Document-Based Learning: Outside Advanced Placement and Inside Student Minds

Student Author(s)

Miriam Roth

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, Education

Document Type


Event Date



Document-based learning (DBL) represents an exciting initiative in History Education. Long embedded in AP History curriculum and testing, the approach is now used in history classes of all levels for a variety of purposes including formative and summative assessment, development of deeper understanding of content, and foregrounding historical thinking skills. In the field, there has also been a movement to use online resources and to make DBL freely available to all teachers. Recent research, however, has highlighted (and only just begun to address) the current lack of “real-classroom studies” that examine what DBL looks like in practice. In particular, there is minimal existing research regarding student responses to DBL. Accordingly, the goal of this project is to explore and analyze student responses to DBL in order to inform the use of document-based learning in all classroom contexts. In this presentation, I will share research on what document-based learning looks like in non-AP contexts, and resources which other teachers, present and future, can access to enrich their classrooms. I will also share details and analysis of a case study on student responses to DBL which I conducted in a tenth grade American history classroom. This case study provides evidence for some of the main intended benefits of DBL as well as revealing some frustrations and concerns that students have regarding the DBL approach. The project also demonstrates the importance of student voice in understanding how DBL works in the classroom and in informing what teachers and other educational professionals can do to continue to improve the effectiveness of DBL. Ultimately, this project has implications on the field of education as a whole as its exploration of student voice reveals principles which can be applied to the research and practice of various educational approaches in all subjects.

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