Rethinking the Approach to Teaching Causation In the History Classroom, pp. 4 of 10

In conceptualizing approaches for teaching students causal thinking and explanation, I am cognizant of the following when planning lessons that incorporated causation-related topics:

  1. the difficulties students are likely to face in understanding causation-related topics;
  2. the teachers’ objectives for the lessons; as well as
  3. the pedagogical interventions that may allow enabled students to develop the skills of causal explanation.

Potentially, teachers may encounter two aspects related to students’ ideas about cause/consequence when helping them understand the nature of historical causation. First, as Lee (2005: 49) opined, students held simple views of the consequences of human agency, and perhaps may arrive at the conclusion that since no historically significant character performed a particular action, then “nothing happened”, and there was no consequence. Second, students tended to view causal factors as “discrete entities, acting independently from each other”, in contrast to a complex web of “relationships among a network of events, processes and states of affairs” (Lee, 2005: 52). This could indicate one of two possible things: (a) students simply added the number of causal factors (or lack thereof) to “make something happen” – essentially, “the bigger the event, the longer the list needs to be” (Lee, 2005: 52), or (b) students may postulate that the independence of causal factors meant that multiple factors can only bring about some event in a “linear”, sequential way (e.g. first Cause A, then Cause B) (Lee, 2005: 52-53).

Designing the intervention

My small-scale study focused on connecting current research literature on causality to a practical implementation in the history classroom for a group of 13 students. An important research strategy was to design an intervention that teachers can use to help students develop better causal reasoning skills. Although I was taken by many fascinating ideas found in the research literature for causality, I was confronted with three key considerations, not dissimilar to Scott (2006), when postulating a suitable approach, amidst tight curriculum time constraints, for working with the students in my study:

  1. How can I design an intervention that drew upon current research literature on causality that can be meaningfully used for teaching history in the classrooms?
  2. How can students be helped – within limited curriculum time constraints – to answer a causation question with clarity, confidence and clear conceptual understanding?
  3. How can students internalize a structured approach to answering causation-based questions so that they can repeat the process independently and confidently?

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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