Teaching for Historical Understanding (TfHU): Developing a Discipline-based Curriculum Model at Tanjong Katong Secondary School, pp. 11 of 17

Liz Sriyanti

The focus of my TfHU lesson was on developing students’ historical understanding through the use of historical concepts – causation and significance – to analyse historical events. I wanted students to use these conceptual lenses to come to an understanding that events in history have multiple causes and can lead to multiple consequences. There were three lessons planned using the TfHU framework and they were designed to provide students with opportunities to examine the different causes that led to the rise of authoritarian rulers. Agency and motivation were causes that accounted for Stalin’s rise to power. But factors, outside the actions of the main historical players, also played a part in influencing events and developments at that time. Students became very much engaged in the lesson activities when given different sources and asked to categorise the different reasons that contributed to the rise of Stalin. On their own, students were able to reach the conclusion that Stalin’s rise to power was due to favourable circumstances at the time. The circumstances gave him the opportunity to consolidate his power, aside from his own ruthlessness and political manipulations. I was thrilled that (in the third lesson) my students were able to provide reasoned justification on the significance of one factor in relation to another. This was achieved after several processes were done during lessons – generating active group discussions, consistent prompting of students’ responses to develop their understanding, and getting students to complete presentations that were crafted to test their understandings about possible reasons to explain Stalin’s rise to power. The development of such understandings had led to better explanatory skills (in the answers students gave in response to the Structured Essay Question), which they previously lacked.

The initial stages of developing the lesson plans as well as the implementation of the lessons were painful but in the end, rather fulfilling. I enjoyed teaching history by building knowledge through self-discovery. The revisions made to lesson plans after each peer lesson observation and successive discussions improved the clarity and effectiveness of the lessons. The TfHU project had provided me with an enriching teaching and learning experience, and I was able to tap on students’ thinking and understanding of the historical knowledge they gained through the process of gathering evidence and exercising reasoning. The preparation for the O levels usually hindered students’ interest to learn beyond what was being taught, and most students are predisposed to accepting historical facts as fixed and would reproduce these facts without contemplating, or be critical about, the nature of the knowledge. Approaching lessons through the TfHU framework, however, gave me the opportunity to help students gain an in-depth understanding of how historical facts are derived, and the manner in which historical knowledge was constructed (based on the justification of evidence that were found). At the same time, I was also able to tackle any misunderstandings or misconceptions of what students perceived and make corrective inputs immediately.

Implementing TfHU framework in these three lessons, I found that students were capable of making valid claims and supporting them with reasonable justifications. In addition, students were also able to use the knowledge they acquired from understanding the reasons for the rise to power of authoritarian governments in Europe and Asia and apply these understandings to explain how authoritarian leaders like Stalin and Hitler were able to gain political power in their respective countries. I believe that this was a big leap in my students’ learning experience. I found that they were more engaged in the learning process and I think that this approach empowered students to think deeper about historical issues.

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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