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Sometimes called historical reasoning skills, historical thinking skills are frequently described in contrast to history content such as names, dates, and places. This dichotomous presentation is often misinterpreted as a claim for the superiority of one form of knowing over the other. In fact, the distinction is generally made to underscore the importance of developing thinking skills that can be applied when individuals encounter any history content. Most educators agree that together, history content--or facts about the past--and historical thinking skills enable students to interpret, analyze and use information about past events. In doing so, students will realize the complexity of history with all of the pieces and perspectives that cannot be captured through one narrative. Furthermore, as described by Dr. T. Mills Kelly, characteristics of historical thinking develop sourcing skills, the ability to construct and support an argument, and, "the ability to present the past in clear ways, whether in writing or in other media, saying what can be said and not saying what cannot." 
In the United States, the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles has developed history standards that include benchmarks for both content in U.S. and world history and historical thinking skills in grades Kindergarten-4 and 5-12. In both of these age ranges, the Center defines historical thinking in five parts:
As part of the national assessment effort called "The Nation's Report Card, " the United States Department of Education has also developed benchmarks for student achievement in U.S. history. Their rubric divides history learning into three basic dimensions: major historical themes, chronological periods, and ways of knowing and thinking about history. The third dimension is further divided into two parts: historical knowledge and perspective, and historical analysis and interpretation.
History textbooks draw much attention from history educators and educational researchers. The use of textbooks is nearly universal in history, government, and other social studies courses at the primary, and secondary levels in the U.S.; however, the role of textbooks remains controversial.
Arguments against reliance on textbooks have ranged from ideological to pragmatic. Many[who?] revisionist educators and historians have distorted and politicized the historical focus of textbooks to include an undue emphasis on issues related to identity politics, such as the history of women and minorities, and presented history as a progressivist struggle. This has been at the expense of a dispassionate and empirical perspective which seeks to identify and analyze casual links and connections between seemingly disparate historical phenomena and illuminate factors involved in historical change and continuity.
Others[who?] object to textbooks on epistemological grounds. Such critics point out that textbooks are written in an omniscient, third-person voice that claims to present "objective facts" are misleading. Such texts encourage students to believe that a particular selection of facts and a single interpretation of those facts is sufficient and correct. In addition, critics contend that textbooks written in this manner are perceived by students as dry and uninteresting and discourage students from reading history, creating motivational barriers to learning.
Still other critics believe that using textbooks undermines the process of learning history by sacrificing thinking skills for content--that textbooks allow teachers to cover vast amounts of names, dates, and places while encouraging students simply to memorize instead of question or analyze. For example, Sam Wineburg argues: "Traditional history instruction constitutes a form of information, not a form of knowledge. Students might master an agreed-upon narrative, but they lacked any way of evaluating it, of deciding whether it, or any other narrative, was compelling or true" (41).
Most textbook critics concede that textbooks are a necessary tool in history education. Arguments for textbook-based curricula point out that history teachers require resources to support the broad scope of topics covered in the typical history classroom. Well-designed textbooks can provide a foundation on which enterprising educators can build other classroom activities.
Models for historical thinking have been developed to better prepare educators in facilitating historical thinking literacies in students.
Peter Seixas, Professor Emeritus from the University of British Columbia and creator of The Historical Thinking Project, outlines six benchmarks for historical thinking literacies in students. The benchmarks focus on developing the skills necessary for students to create an account of the past using primary source documents and narratives, or what Seixas terms "traces" and "accounts." Although these benchmarks provide a model to develop historical literacies, Seixas states that the concepts only can be applied with substantial content learning about the past.
Created by David Hicks, Peter E. Doolittle, E. Thomas Ewing, the SCIM-C strategy of historical thinking focuses on developing self-regulating practices when engaging in analyzing primary sources. The SCIM-C strategy focuses on the development of historical question to be answered when analyzing primary sources. This strategy provides a scaffold for students as they build more complex investigation and analysis practices identified in the "capstone stage". The capstone stage in the SCIM-C model relies on students having analyzed a number of historical documents and having built some historical knowledge about the time, event, or issue being studied.