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  • CANADIANSOCIALSTUDIESVOLUME39NUMBER2,WINTER2005

    www.quasar.ualberta.ca/cssSpecialIssue:NewApproachestoTeachingHistory

    EngagingStudentsinLearningHistory.

    JohnFielding

    Queen'sUniversity(Retired,2002)

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    Abstract

    Therearetwodistinctsectionstothisarticle.Inthefirstpart,theauthor'srelates,inapersonalway,hisconvictionthattheteachingofhistoryisabouttheengagementanddevelopmentofthe"historicalimagination".InthesecondpartFieldingpresentsnotonlymanystrategiesforteachinghistorybutalsohisanalysisofthesevariousactivitiesintermsofhoweffectivelytheyengagestudents'"historicalimagination."

    Thecontext

    Itiseasiertocommentonhownottoteachhistorythanitisonhowtoteachit.IonlyhavetorecallthehundredsofnegativereactionsfromadultswhenItoldthemIamahistoryteacher."Oh!Thatwasmyworsesubject.""Ihatedhistory.""Historywasboring.""Namesanddates,that'sallitwas."and"Ican'trememberanyofit!"

    Tomyquestion,whydidn'ttheylikehistory,theirresponsewasoneofthefollowing:memorywork,recall,listofnamesanddates,notrelevant,didn'tinterestthem,teachertalkedallthetime,andwedidn'tdoanything.

    Ontheotherhand,onecanalsolearnhowhistorywastaughteffectivelyfromthe1or2peopleoutof10wholovedhistoryinschool.Theirteacherstookthemonfieldtrips,theyrecreatedhistorythroughdrama,theteacherwasagreatstoryteller,theyhadgreatdiscussionstheteachersmadeitinteresting.Thesepeopleoftendescribedtheirhistorylearningwiththewordengaging.

    HereisthereasonIstudiedhistoryandwhyIbecameaHistoryteacher.Ingradefouranausterewomanteacher,whoslappedwitharuleranyunsuspectingchildwholookedsideways,onedaydidaveryunusualthing.Shetoldustogetoutofourseatsandgotothehugewindowsatthesideoftheclassroom.TherewewereinstructedtoobservetheGrandRiver.ParisCentralSchoolsatonahilloverlookingtheGrand,whichflowedthroughthelittletownofParis,Ontario.Shesaid,"TrytoimagineFatherMarquetteandhispartnerin

    http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/csshttp://www.educ.ualberta.ca/css/Css_39_2/index39_2.htm#Articles

  • explorationLouisJolietintheirbirchbarkcanoespaddlingdownourriverthroughtheforestedwildernesspastourschool."

    "Ofcourseourschoolwouldnothavebeenthere,"sheexclaimed!

    Afterafewminutesofscenesetting,dreamygazingforsome,butratherintenseimagingforme,(probablyafirst,sinceIwasaveryweakstudentinmyearlyschoolyears,Ievenfailedgrade2)weweresmartlywhiskedbacktoourdesks.Heretherestofthestorywithdatesanddetailscontinued.Fromthatmomenton,however,Iwasfascinatedwiththeseexplorers.IhadimaginedthatIactuallysawthem.Myhistoricalimaginationhadbeenengagedandithasneverbeenturnedoff.Historycamealiveformethatday!Lateringrade12and13whenIwasconfrontedwithdecidingwhattodofortherestofmylifeIcouldn'tgetthatmomentwithhistoryoutofmyhead.Thatunusualday,theteacherdid4importantthings.Shemadehistoryactivewemovedoutofourdesks.Sheaskedustouseourimaginations.ShetoldthestoryofMarquetteandJoliet'stravelandexplorations.Andshemadeitrealandrelevantwelookedattheriverinourowncommunity.

    Ithinkthatthefirstpriorityinhowtoteachhistoryeffectivelyistodeveloplearningstrategiesthatarouseandengagethehistoricalimaginationsofourstudents.Howwedothatisbyprovidingthemwithopportunitiestodoandtotalkabouthistory.Weneedtoencouragestudentstotakeontheroleofthehistorianinacreativeandcriticalway.Itisnotbyfillingthemwithanarrativeofnamesanddatesforrecallandtestpurposes.Theywilllearnlotsofsolidhistory,includingnamesanddates,justasIhave,buttheywilllearnitthroughinvolvement.EversinceIreadtheresultsofamemorystudyconductedbyDanielleLappoftheUniversityofTexaswhichrevealedthat"werememberonly10%0fwhatweread,20%ofwhatwehear,30%ofwhatwesee,50%ofwhatweseeandhear,and90percentofwhatwedoandsay",Icouldnolongerlectureorpresenthistoryin"theoldway".

    WhatIhavealsolearnedbytalkingwithstudentswhoenjoyedHistorywasthattheycontinuetostudyandlearnhistorythroughouttheirlives.Theycontinue,inmostcases,notbystudyinghistoryintheacademicsensebutmorelikelybyhowtheychoosetousetheirleisuretime.Theywillreadhistoryforpleasure,takeitupasahobbybyresearchingtheirfamily'sgenealogy,collectingstampsorantiques,tellingstoriesofthepast,ortravelingandvisitingmuseumsandhistoricsites.Whatwedoknowisthattheywillhaverichermoreinterestinglivesasaresultoftheirinterestandenjoymentofhistory.Thechallengeforteachersofhistoryistogetthemcurious,interested,andengaged.Itisalmostacaseof,"donoharm".Thentheywillwanttolearnhistoryandenjoyit.

    InterestingbutnoteffectivestrategiesIlikemosthistoryteachershavesearchedforavarietyofstrategiestomakemylessonsinteresting.IalsousedsomeofthesestrategiesbeforeIunderstoodthedifferenceandimportanceofmakingmylessonsnotjustinterestingbutengagingandeffective.Hereismylistofinterestingbutnoteffectivestrategies:

    Crosswordpuzzles,wordsearches,andfillintheblanks:Suretheycankeepstudentsbusyandforsomestudentstheymaycoincidentlyreinforceafewdatesorterms.Buttheydon'tlearnanyhistoricalcontext,itdoesn'tinvolveanimaginativerecreationofaneraoreventanditdoesn'tinvolveanyoftheskillsorcriticalthinkingofthehistorian.InfactIdon'tthinkitdoesmuchatallforthelearningofhistory.

    Triviapursuit:Withthepopularityofvariousformsoftriviapursuitgamesandthe

  • annualDominionInstitutesurveyreportabouthowlittleCanadiansknowabouttheirhistorytherehasbeenapushtogetyoungpeopletoknowmorehistoryfacts.Historytriviapursuitgamescanserveapurposeforreviewpurposesandmaybeconcludingalessonwithsome"whatfactsdoyouknownow".Fortoomanystudentsitjustrevealshowweaktheyareatmemorywork.Idon'tthinkitrevealsanyrealunderstandingofhistory.

    Posters:Ihavenoticedalotofteachers,desperatetobreakupthesameoldroutines,resorttoaskingstudentstocreateposters.TheirfavouritesarepostersencouragingimmigrationtoCanadaatthebeginningofthe20thcenturyorrecruitmentforWorldWar1.IfHistoryclasswereArtclassitwouldbeagoodassignment.Studentswholiketodraworpaintthinkitisfunanddifferent.Buttoooftenitinvolveslittleornoresearch,turnsintoacopyingexerciseandinvolvesnocriticalthinkingabouttheuseofpropagandaandwhycertainimagesappealedtopeopleatthattimeinhistory.WithouttheselatterdimensionsitisreallyawasteoftimeinaHistoryclass.

    Interestingandsometimeseffectivestrategies

    Alloftheseactivitieshavewonderfulpotentialtoengagestudentsandarecertainlyexcellenttocreatevariety,developskills,includingcriticalthinkinganddecisionmaking.Whattheylack,however,isthatcomponentofengagementofthehistoricalimagination.

    Watchingfilms,videosorDVD's:Videoscanhelpstudentstovisualizeaneraorevent.Toooften,however,theyareusedasapassiveprocesswithoutanyanalysisofwhatisbeingpresented,whyitisbeingpresentedandhowitisbeingpresented.Theymaystimulateaninterestbutunlessstudentsengageinsomequestioningoftheexperiencewehavetoaskourselveswhatthestudentsarelearningandifthisisreallyaneffectivewayoflearninghistory.

    Fieldtrips:Howcananyonebecriticalofagoodoldfieldtrip?Studentslovethem.Theyprovideachangeofscenery,somefreetime,andareentertaining.Isuggest,withouttotallyruiningthefun,weneedtoengagestudentsinsomelearningofthecontextoftheplacewearevisiting.Weneedtochallengeourstudentstothinkaboutwhattheyareexperiencing,whyasiteisimportant,maybewhyitwasdesignatedanationalsite,evenwhowasinvolvedinthedesignation.Preandpostfieldtripresearchandexercisescanmakethedifferencebetweenanentertainingoutingandasignificantlearningexperience.

    Debates:Theyarealsoafavouriteofsometeacherswholiketheideaofcontroversyandcompetition.IhavesteeredclearofthemsinceIlearnedaboutEdwardDeBono'sPMI.Pstandsforplusorpositive,Mforminusornegative,andIforinterestingorIwonderif.Theconceptisthatgroupsofstudentsbrainstormanissueandrecordtheplus,minusandinterestingaspectofanissue.Theproblemwithdebatesisstudentsaremoreinterestedinwinningtheirargumentthancreativelyresearchingorlookingatanissue,decisionoreventinhistory.Debatesproduceconvergentratherthandivergentthinking.PMI'scanleadtogreatdiscussions,excellentcriticalthinkingandthoughtfulreflectiononthepast.

    Anotheralternativetothedebateisthe"Ushape"forum.Manyteachersarereplacingthisadversarial,closedmindedformatwithmoreopenendeddiscussionswherestudentsareencouragedtoseethemeritsofallsidesandtoacceptpositionsalonga

  • continuum.Tofacilitatethisapproach,classdiscussionsmaybeconfiguredina"Ushape."Studentswithpolarviews(eitherstronglyagreeingorstronglydisagreeingwiththeproposition)seatthemselvesateithertipofthe"U"studentswithmixedopinionssitatappropriatespotsalongtheroundedpart.Atvaryingstagesinthediscussion,studentsareencouragedtomovealongthespectrumastheirintellectualpositionsontheissuechange.Inthisway,lessdogmaticattitudesareencouraged:theimplicitmessagesofthetraditionaldebateblackorwhite,fixedopinionswiththeobjectiveofwinningtheargumentaresupplantedbydifferentmessagesofthe"Ushaped"discussionprovisionallyheldpositionsasonetriestofigureoutthemostdefensiblepersonalstancefromacontinuumofoptions.

    MindMap:Thesoundsofmoaning,whenweaskstudentstowrite,canbepainful.Forquiteafewofthemwritingareportoressayistheirworsenightmare.Yetwhenyoudoshowthemavideooraskthemtoreadabookoressayyouwantthemtoshowwhattheyunderstoodfromtheexercise.ThisiswhenIhavefoundthatformanystudentsamindmapassignmentworksbest.

    Amindmapisavisualrepresentationofthestudent'sthoughtsandthoughtprocess.Itcanshowhowtheyconnectideasandrevealanunderstandingofcauseandeffectrelationships.Ihavealsodiscoveredthatstudents,usingtheirmindmaps,canexplaintheirideasandwhattheyhavelearnedquiteeffectively.Infactbetterthanwhentheyattempttosimplyreadwhattheyhavewritten.MindmapshaveshownmethatsomestudentswhoflounderedbadlywhenIaskedforawrittenreportcouldnotonlythinkbutcouldalsotalk.

    Eventsgraph:IusetodreadstartinganewtopicsuchastheFrenchRevolutionorWorldWar2.Howcanstudentsunderstandwhatwashappeningwithouthavingsomeknowledgeofthesequenceofevents?ButIcertainlydidn'twanttogivealectureunlessIwantedthemtosleepfor40minutes.FinallyIgotanideagivethematimelineofkeyeventsandaskthemtoevaluatethesignificanceoftheeventsaccordingtoasetofcriteriaestablishedbytheclass.Forexample,howmanypeoplewereaffectedbytheevent?Diditcausesubsequentchanges?Diditcostlivesorsavelives?Wastheimpactoftheeventshortorlongterm?Studentshavetodosomereadingandresearchtolearnmoreabouttheevents.Iusuallydidthisasagroupassignmentsothatthestudentscoulddivideuptheresearch,pooltheirknowledgeandtalkabouttheirrankingoftheevents.Finally,theymadeabargraphrankingeacheventbetween0and10,withtenbeingmostimportant.Thenthestudentspresentedtheirfindingsusingtheirgraphs.Thepresentationsledtomanyalivelydiscussion,asthestudents'interpretationsofeventswereneverthesame.Onceweunderstoodthetimelinethenwecouldmoveontostudymanyotherissuesandconcepts.Isthereapatterntorevolution?Howsignificantistheroleofanyoneperson?Whatwastheroleofwomeninthisrevolutionorwar?Dowehaveenoughsolidinformationtoreconstructwhatreallyhappened?Howisourpresentdayviewoftheworldaffectedbythisevent?

    Interesting,imaginative,andeffectivestrategies

    Idobelieveteacherscaneffectivelyengagestudentsinlearninghistorythroughteachingstrategiesthatemployawholerangeoflearningstyles.Themostimportantelementforastrategytobeeffectiveis,however,thatitmustactivatethehistoricalimaginationofthestudent.Somestrategiesthatarenotjustinterestingbutactivelyengagestudentsinan

  • effectiveandcreativemanneraredescribedhere.Onewordofcaution,however,therearenoguaranteestheseactivitiescangowrong.Goodresearchhabitsareneededtoavoidblatantlyinaccuratefalsehistory.Differencesininterpretationare,ofcourse,encouragedbutfactualerrorsandimposingpresentdaythinkingandvaluesonthepastarenot.

    Roleplaying,reenactments,tableauxandsimulations:Imadesuremystudentsparticipatedinatleastoneoftheseasemester.Why?Becauseyearafteryear,forover20years,whenIaskedmystudentstoratetheirfavouritelesson,mostsaidthereenactmentorsimulation.Simulations,suchasreenactingtheQuebecCityConferenceof1865,orplayingthepartofimmigrantswithpassportsandimmigrationofficialsarmedwiththerulesofentryforaspecificyear,putstudentsintodecisionmakingsituations.[MostofthecomponentsofthelearningresourceWeAreCanadiansinvolvesomeformofroleplaying.]Studentslearnnotonlyabouttheevent,rules,dates,andpeoplebuttheylearnevenmoreaboutprocess.InthecaseofaConfederationconference,studentslearnhowtonegotiate,compromise,andevenmakeagoodimpression.Inthecaseoftheimmigrationsimulationstudentsnotonlylearnabouttheprocessofimmigratingbygoingthroughsomeaspectsofitbuttheyalsofeelsomeoftheemotionsthatareabigpartofthewholedebateaboutimmigrants,immigration,immigrationrulesandrestrictions.

    Tableau:Atableauisastrikingsceneorpicturecreatedbypeopleposing,oftenincostume.Aseriesoftableauxcanbeusedeffectivelytorecreateanevent,especiallywhenanarratorisusedtodescribethevariousscenesand/orprogressionofevents.Anothervariationonroleplaying,tableauxcanbelessintimidatingbecausenoteveryoneneedstospeakbuteverybodycanparticipate.

    Notthemostimportantfunbutthemostimportantaspectofthisactivityisthedebriefing.Whatwasportrayed,whywasitimportant,isitareasonablyaccuraterecreationoftheevent,whataspectsdoweneedtolearnmoreabout,arethereotherinterpretationsofwhathappened,and,ofcourse,whathavewelearnedfromthisactivity?

    Steppingintothepicture(acombinationofroleplayingandtableau):ThisisaconceptIdevelopedafterparticipatinginaHistoryAlive!workshoppresentedbyBertBowerfromtheCaliforniaTeachersInstitute.Basicallyitinvolvesstudentsroleplayingpeopleinapicture.Someofmyfavouritephotographsforthisstrategyarefamousones,suchas"TheLastSpike"or"FathersofConfederationattheCharlottetownConference".Theideaistoassignrolesbasedonthepeopleinthepicture,studentsresearchtheirperson,andthentheycreateaconversationabouttheissuethatisthesubjectorreasonforthephotograph.Forexample,inthetwophotosImentioned,theissuesareobviously,thebuildingofthetranscontinentalrailwayandConfederation.Thisexerciseisexcellentforstirringupthehistoricalimagination,researching,discussingissues,andidentifyingpeopleandplaces.Itcan,withthoughtfulhelpfromtheteacher,involvesomeexcellentcriticalthinking.Theteacherwillneedtoencouragestudentstoasksomepenetratingquestionsinordertorecreatearealisticoraccuratehistoricalcontext.Studentsdotendtowanttoimposethepresentonthepast.Thereareopportunitiesforsomeimaginativebutnotauthenticdialoguethatisneithergoodhistorynorgoodhistoryteaching.Acomplete,readytouse"SteppingintoHistory"lessonwiththe"LastSpike"photographisavailableonthehistori.cawebsite:www.histori.ca/teachers/lessonPlan.do?ID=10086&sl=e

    http://www.educ.ualberta.ca/css/Css_39_2/www.histori.ca/teachers/lessonPlan.do?ID=10086&sl=e

  • Ihavenotmadeacleardistinctionbetweenroleplayingandasimulationalthoughsomepeopledo.Theyseesimulationsasremakingnotreenactingortryingtorecreatehistory.Ithinkofasimulationasamoreformalizedorstructuredandinvolvedroleplaying.Iaminterestedinhistoricalaccuracynotremakinghistory.

    PostcardsfromthePast:Studentsgetboredandfrustratedwithwritingessaysandreports.Hereisaninterestingalternative.Whenyouarestudyingaunitoftimeoraboutanevent,whetheritistheLoyalists,ConfederationorSettlingtheWest,askthestudentstocreatepostcardsfromtheperspectiveofthattimeperiod.ThepostcardshouldbeashistoricallyaccurateaspossiblewemayhavetosuspendsomehistoricalaccuracyfortheLoyalistssincetheywerefartoobusyanddisorientedtobewritingpostcardseveniftheyhadthembackinthe1780's.Thepostcardsshould,ofcourse,bewritteninthefirstpersonandhaveproperpostcardformat,includingarepresentativepictureonthefront.Ithinkthisisamuchmoreusefulexercisethansimplywritingaletterordrawingapicture.Thiswillinvolvethestudentindoingsomeresearch,whichtoooftenisnotwhattheydoifyouaskthemtosimplydrawapictureorcreateaposter.IfoundthattomotivatemystudentstodotheresearchImadeitclearthatIexpectedaccuracyinfactualinformationaswellastotheircharacter'sopinionsaboutwhatwashappening.Irequiredthatsomeanswerstothe5Wquestions,what,where,who,whenandwhyandsomeaspectsofhowhadtobeincludedinthepostcardnarrative.

    Thisexerciseincludesallmycriteriaforaneffectivelesson:itcallsontheimagination,requiresresearch,appealstodifferentlearningstylesandiscreative,activelearning.

    Heritageorhistoryminutes:Thisisastrategythatdevelopedverynaturallyoutofthepopulartelevisionadvertisementscalled"HeritageMinutes"producedoriginallybyTheCRBFoundationHeritageProjectandmorerecentlybyHistorica(www.histori.ca).Thelengthisjustrightforastudentproject.Organizetheclassintosmallproductionteamsandaskthemtowriteastoryboardforahistoryminute.Youdon'tactuallyhavetodoavideoalthoughthestudentsusuallywanttoanditdoesteachthemotherskillsinareal,worthwhileway.Itisgreatforlearningacrossthecurriculumorintegrationofskills.Itisespeciallyeffectiveifyouarestudyinganera,suchasthe1920'soreventhe1960'soraneventsuchasConfederation.Youcanallowthestudentstochoosetodoaperson,event,evenapopularproductofthetimeanddotheresearchnecessarytotellthestory.Itisactive,creativelearningatisbest,especiallywhenyoucanshowanactualHeritageMinuteandcriticallyanalyzeitbeforeusingitasamodel.InformationaboutthistypeoflessonplusbackgroundinformationabouttherealHeritageMinutescanbeeasilyfoundontheHistoricawebsite:www.histori.ca/teachers/lessonPlan.do.

    Historicalfiction:Mostpeopleenjoyreadinghistoricalfiction.Infactthesalesofhistoricalfictionnovelshaveneverbeengreater.Sowhynotintroduceyourstudentstothegenreandletthembecreativewhiletheystilllearnsomerealhistory.Youcanalsoencouragetheuseofprimarydocumentsasthesourceoftheinformationforthestudents'fictionalcreations.IamencouragedinmythinkingthatitisokaytoletyoungstudentsofhistorywritehistoricalfictionbyanarticleintheTheArchivist,No.121,2003,page14.TheauthorDaleSimmonswrites,

    Aspiringwritersareoftencautionedtowriteonlyabout"whattheyknow."Butifwritersfollowedthisadvice,there

    http://www.educ.ualberta.ca/css/Css_39_2/www.histori.ca/teachers/lessonPlan.do

  • wouldbenofantasyorsciencefictionwriting,andnotmuchhistoricalfictioneither.Farbetteradvicewouldbe"knowwhatyou"write.Thequestionishowdoyougettoknowabouteventsinthepast?Theanswercanbesummedupinoneword:research.

    Whatwewantisforstudentstogetengagedinstorytellingbuttobeasaccurateaspossible.Goodresearch,applicationoftheimagination,andwritingastoryaboutanhistoricaleventorpersonitsoundslikeanexcellentstrategytomeandtherearelotsofexamplesthatyoucanusetoprovidethestudentswithmodels.

    ObituaryorEulogy:IhavelotsoffriendswhoreadtheobituarieseverydayofcourseIamolderandsoaremyfriends.Anobituaryisawonderfulsummaryandinterpretationofaperson'slife.Thereareexcellentmodelsinmostnewspapers,especiallythe"LivesLived"columnintheGlobeandMail.Iliketheideaoffindingprimarydocumentsonfamouspeople,suchasWinstonChurchill,SirJohnA.MacdonaldorBillyBishopandaskingthestudentstowritetheobituaryfromthemratherthansecondarysourceswheremostoftheworkisalreadydone.Ofcourse,thissuggestionwilldependontheageandabilitylevelofthestudents.Evenwritinganobituaryoreulogyfromsecondarysourcestakesresearch,creativity,storytellingabilityandwritingskills.Thestudentscanpracticetheirpublicspeakingskillsbypresentingtheireulogy.Thisisnotaskillmostofuswanttouseveryoftenbutevenourstudentswillsomedaygetoldimaginethat.

    Whenitcomesrightdowntoitstudentswantvarietywithadependablestructure.Theywanttobechallengedyetnottobeoverwhelmed.Theywanttobeabletothink,talk,anddohistory.Theyalsoneedtobegiventheopportunitytomakesomedecisions,walkinanotherperson'sshoesforawhile,andusetheirimaginations.

    Footnotes:

    Mostofthesestrategiesoractivitiesaredescribedandusedintextbooks,teacher'sguides,learningresourcesandonlinelessonsandactivitiesthatIhaveproducedoverthepast14years.Herearesomereferencesthatmightbeofpracticalvalue:

    1. Canada,OurCentury,OurStory,NelsonThomsonLearning,2001.Theirwebsiteiswww.nelson.com.TheteachingguidetothistextIthinkisparticularlyusefulwithsomeofthebestexamplesofthesestrategies.

    2. Canada:TheStoryofOurHeritageandCanada:TheStoryofaDevelopingNation,McGrawHillRyerson,2000.Theirwebsiteiswww.mcgrawhill.ca.AgainIwouldrecommendreviewingtheTeacher'sResourceBinderformanyexamplesofhowtoimplementthesestrategies.

    3. Ihavealsoproducedmanylearningresources/activitiesthatarepostedonHistorica'swebsitewww.histori.caandTheLibraryandArchivesofCanadahttp://sources.collectionscanada.ca.

    JohnFieldingisanAdjunctProfessorofEducationatQueen'sUniversity(Retired,2002).Hecanbereachedbyemailatjohn.fielding3@sympatico.ca.

    http://sources.collectionscanada.ca/http://www.histori.ca/http://www.mcgrawhill.ca/http://www.nelson.com/mailto:john.fielding3@sympatico.ca

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