Rethinking the Approach to Teaching Causation In the History Classroom, pp. 6 of 10

After an introductory lesson focused on unpacking the inquiry question and introducing to students the concept of Cold War, the next two lessons examined the immediate impact of World War II on Europe and explained how conflicting ideology contributed to the origin and development of the Cold War. The second lesson incorporated an inductive concept development activity that not only tapped on students’ prior knowledge to form their own understanding of the two concepts, but allowed students to better understand the differences between Communism and Capitalism through the use of a card-sort activity. This set the stage for them to assess how far fundamental differences could lead to conflict between the two superpowers. In the third lesson, the focus zoomed in on how superpower rivalry manifested itself in the actions and reactions of the USA and USSR (e.g. Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade, etc.), and required students to assess how such actions might have escalated tensions and contributed to the Cold War.  A key activity in lesson three was a ranking exercise where students had to determine and evaluate the relative importance in each action or reaction by the superpowers. In the final lesson, after showing students a chronological outline, the analogy of Alphonse the Camel was introduced to sum up key learning points, after which students were asked to write the essay at home.

Evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention

In order to determine whether the first phase of the intervention had been successful, triangulation – based on the principle of “confirming findings through multiple perspectives” (Evans, 2013: 151) – of different types of data was used. To gauge how well students have improved in their causal reasoning abilities, I collected three students’ writing prior to this intervention. They had undergone one year’s worth of lessons so this served as a good indicator of where they stood prior to intervention. Following the three weeks’ intervention, I surveyed the students to elicit feedback on what they have learnt from this three-week module. The three students’ work were analysed to ascertain the extent to which they have grasped the first phase of lessons, especially with regard to how they applied knowledge and understanding of causation to their essay writing. Thereafter, I slightly tweaked the lesson plans focusing on the reasons for the Korean War to incorporate additional details or to address any misconceptions that may have emerged from the initial three-week intervention.

From my observations, it was apparent that the students were beginning to grasp the ‘language of causation’. It seemed that they were not only more responsive and less reliant on the teacher for ready-made answers but also showed increased confidence in connecting what they had studied from the lessons about the Cold War. They also were able to express their understanding of how causes operated in the context of how events happened.

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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