Sparking Joy in History Classrooms, pp. 8 of 10

Immerse Students in Authentic Intellectual Work

Historical thinking is frustratingly “unnatural” (Wineburg, 2001). It requires disciplined ways of reasoning that are challenging and difficult, yet, like other complex forms of thinking and behaving, can bring great joy when learned and applied. To make work authentic, teachers can design tasks that engage students in historical problems and issues that are taken up in public life (e.g., controversies about how the past is remembered), where they are asked to interpret, evaluate and synthesize different sources of information, consider different perspectives, and develop their own explanations and conclusions.

Since thinking in these ways is challenging, teachers must help students see how they also do think in some of these ways already – students do think about why things “happen” (causation), they do assess the importance of various things they encounter (significance), they often use stories (accounts) and evidence to explain things or to justify their thinking. Making these connections can help students see that these ways of thinking also aren’t so alien. However, the study of history provides more sophisticated ways of thinking that can help them be more systematic and rigorous in their thinking and help them make connections between historical content and personal experiences or public problems (King, et al, 2015).

This requires immersing students in interesting problems. Authentic problems can deeply arouse student interest, motivation, and curiosity in pursuing the subject. Not knowing the right answers, but asking the right questions might be the way forward for our students to experience the joy of learning in history. And, we need to continually ask students what they find to be authentic, interesting and meaningful questions, problems and ways to learn or demonstrate their learning.

Make Assessment More Meaningful

When assessments of students’ learning are made more manageable and meaningful, students may find it a more positive and joyful experience. A productive way to reframe students’ perspectives on assessment is to guide students towards understanding the role and value of assessments in learning: Where am I at in my learning? What have I learnt thus far? Which are areas I need to improve on? How can I improve my learning? Such questions cannot be answered without some form of assessment to gain insight into one’s learning. Just as much as assessments are used by teachers to guide their instruction and provide feedback to students, they are also equally needed for students to take ownership of their own learning. 

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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