Sparking Joy in History Classrooms, pp. 9 of 10

In routine assessments, teachers provide feedback on each student’s assignment or test. However, very commonly, students tend to focus on the mark or grade received than the feedback for improvement. To circumvent this, teachers may consider holding back the mark and allowing students to undertake self-assessment or peer-assessment using rubrics or level descriptors. At the same time, teachers can ensure that assessments are manageable, balancing the assessment task to student’s abilities to provide the right level of challenge. Meaningful assessment would support student autonomy and engagement and authentic intellectual work, as outlined above.

Assessment should not be the be-all and end-all of school life. Rather, teachers must emphasize the purpose of assessments and link them to learning instead of achievement. They should set realistic assessment standards based on their students’ abilities, and refrain from over-testing. Over-testing and an overemphasis on academic grades can be counterproductive. Only when students realize that assessments are necessary for their own learning and development, will they no longer find them daunting or dreadful.


There is a need for studies that examine the sources of joy in history classrooms and in Singaporean educational contexts. Undoubtedly, greater emphasis on joy of learning in history classrooms will remain challenging under the testing regimes that currently exist in schools. However, we believe that some of the approaches suggested above can also lead to enhanced student achievement in the study of history.

There is a need for educators to insist on broader and deeper purposes for education to include joy, human flourishing, and authentic intellectual work that goes beyond the overwhelming emphasis on examinations, test scores and the narrow instrumental purposes of contemporary schooling for economic productivity. And there is a need to talk with students about what they care about and what they find meaningful in their own learning. There needs to be ongoing discussions in schools and society about the meaning and purpose of education, how schools can better support the development of a fuller range of human talents, capacities and aspirations, and how education might serve broader social purposes.

Greater emphasis must be given to classroom practices that spark joy in the study of history. These include developing passion for history as a subject that is highly relevant to individuals and society, and creating classrooms as meaning-making communities characterized by positive, joyful interactions and supportive relationships. These classrooms would provide a greater range of autonomy and freedom than we currently see in classrooms, where students would have some degree of control to set their own learning goals, identify topics of interest for study, and be offered a variety of meaningful curriculum tasks to learn history.

We believe joy can be derived from rigour, that these are mutually reinforcing aspects of learning in which students engage with authentic historical problems, issues, and questions, are guided to manage the challenging work of historical investigation, and engage in rich learning experiences that help them see how history is a relevant subject for understanding the past, themselves and their society. The spirit of inquiry would infuse the classroom as a location for continual questioning, sense-making, and engagement. And this spirit of inquiry would include asking students about the purposes of their own lives and learning. Teachers would scaffold students’ autonomy and help them manage the rigour of exercising their reasoning, expressing their views, and developing their own arguments and conclusions. Giving students greater choice and voice in the study of history in a supportive, positive classroom environment can be a source of joy for both teachers and students.

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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