The Flow of History method has developed over the course of thirty years and evolved primary through observation of students learning patterns, trial and error, failure and success. Ultimately, the reasons for the method's success are confirmed by rigorous research into how we learn.
"Learn" can mean many things, but in the context of History instruction it means being able to recall key events, understanding why those events lead to other events, and recognizing the patterns of events as they recur throughout history. Remembering facts—like dates and names—uses different aspects of our memories than remembering patterns, and recognizing those patterns in other contexts uses yet other aspects.
We often use techniques to memorize information by rote:
History teachers and students know that knowledge of dates, names, and major events is not a guarantee of a good understanding of history. We want our students to leave the history classroom with a deeper understanding of what processes drive current events, what patterns predict the course of revolutions, what factors serve as catalysts for social change. The FOH approach to teaching history capitalizes on natural learning patterns by using multimodal learning techniques and repetition.
Studies of learning patterns and neurological studies have shown that learning and retention are improved if information is communicated in more than one mode. In the FOH approach, the student is presented with the same information in spoken, written, and visual forms. Because it combines textual, diagrammatic, and auditory modes of input, the method is effective for both visual and auditory learners.
The FOH method also makes retrieval of information more efficient. The information is presented to the student in different ways which also means it is repeated at least three times, a technique that is known to enhance learning.
Over the course of two years, this systematic approach to learning history succeeds in teaching students to think of history as an intricate web of cause and effect and not as a string of isolated incidents and personalities.
Four patterns of historical events show up throughout world history:
Linear where events follow one line of development;
Convergence where 2 or more events or factors converge to create 1 result;
Divergence where 1 event or factor has 2 or more results; and
Feedback models where 2 or more events or factors feed back on one another to create a recurring cycle.
In order to make the patterns more recognizable, memorable, understandable, and interesting, the flowcharts use three design elements: simplicity, bilateral symmetry, and color. Each flowchart's design is also determined by the nature of the historical material and thus reflects that period's uniqueness.
However, each flowchart's design is also determined by the nature of the historical material and thus reflects that period's uniqueness. Although certain general patterns (e.g., feedback cycles) tend to recur, the information in each pattern is specific to that topic. As the patterns become more recognizable, readers become more adept at understanding the material.
The elements are color-coded as follows:
Links to other flowcharts have a heavy black border, round corners, white background, and blue text.
New pieces of information, information is not linked to any previous box, have square corners, and light-red backgrounds. This is especially used for acts of nature such as epidemics or changes of climate.
Two or more boxes describing a feedback model are enclosed in a box with a bright red background.
Two or more feedback models that feed back on each other are enclosed in a box with a light orange background. This is also used to show how a feedback model leads into and is reinforced by a sequence of specific events.
A general concept is shown in black text over a light blue background, with supporting or relevant information in connected boxes below it. This organizes the flowchart into smaller and and easily digested units to help understanding of the whole flowchart.
A process that is part of the larger flowchart is grouped in a large box with a light green background. This also breaks up the flowchart to aid in understanding.
While different peoples' learning styles will vary, it is generally most effective for readers to scan a flowchart before reading the text, giving them a picture, or mental map, of the general flow of events for that topic. This helps them better organize and understand the more detailed information in the text and any other books they may read on the subject. Since the organization of the flowcharts and text parallel each other, it is easy to refer back and forth between the two.
In preparing for a test, I always tell students "Understand first. Memorize second." To this end they should go over the flowcharts lightly several times, just making sure they understand why each box leads into the next. By doing this they are more effectively learning and memorizing the material because they are making a point of understanding how it fits together rather than just mindlessly memorizing it. Even if they can't remember a particular fact, the logical thought processes they are developing can help them figure out what should come next, thus helping trigger their memory of that particular fact.
Two other study techniques I encourage them to use are: