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  • CANADIANSOCIALSTUDIESVOLUME39NUMBER2,WINTER2005

    www.quasar.ualberta.ca/cssSpecialIssue:NewApproachestoTeachingHistory

    EngagingStudentsinLearningHistory.

    JohnFielding

    Queen'sUniversity(Retired,2002)

    ReturntoArticles

    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