Exploring Changes in Two Social Studies Teachers’ Knowledge, Beliefs, and Practices

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Feinstein School of Education and Human Development

Department (Manual Entry)

Education Doctoral Program


Educators in the social studies content area have struggled for over a century with how to best instruct their students in critical thinking. A growing group of researchers in the discipline of history, one of the major components of social studies education, support teaching the domain-specific skills of historical thinking through the process of historical inquiry. Nevertheless, many social studies teachers lack the pedagogical content knowledge to instruct their students in historical thinking skills through historical inquiry. This multiple case study sought to examine how two social studies teachers might change their knowledge, beliefs and practices after engaging in eight historical inquiry professional development sessions. The professional development in historical inquiry incorporated many characteristics shown to be effective based on research studies. The theoretical frameworks for the study included social constructivist learning theory, expert/novice learning theory, and teacher change theory. Analysis of data from teacher and student interviews, teacher surveys, classroom observations, teacher reflective journals, artifact review, and audio recordings of the professional development sessions revealed significant patterns within and across the two case study participants. Changes observed in the teachers’ knowledge, beliefs and practices indicated they were able to instruct their students in historical thinking skills through historical inquiry within their respective curriculums. However, both teachers faced the challenges of curriculum design and time constraints, and students’ varied developmental and motivation levels. Findings from this study have implications for how to support social studies teachers as they develop pedagogical content knowledge in historical inquiry in order to teach their students historical thinking skills.