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Britt, M. Aanne, J.-F. Rouet, M.C. Georgi, and C.A. Perfetti. “Learning from History Texts: From Causal Analysis to Argument Models." In Teaching and Learning in History, edited by G. Leinhardt, I. L. Beck, and C. Stainton, 47-84. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1994.


Britt et. al. examine how students construct historical causality using an array of historical texts. They ground this study on their previously drawn conclusions that, generally, students learn best when historical material is presented in narrative form. In this chapter, they draw their conclusions from two completed studies: 1) a study in which a fifth grade text book and elementary school students’ interpretation of its content was the focus; and 2) a study in which college students’ use of published history books was the focus.

The authors used the “causal-temporal event model” to analyze students’ summaries about the important points in the texts, answers to the comprehension questions, and answers to reasoning probes. They found that students’ ability to summarize a history text is related to their ability to recognize the narrative organization of the text. Elementary school students summarized the texts in three ways. Students would list facts, tell a coherent story but a substory rather than the main story, or identify the main story. College students in contrast were able to draw out the central story more effectively and more efficiently. Thus, they conclude that learning from history texts requires the ability to distinguish the central story from the rest of the text. Importantly, they maintain that the causal-temporal event model is the best way to represent the narrative structure of a history text because it allows students to learn both the central story and its supporting details.

Ana Laura Pauchulo