Historical Concepts and National Examinations: Have O-Level Structured-Essay Questions Encouraged the Teaching of Historical Concepts?, pp. 10 of 10

None of the questions detailed above are outside the scope of the 2013 O-Level History syllabus.  Most history teachers in Singapore would probably have covered the content necessary to answer these questions in their classrooms, but how many of them have asked students to answer questions such as the non-causation/consequence ones mentioned above?  The analysis of the O-Level History question papers shows that the national examinations have almost never asked questions such as the ‘significance’ and ‘change and continuity’ examples above.  However, with the new Assessment Objectives detailed in the 2013 syllabus, these questions appear to be fair game.  Teachers, then, could lead the way by asking students to answer questions such as these in class, and suggestions on possible criteria teachers could use to design questions that support the teaching and learning of historical concepts appear in Appendix B.  With proper scaffolding and teaching for conceptual understanding, students should eventually be able to answer these questions doing justice to both content and concept.  Beyond preparing students for their eventual summative examination, such a deliberate approach would help to better develop the Qualities of the History Learner that the syllabus aspired for each student.

Conclusion

As noted in the introduction, this article is meant as a starting point for a meaningful conversation about how assessment – school-level and national-level – can encourage the teaching of second-order historical concepts.  Every conversation must start somewhere, and it is important to start by figuring out where assessment has been, as well as where it might go.  It is clear from the analysis of past examination questions that causation has maintained a consistent presence in the way we have assessed our students’ knowledge of history.  However, there are signs that this oft-explored concept might soon be joined by others.

The TLG serves as strong evidence that CPDD (History Unit) wants history education to be more than just an understanding of cause and effect. The number of pages devoted to the explanation of historical concepts is certainly impressive.  Perhaps more important, however, is the explicit delineation of second-order historical concepts in the Assessment Objectives that will guide how the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) structure future O-Level history examinations.  While the TLG hints that not all of the eight historical concepts will be assessed by the national exams, assessing anything more than causation and consequence is already a step in the right direction.  Every journey begins with a first step, and the 2014 O-Level History exams will provide evidence as to whether that first step has been taken.

However, there is no need for teachers to wait to begin helping their students deepen their conceptual understanding in history.  While the test spurs some teachers to action, many are motivated by the desire to see their students succeed and grow.  While there is a growing body of Singapore-based research about students’ conceptual understanding in history[vi], there will always be questions about the value of teaching for conceptual understanding.  Hopefully in the next few years this will change, and someday there will be sufficient data showing that students who learn in history classrooms built on historical thinking and concepts not only perform well in examinations, but more importantly enjoy and understand what it means to be a student of history.

References

  1. Barton, K. (2012). Agency, choice and historical action: How history teaching can help students think about democratic decision making published.  Citizenship Teaching and Learning, 7 (2), 131-142.
  2. Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness/The Historical Thinking Project.  (2013). Concepts.  Retrieved from http://historicalthinking.ca/concepts
  3. Counsell, C.  (2013).  Planning for the teaching of historical concepts.  Retrieved from http://subjects.opal.moe.edu.sg/history
  4. Peck, C., & Seixas, P. (2008). Benchmarks of historical thinking: First steps. Canadian Journal of Education, 34 (4), 1015-1038.
  5. Seixas, P. (2006). Benchmarks of historical thinking: A framework for assessment in Canada. Vancouver, BC: Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness, University of British Columbia.
  6. Seixas, P., & Colyer, J. (2012). Assessment of historical thinking: A report on the national meeting of the historical thinking project, 2012.  Ontario: The Historical Thinking Project.
  7. Seixas, P., & Colyer, J. (2013). Linking historical thinking concepts, content, and competencies: A report on the national meeting of the historical thinking project, 2013.  Ontario: The Historical Thinking Project.
  8. Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board.  (2012a). Combined humanities 2192/03 history: Yearly questions, 2002-2011.  Singapore: Dyna Publisher Pte Ltd.
  9. Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board.  (2012b).  Combined humanities paper 3: History elective: 20th century world history, 1910s-1991.  Singapore: Author.
  10. Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board.  (2013). GCE ordinary level history syllabus 2173.  Retrieved from http://www.seab.gov.sg/oLevel/2013Syllabus/2173_2013.pdf
  11. Singapore Ministry of Education/Curriculum Planning and Development Division.  (2001).  GCE ‘O’ level revised history syllabus for examination in 2002.  Singapore: Author.
  12. Singapore Ministry of Education/Curriculum Planning and Development Division.  (2011). GCE ordinary level history syllabus 2174. Singapore: Author.
  13. Singapore Ministry of Education/Curriculum Planning and Development Division.  (2012).  Upper secondary history and history elective teaching and learning guide.  Singapore: Author.



[i] The History Elective paper of the Combined Humanities (SEAB/CIE Course Code 2190/3 and 2192/2) subject was chosen as the basis for the analysis because it mirrors the Full History paper in terms of question types and targets (assessment objectives), and because more students sit for the O-Level History Elective examination each year.

[ii] This section was summarized from pages 35-38 and pages 325-345 in the TLG.  Please see the TLG published by MOE/CPDD for more detailed descriptions and examples.

[iii] A more detailed breakdown of the questions and a simple calculation of the approximate percentages of questions that assess causation and other concepts appear in Appendix A.

[iv] Suggestions for ways to overcome this appear in Appendix B.

[v] This statement is based on observations in the author’s history classrooms.

[vi] Dr Suhaimi bin Afandi from HSSE at NIE, Ms Fiona Koh from MOE, and Ms Delia Foo from MOE have contributed to the scholarship on the teaching and learning of second-order historical concepts in Singapore schools.

 

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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