Rethinking the Approach to Teaching Causation In the History Classroom, pp. 5 of 10

With these considerations in mind, I designed a series of lessons to support the teaching of the concept rather than introducing causation as one particular objective or part of a lesson (Haydn et al, 2015: 145). I also strove to design a variety of activities and ensure that they fitted the tight constraints of time but was stimulating and relevant for improving causal reasoning in students. Key activities included card sorting and group work activities that promoted pair and whole-class discussion with elements of collaboration. A form of “concept gym and exercise” activity (Chapman and Facey, 2009: 93) in the tale of Alphonse the Camel was also used towards the end of the sequence of lessons. This was to help students tie in the factors exemplified in the camel’s tale with their newly acquired understanding about the Cold War, and also to consolidate and apply their understanding of causation as a concept. Apart from enhancing students’ conceptual understanding, I also used Woodcock’s (2005 and 2011) linguistic strategies, especially his key activity of involving students in using a range of words apart from the “blunt word ‘cause’” and incorporating words like “trigger”, “latent” or “exacerbate” that showed “chronological timing, speed or importance” (Woodcock, 2011: 127).  Equipped with the necessary and appropriate vocabulary and scaffolds, these would hopefully enable students to better grapple with the language of causation.

I designed my lessons based on the first two topics of the students’ next unit inquiry, “How did the Cold War impact the world order in the post-1945 years?” that was to be taught for a period of eight weeks. The first phase would be a three-week module – comprising 9 lessons or 105 minutes per week – on the origins of the Cold War. Subsequently, a five-week module on the reasons for the Korean War (1950-1953) was conducted to address any shortcomings surfaced during the first phase. For the purpose of this article, discussion will focus only on the first phase of the intervention.

Fronting the entire inquiry process for the first phase of the intervention was the key question: “To what extent was conflicting ideology the main reason for the origin and development of the Cold War?” This three-week module provided students with an opportunity to explore the complexity and the inter-connectedness of the factors that contributed to the outbreak of the Cold War. Through the inquiry, students learnt about the fundamental ideological conflict between the USA and the USSR, and evaluated the role of superpower rivalry in escalating tensions. This was intended to move the issue beyond the ‘blame game’, a dominant feature of early historiography, which sought to ascribe responsibility to mere human agency.

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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