A Primary Document Analysis-Centered Curriculum in a Residential Treatment Center

Jared P. Collette, Utah State University


This study examines the challenges and rewards of applying Stanford History Group’s Thinking Like a Historian program in the context of a residential treatment center to better understand the necessary modifications and adjustments that would be needed to successfully apply this program. The researcher used an action research methodology, an analytic autoethnographic journal, as well as student work to investigate student successes and challenges in learning history through the use of primary documents. The findings demonstrate that students did not successfully apply historical thinking even after explicit instruction, extensive modeling, and guided practice. The author argues that low literacy rates, background understanding, and self-efficacy, as well as classroom behavioral issues and limited class time inhibited student success. The author believes that in this context, primary document textual analysis is not the best means to teach or learn historical content, but may be more effective as a means for teachers to demonstrate historical concepts, and for students to demonstrate and apply understanding that they have already obtained.