A comparison of print and video as educational media for the development of historical thinking
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This was an exploratory study designed to investigate the question of whether the medium chosen for the delivery of literature-based instruction impacts the processes through which students construct meaning and develop historical understanding. To that end the author observed two groups of seventh-grade students in a pull-out language arts program for gifted students. One group read the historical novel The Education of Little Tree; the other group watched the film version of the book. Both groups answered preand post-study questions, kept personal journals in which entries were made after each chapter or scene, and participated in class discussions following the reading or viewing, as well as individual interviews. Based upon previous research and drawing upon the recent literature on historical thinking as well as that of reader response theory, the focus of the study was an attempt to discern differences between the groups in the nature of their responses to the story. Indeed some differences did emerge, although both sets of reactions appeared to be enduring, which challenges previous assumptions that the responses of viewers tended to be more emotional but more short-lived than those of readers. Further, the readers actually displayed a greater number of emotional responses in their journals than did the viewers, suggesting perhaps a more cognizant, empathic than affective emotional response. Finally, the readers manifested more and deeper historical understandings in their responses than did their counterparts in the movie group. Explanations for these differences were explored utilizing the available comparative literature and focusing on the established proposition that the most primary media require the highest level of abstraction on the part of the recipient and thus the most significant cognitive investment by the learner. This higher investment may result in a greater degree of internalization of the content and thus in the construction of deeper, richer understandings. While further research is required to pursue this proposition, these findings do have significant implications for research on the nature of historical thinking and, particularly, for practice, specifically the routine strategy of substituting films for historical fiction in social studies classrooms.