Historical Evidence: Archaeological Practice as a Pedagogical Tool for Historical Education in Singapore, pp. 9 of 10

Reflecting on my practice

Since 2012, there has been a shift in history instruction towards a more inquiry-based approach and one that focuses on the development of students’ historical understanding through concept-based learning (MOE, 2012). As such, this activity was designed to allow students to appreciate the historians’ work using archaeological methods and the concept of historical evidence. Having repeated this activity in two schools that had different student profiles, the activity has been revised and enhanced to enable students to handle a variety of sources, to use them for discussion and to make sound judgments and inferences about our past. This foundation or introduction to history is important as it sets the foundations for future history teaching and learning in the classroom even as these students move into the upper secondary level.

There are, however, some anticipated problems. There will not be enough sets of artefacts to be redistributed in a classroom setting. While teachers can supplement artefacts with picture cards, the activity will lose some authenticity as students may react better to the materials in Lesson 1 as opposed to the cards used in Lesson 2. These artefacts are also likely to be damaged during classroom usage and teachers would need to ensure that students handle them with extra care. Due to the complex nature of the discipline, it will take many years for our archaeologists to collect enough data before source-kits containing a full range of representative sample artefacts can be created for schools.

Another difficulty which teachers always face is how to motivate students to retain their memory as they tend to ‘unlearn’ everything taught in the classroom the moment they step out of school. It gets frustrating when upper secondary students require the history teacher to repeat a historical skill that was supposed to be learnt at the lower secondary historical level. Indeed, if I were to ask any of my students now about a particular historical skill, they may have probably forgotten that this activity was even conducted! Some might have even forgotten the basic inference skill that was taught throughout the year. The challenge had always been in the application and implementation of effective lessons that students can keep in mind. This will remain a work in progress.

Conclusion

While archaeological methodology is a useful approach to the learning of a historian’s craft, there are still some obstacles to overcome. The technicality of the topic is not easily understood by those who do not practice it. As such, it remains a challenge for teachers to come up with activities to engage the students when teaching the section on pre-colonial Singapore. Teachers who are wondering how to help students develop and demonstrate their thinking about historical evidence will likely find this inquiry-approach helpful for their practice.

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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