Rethinking the Approach to Teaching Causation In the History Classroom, pp. 9 of 10

Though not very sophisticated, what was especially pleasing to note was the student’s ability to analyse what she knew about the interaction between past elements “in bringing about the outcome under consideration” (Chapman and Facey, 2009: 92). In this case, the student demonstrated how the fundamental weakness of Japan as a country with its inherent lack and access to natural resources that was required to sustain her war machinery contributed somewhat significantly to her eventual defeat in the Second World War. She was able to suggest that this had made Japan’s defeat somewhat inevitable, especially in the closing months of the Second World War.

A brief analysis of the students’ essays may suggest that while a few students showed some measure of progress others may have stagnated. Two important weaknesses that students continued to demonstrate were their inability to harness in-depth knowledge within context for effective causal explanation (Chapman and Facey, 2009) and their inconsistent use of the “language of causation” (Woodcock 2005; Woodcock, 2011). Yet, there were indications to suggest that students’ performance can be improved if they were to continually be given opportunities to apply their understanding of causality in the writing of their essays. If such a strategy were to continue in an extended manner, I believe that these students would be able to confidently explain the relative importance and hierarchy of factors in their essays by the time they sit for their final examinations.


This small-scale study was intended to bridge the theory-practice gap by drawing upon aspects of current research on causality that can be meaningfully incorporated for teaching history in the classrooms. Its main aim was to develop a helpful intervention that teachers can use to support their students’ understanding of causation in history. The design of the intervention had taken into consideration two important notions related to students’ ideas: first, that students tended to have simplistic notions about the consequences of human agency, and second, that students are likely to view causal factors as acting independently of each other instead of them being a complex web of inter-related causes, events and processes. The primary strategy was through creating a series of lessons that provided students with a clear understanding of causation, and one that would enable them to answer a causation question with clarity, confidence and clear conceptual understanding. Nevertheless, helping students to understand and apply causal reasoning skills to their essay writing remained a challenging task. From this brief intervention, it revealed the disparity between my original hopeful intention that this intervention would have some major impact on students’ thinking, with the actual reality of a relative lack of progress in students’ understanding. Nevertheless, I felt that this intervention held promise when seen as a continuing journey in refining strategies to help students grapple with causal reasoning both at the conceptual and at the practical level.

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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