Engaging in disciplinary thinking: historical literacy practices in Finnish general upper secondary schools

In this multidisciplinary project, our aim is to advance learning, teaching and assessing the disciplinary literacy of history in Finnish general upper secondary schools. We also aim to investigate the relationships of disciplinary literacy with language proficiency and literacy in general.

HisLit is a research consortium funded by the Academy of Finland (2016–2020). The multidisciplinary consortium combines the expertise from two universities and three disciplines – applied linguistics, history and educational studies.

  • Consortium PI: Professor Minna-Riitta Luukka, University of Jyväskylä
  • Subproject PIs : Professor Minna-Riitta Luukka, University of Jyväskylä, Adjunct professor Simo Mikkonen, University of Jyväskylä, Professor Jukka Rantala, University of Helsinki


By disciplinary literacy of history, we refer to active engagement with historical texts, the capability to analyse and interpret historical texts and produce spoken, written and multimodal validated representations of history. We have adopted the sociocultural framework, where literacy practices, producing and using texts and language, are discipline-specific rather than universal.

Our main research question is how can we understand, conceptualise and enhance the teaching of disciplinary literacies of history in Finnish general upper secondary schools and the mastery of literacy practices of students, including those with an immigrant background?

More specifically, we focus on the following questions:

  • What kinds of (multimodal) texts and genres are the students engaging in while studying history?
  • How adequately do the students master historical literacy practices?
  • How is historical literacy taught, learned and assessed in general upper secondary schools?
  • What kinds of pedagogical and assessment designs can be developed to support the mastery of disciplinary literacy practices?


Literacy is a basic prerequisite for full participation in society, and the ability to construct and share knowledge in its various forms has become increasingly important. Texts and language play a particularly significant role in the field of history. Various textual documents are the main type of sources of evidence in history, and interpretations of past events are represented in oral, written and visual texts.

As a school subject, history is particularly challenging since it requires not only critical reading but also argumentative and persuasive writing. Students are expected to employ various ways of writing about history and to express cause-and-effect relationships and judgements of past events.

Moreover, students are to cope with diverse modes of representation as the variety of texts used in history includes pictures, photos, maps, diagrams and other increasingly visual and multimodal presentations, such as  movies and games.


In order to reach our aims, we analyse and describe the texts, events and literacy practices in history classrooms, assess students’ proficiency and follow their development. We also give a special emphasis to students with an immigrant background. Finally, we will conduct interventions and develop teaching and assessment methods and materials.

The study is mainly qualitative, comprising of cross-sectional case studies with approaches from ethnographic, phenomenographic and action research as well as design-based research. The researchers with different fields of expertise will complement one another and work closely together in analysing the data and publishing the results to build a multiperspective and multimethod approach to historical literacy.

Further steps

We hope that our project will provide new pedagogical designs for teaching and assessing disciplinary literacy. The project will also benefit the stakeholders interested in educational policy, assessment, language and media education, and the development of new teaching materials. We will also contribute to teacher training and curriculum design by exploring pedagogical approaches and teaching and assessment practices that prepare adolescents for the disciplinary literacy practices. Moreover, the project will offer a solid research basis for teaching and carrying out practical literacy projects in schools and communities – especially with students with immigrant background.