Sparking Joy in History Classrooms, pp. 6 of 10

Suggested Approaches to Spark Joy in History Classrooms

History teachers can play a vital role in making the learning of history a joyful experience for students. Apart from developing students’ historical knowledge and skills, history teachers can (and often do) cultivate in students a positive attitude towards learning. Below we suggest approaches to spark joy in history classrooms. 

Foster Joyful Relationships

Joy is infectious. To teach with joy, the most essential element is positive interactions and relationships with students (Rantala, Uusiautti, & Määttä, 2012). Teachers can actively and persistently cultivate positive classroom interactions. Very simply, this requires showing active and ongoing interest in students’ lives and learning. For example, asking students questions about their interests, their aspirations and their experiences, and finding out what they enjoy in and out of school can demonstrate care and concern to students. Honestly exploring what they enjoy in learning history, what they think would make learning history more interesting, engaging and relevant, and checking in with them on a regular basis about these matters not only fosters positive relationships with students, it provides feedback to improve instruction.

Teaching is fundamentally about relationships – one’s relationship to students as well as to subject matter and how that subject matter relates to students’ lives. Putting positive relationships at the center of one’s teaching enables teachers to better tap into and leverage students’ interests and experiences to make connections with historical topics. A skillful history teacher is able to connect with students in ways that make the study of the past meaningful, engaging and comprehensible to their students through examples, analogies, and explanations that tap into students’ prior knowledge and everyday experiences. Such teachers are passionate about history as a subject and its relevance for students. They have positive views of their students, of history as a subject, and continually express enthusiasm and purpose for learning about the past as a way to better understand present-day realities. Put simply, they are able to relate the content to present-day realities and students’ lives and experiences. They care about and listen to their students and they are passionate about history as a subject and its vital importance in students’ lives. 

Develop a Sense of Belonging

Fostering joyful relationships in classrooms contributes to building a sense of the classroom as a vibrant meaning-making community. In history classrooms, this is achieved when ideas, interpretations and perspectives are shared and explored rather than taught in didactic fashion. Students feel a sense of belonging to a community where their views and voice are valued and where they work with others to make sense of the past. For instance, teachers can provide opportunities where students develop their own theories and ideas about the past—why past events happened (causation); why these events might be important (significance); why people might have different perspectives about the past (accounts); how things have changed and stayed the same over time (change and continuity); and explore alternative accounts about the past or counterfactuals (what might have happened if…). By engaging students in these fundamental questions, students begin to see history as about life (why things happen, how people both shape and are shaped by social conditions, why people might have different perspectives and tell different stories, etc.) and understand the study of history as a means to understand past and current life.

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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