inspiration is to create students who are equipped with a set of intellectual tools that help them think critically, ask questions, tie together big ideas, and build informed arguments.
Big History Project blog posts: https://blog.bighistoryproject.com/2017/09/27/using-claim-testers/
Video on claim testers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkDCkD88-B0#t=356
Written by Antonia Gough (EUROCLIO) in The Hague on 20 October 2018.