Researcher’s Journal – Learning is Hard

I am writing this for me, but you can read this if you want.

Whoever said that failure is good, that’s how students learn. Have you tried it? It is good learning, but it is really hard.

So, I want to read this post in January when my comprehensive exams are over. I did a mock version of my research question and I failed miserably. I think there is probably a comment on every paragraph I wrote. And I appreciate every comment. Two very busy academics took the time to go over every word I wrote, the fact that I came up short is good, it gives me something to work on.

It is hard after a long and pretty successful career to start over. It is like learning Spanish in downtown Consuelo (in the DR) you feel a little like a baby, each step is tentative, and everything is risky.

taking baby steps again

I certainly didn’t have to do this, but I have to take the long view right now. The courses were the easy part, the comprehensives are really serious and no one is going to give you a break here. I have six months to get ready for the comprehensives. My original research question was too much, it was a bit like flying in the face of a hurricane. I winced, so I need to move on.

My old question is gone, I don’t think I even understood what I was asking. I am going back to something I have experienced – how does one assess and use digital resources as a credible learning tool when there are no rules? Textbooks were easy, they were written by credible publishers and they have been approved by our provincial government.

starting with words and pictures

Web information is different – this is a totally unregulated field. Does anyone understand how dangerous this can be? What is a good source? Who is behind the site? What is available at 8:30 in the morning when you have a 90-minute class to teach?

I think I was focusing on themes that were not my own. If you are going to spend four years studying something, you better choose something that you care about deeply. My advisors gently moved me away from a theme that really didn’t resonate. Digital literacy and the curation of learning resources for teachers and students is something I am passionate about. While textbooks are still produced for schools, people (school boards) don’t want to invest as much in digital materials. The temptation is to use Google – Google is free, Google will tell you what you need to know.

When I worked on a committee that advised the school board on digital implementation this attitude was shared by many. When something is free and it looks good it is very hard to convince people to invest in content and staff training to effectively use this content. This was shocking to me, but it makes sense. Digital curation is really hard and it costs money. School boards still focus on expensive textbooks. The idea that you should pay for digital content is still a bit of a reach.

So here is my new question:

Digital literacies and the teaching of history – the development of critical thinking skills to assess and curate learning material for the classroom.

This is my old question, not answering this well has taught me a great deal:

Drawing on existing history education scholarship, how have different writers sought to critically address the teaching of history education in Canada? In your response draw on the scholarly literature to show 1) the role of historical thinking concepts in Canada; 2) the tensions that currently exist; and 3) how these relate to settler colonial narratives about Canada’s past.

Thanks very much to my course prof and my academic advisor for taking the considerable time to go over my work. I am sure this was not easy to do and it took lots of time. Yes, in the trial run I didn’t do very well, but I will keep and read again every comment that they have written. Failure is tough, failure is liberating and it can be a wonderful teacher.

This where I start again. I am getting really good
material on comprehensive exams and new resources!

My Academic Life (continues)

At the beginning of this year, I started work on my first assignment for the second semester. We were asked to develop a schedule for our academic work over the next few years – what would the day-to-day look like?

I wrote this assignment as a blog post and here it is.

Eleven days after I wrote this post, my mother died. We were then under the ludicrous convoy occupation and soon after that in an act reminiscent of the Second World War, Russia invaded Ukraine.

My schedule looks a little silly now.

Being in school; being a principal had some semblance of order. This calls for a different sort of calendar.

I do try to write in the morning. It sounds like a lovely idea, but that always doesn’t work out. I am writing this now at the end of a long day and a long week of writing and researching every day. Learn something new – work when you can, be more flexible, schedules crumble. (but, I am writing the final version this morning – much better)

I have done it. Three very demanding courses along with lots of thinking about what I will be writing about and researching for the next three years. The elements of the new plan reside in the questions I have been writing about for the past two weeks:

Some fragments

Choose a qualitative methodology – OK Critical Participatory Action Research (PAR). This was a true revelation for me. In PAR the actions and research are situationed in the real world. The product does not necessarily return to the academy, instead it is left in the hands of the participants. This type of work shows the ultimate respect for the subject and breaks down the barriers that usually exist in qualitative research. This reseach has true meaning and that is an inspiration. PAR is framed in social justice and focuses on revealing truth – truth with a plan – to the people who are part of the project. This kind of work offers so many incredible opportunities!

(Source: P. McGuire 2011. What an adventure it would be to return to San Jose Las Flores to take part in a PAR project with these teachers!)

how have different writers sought to critically address the teaching of history education in Canada? – Here is a question that will stay with me. I wonder what people in our country think about their history? While it seems to be different in Quebec, most Canadian students have to take only one course in Canadian history while in high school. I have taught this course and have seen it taught many times. Most students see it as something they have to get through. Most probably come out of the course with a rudimentary understanding of their country’s history (Gibson & Peck 2020). In most cases, the teaching of history remains unchanged and relies on old, tired, and outmoded methodoligies. Barton and Levstik write:

One of us, in fact, has a daughter currently enrolled in eighth grade U.S. history, and she analyzes exactly as many primary sources, reads exactly as many works of historical literature, takes part in exactly as many inquiry projects and simulations, and considers exactly as many alternative historical perspectives as her father did nearly 30 years ago: zero. We wish this were an isolated example, but we know that it isn’t. (Barton & Levstik, 2004, p. 3)

how do tensions in this work these lead to a disruption of settler-colonial narratives about Canada’s past? The tensions are so interesting. Historical Thinking Concepts remain the accepted methodology, but there are questions – how many teachers actually use this in their classrooms? As a more scientific approach to the study of history – what qualitative features of our narrative are sidelined? We live in a society informed by the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are also more and more a diverse, multicultural society, especially in our urban centers – how can one methodology address all of these challenges?

This is a very rich experience. There are so many interesting questions I want to work on, and I just love the experience of exercising my mind and working on my writing. I have one course to go and then I get to start preparing for my comprehensives. I want to get this done by the fall.

So, next – a little reading for the next few weeks:

New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada – Penny Clark (Ed.)

Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts – Sam Wineburg

We Want to do More Than Survive – Bettina Love

History Education and the Construction of National Identities Carretero, Asensio, Rodriguez-Moneo (Eds.)

Beyond History for Historical Consciousness – Levesque and Croteau

Colonialism/Postcolonialism – Ania Loomba

Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan

This list comes from my profs and the research I have been doing. They are the foundation of the next step and I will be working through all this until the summer.

Next – I really need to figure out how to organize all this information. Some people are using Zotero, others NVivo some Dedoose. People speak with such authority about these programs, but I really need to do my own research and figure something that will work for me. In case I haven’t listed enough tools here are nine more.

What’s next?

I have to sort through the tangle of ideas to come up with questions for my comp question. Am I any closer to figuring this out?

And, finally another thing I have learned, it would be good to do this:

Song of the Day

References to texts mentioned

Barton, & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Teaching history for the common good. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781410610508

Clark. C.,(2011). New possibilities for the past shaping history education in Canada. UBC Press.

Gibson L., Peck C.L. (2020) More than a Methods Course: Teaching Preservice Teachers to Think Historically. In: Berg C., Christou T. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of History and Social Studies Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1007/978-3-030-37210-1_10

Lévesque S., & Croteau J.P., (2020). Beyond history for historical consciousness : students, narrative, and memory. University of Toronto Press.

Loomba, A., (2015). Colonialism/postcolonialism (Third edition.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315751245

Love, B., (2019). We want to do more than survive : abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.

MacMillan, M., (2010). Dangerous games : the uses and abuses of history (Modern Library paperback ed.). Modern Library.

Wineburg, S., (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts : charting the future of teaching the past. Temple University.

Researcher’s Journal – Coming up with a question

This is my third journal entry. I think I am getting close to a question, so it makes sense to keep a record of this here. I am not sure what happens next, but this is my thinking and the resources I have collected so far.

A start.

Developing a National Identity through the teaching of history

What is history education for?

What are the elements of the master national narrative taught by Ontario teachers through the Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum? 

Who remains invisible in this narrative? (ethnic, transnational, diasporic, and Indigenous—)

How do Ontario teachers develop students’ national identities through the teaching of Grade 10 Canadian History?

What role does the teaching of Historical Thinking Concepts play in deconstructing these national narratives?

How do teacher candidates perceive their role in teaching the only required Canadian History course in Ontario high schools?

How is this master national narrative disrupted by some teachers?

Given that scholars agree that state-sponsored history classrooms are complicit in perpetuating the master national narrative templates, how is history education in Canada responding? (Anderson p.5)


The Stories Nations Tell: Sites of Pedagogy, Historical Consciousness, and National Narratives Stephanie Anderson

Introduction

What is the purpose of teaching history? What is our intention when we teach national narratives to students in our schools? Is it possible to explore our motivation when we develop a standard curriculum for the teaching of Canadian history? Barton and Levstik (2004) write that one of the considerations we must make when choosing what historical topics to teach is how this selection promotes the enhancement of the common good. One could ask – whose common good? Is there a common good or as Kendi (2019) writes there is no real mainstream world or school system. There are instead multiple real worlds and perspectives that need to be respected.

What are the stories that we tell? What goes missing? How has this statue changed over the years?

When it comes to teaching Grade 10 Canadian history – the only history course Ontario high schools students are required to take – how do we do this in a society that is made up of multiple world views? How do we engage students in such a way that the telling of the national narrative does this in a way that encompasses the multiple perspectives that make up our pluralistic society?

This is what I want to explore – What are the elements of the national narrative taught by Ontario teachers through the Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum? Who remains invisible in this narrative? How do Ontario teachers develop students’ national identities through the teaching of Grade 10 Canadian History? In this paper, I plan to do this by surveying the research on the teaching of national narratives to students. There are a variety of approaches to dealing with this challenge and various calls to change the way we teach a course that plays such an important role in developing students’ evolving sense of nationhood. In my conclusion, I will point out some practices that offer the most hope for ensuring that the telling of our national narrative(s) respects the diversity and multiple world views of our students.

Reading Themes and bibliography

These are the articles I can use for my bibliography. I will read all of this and much more. The section on teaching national narratives will grow, this is the latest category I have added. Each category is linked to a google doc. For this piece, the links are unactivated. If you have any ideas for resources please let me know!

Historic Agency and Consciousness

This is a complex subject that I don’t really understand, but I do have some good resources

10 articles

Methodology

15 articles

Teaching National Narratives

Depending where you are, who you are we tell different stories

8 articles

Teaching Historical Thinking

I don’t think teaching historical thinking skills is enough anymore

10 articles

History teaching methodology – teachers and teacher candidates

17 articles

Students’ ideas about history

To this category, I should add teacher candidates’ ideas about history – this would be interesting!

5 articles

Continuity and Change

1 article

Alternatives to historical thinking concepts

2 articles

Understanding the ethical dimension of historical interpretation

1 article

Cause and Consequence

2 articles

I think you can tell just by my collection of articles what areas interest me

Kent Monkman is a Canadian artist of Cree ancestry who works with a variety of mediums, including painting, film/video, performance, and installation. He has had solo exhibitions in numerous Canadian museums have including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. 

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Researcher’s Journal – Looking for a question

It is time to get back to my researcher’s journal. The semester has been so busy with assignment work that there has been little time to think about anything else. Now after a great session with one of my profs – Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, I have some great material to work with!

First – I need a question. This is certainly a challenge, you would think this would be easy, but for my comps exam, I will need three questions and I write on two of these. The point here is to choose something that your committee will agree with and it is also important to come up with questions you can actually answer.

Where am I now?

So, I am starting with this – What would a poststructural or critical theory approach to examining grade 10 history teachers’ classroom practices look like?

This is probably the most challenging question that I am going to come up with. There needs to be something on epistemology or methodology so this is a theme to explore. But it is also grounded in reality – I am most interested in cataloguing how teachers are teaching the only mandatory history course in Ontario high schools. How is our national story being told in the classrooms of this province?

Two authors to look at – Petra Munro and Ania Loomba.

Thanks to VoicEd Radio and Dr. Ng-A-Fook there is an interview with Petra Munroe. This might help me with this first question.

Dr. Munro Hendry draws on curriculum studies, history, and philosophy to share her wisdom on the practice of history in relation to the COVID-19 Pandemic, curriculum history, and a history of education from a transatlantic perspective.

Nicholas Ng-A-Fook Twitter August 9, 2021
Fooknconversation Episode 29 on VoicEd Radio – this is where I will start

So far, I have a collection of reading themes where all the articles I have found so far have been organized – this is what it looks like now:

Historic Agency and Consciousness

(7 articles)

Lévesque, S., & Croteau, J.-P. (2020). Beyond history for historical consciousness: students, narrative, and memory. University of Toronto Press.

Teaching Historical Thinking

(9 articles)

Allender, Clark, A., & Parkes, R. J. (2020). Historical thinking for history teachers : a new approach to engaging students and developing historical consciousness. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

History teaching methodology – teachers and teacher candidates

(17 articles)

Use these 10 tips to make your lessons engaging and relevant to your students.

Students’ ideas about history

(5 articles)

Continuity and Change

(1 article)

from the Historical Thinking Project

Alternatives to historical thinking concepts

(2 articles)

Understanding the ethical dimension of historical interpretation

(1 article)

Cause and Consequence

(2 articles)

Cause & Consequence – from Historical Thinking Projects ppt.

Methodology

(1 article)

There is a bit of a pattern here. The methodology of teaching history and more specifically, the teaching of historical thinking concepts are the two themes that are of the greatest interest right now.

Posters are still available on the historical history concepts – you can order them here.

My next step will be to look for more articles from Canadian researchers like Heather McGregor, Lindsay Gibson, Carla Peck, Stéphane Levesque and Dwayne Donald.

What I need to work towards is a comprehensive knowledge of a particular topic. The topic revolves around the teaching of history in Ontario schools and the impact (if any) of historical thinking concepts. The question will be something like this – What are current history teaching methodologies used by history teachers and taught to teacher candidates? How are historical thinking concepts beginning to enter the school system?

This is probably still too unwieldy, but this is what I have right now. The next step – spend the next two weeks adding to the articles I have found and honing my question!

In all this I need to remember to keep this practical, make this something that is useful to teachers. For me this is essential. If I am eventually going to create something of value, it has to be situated in the classroom, it has to be grounded in reality.

When researching the lives of people

When I think about qualitative research, I remember a group of Salvadoran teachers sitting on the floor talking about the challenges of teaching in a rural setting. They talk about their frustrations with the younger ones who have never lived in a time of war and all the loss and violence that was so much a part of their lives. They talk about crossing the Sumpul River to get away from the soldiers and their makeshift classrooms in the forest where they went to school.

Sumpul River Massacre – “there were so many vultures picking at the bodies in the water that it looked like a black carpet,”

I haven’t thought about these stories for a long time, but I am thinking about them now. The memories have been stirred up by the reading I have been doing on qualitative inquiry and what it means to use a narrative approach to conduct research. For me, the only meaningful study of the lives of these people would be through a rigorous qualitative study. Using the criteria that exists to conduct qualitative research we could learn a great deal from these people’s stories.

This was not what I was imagining when I started my courses in the fall. Now I am thinking about John Creswell and what he says about listening to the participant in the study and working to understand the lived experience of those you are talking to Creswell (2015).

I am also thinking back to the first article I read, Tracy’s ‘Big-Tent’ criteria for excellent qualitative inquiry (Tracy, 2010). The first criteria – Worthy topic –  really struck me and this is challenging me to think in a different way about my own research.

Studies of worth excite interest and go places that are unexpected (Tracy, 2010, p. 841). That is what I want to do and this is certainly what good qualitative research should do. I have read and reread Samantha Cutrara’s book Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imaging a New We (Cutrara, 2020) and I now understand why this book is having such an influence on me. In my opinion, this is excellent qualitative research. It tells the story of four classrooms where the author attempted to turn conventional history teaching on its head.

Rather than teach the standard curriculum revolving around the two founding peoples, Cutrara allowed students, mainly from urban racialized schools in Toronto, to develop their own narratives. She calls this methodology Historic Space, and it focuses on deconstructing the historical narratives that are meaningless to the students she is working with (Cutrara, 2020, p. 168). The richness or rigour of her research comes from the stories she tells of her conversations with different students and also the pushback she experiences from some of the teachers she works with.

Cutrara is a very reflexive writer who has taken the time to write about the anger and frustration she encountered while doing this work. She wrote this book because after four years, she felt compelled to honour the voices of the students she worked with and to ensure that their voices were heard (Cutrara, 2020 p. ix.).

The research really resonates with me, not just because at one point I was a history teacher, but because she is telling the stories of the voiceless, another key component that Tracy identifies as good qualitative research (Tracy, p. 844). 

Tracy also writes that good qualitative research should make a significant contribution. I do need to read more about how Cutrara’s arguments are being received. She goes against conventional thought on the use of historical thinking concepts in the classroom so while I consider this excellent qualitative research there may not be many academics who share my belief.

Returning to the classroom in El Salvador, I can imagine a researcher using Tracy’s model and Cutrara’s story-telling ability to get at the heart of good qualitative research. What an exciting challenge to bring such important stories into the light.

References

Creswell., J. (2015). Doing qualitative research [Video]. In SAGE Research Methods Video https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781506363448

Cutrara, S. (2020)Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imagining a New We. UBC Press.

Tracy, S. J. (2010). Qualitative Quality: Eight “Big Tent” Criteria for Excellent Qualitative Research. Qualitative Inquiry 16(10) 837-851. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800410383121

My Researcher’s Journal – an introduction

This is a different type of post, it may go on for years.

One thing I have been charged to do is to write every day. One of the writing challenges is to start a researcher’s journal. Everything in a Ph.D. program focuses on the end goal, the completion of a dissertation. There are many layers to this process, I am unpeeling one of them here.

I am very grateful for the writing prompts I have been getting over the past two weeks. My writing had dried up and while I love to write, I really did not see much to write about. Now I have a focus and I need to reserve time every day for writing.

I have two supervisors which is wonderful. I met with both of them last week to start work on this journey. Very slowly I think, I will develop some ideas on what I should focus on in my research.

What do I know so far?

I got into all of this because of historical thinking concepts. I love the idea that as teachers our first task is to help our students to think.

While much has been written over the past 20 years, some areas like the ethical dimension have received less attention. This gives me a clue on where I can start.

One of my advisors told me to read everything by Peter Seixas, the preeminent writer on historical thinking concepts in Canada. So, I need to go back and follow the train of his writing for the past 20 years. I can’t see how I am going to truly understand the philosophy and epistemology behind historical thinking without this deep dive.

Peter Seixas

As I learn new things and read more articles, I will have to find a system for keeping a record of all this. Over the summer I used this chart along with summary notes to start documenting the articles I am reading. The chart is a good way to clarify my thinking so I will start using this again with some modifications.

content or topic with matching
photo article on gallery walk – pedagogy,
methodology, epistemology
text – big ideas/concepts
  ← relates to my thesis?
← applications for own teaching/inspirations
I have added epistemology and Methodology to the chart, also changed other resources to relates to my thesis
I have to look at articles critically – what is the epistemology, the methodology? the method?

The chart will continue to change and eventually there will be hundreds of articles, but putting down something here helps me to commit.

Apart from historical thinking, I am really interested in how we choose the stories we are going to tell our students and how this changes over time. This week, I am going to work on Reverberating Echoes: Challenging Teacher Candidates to Tell and Learn From Entwined Narrations of Canadian History (2011)
by Kent Den Heyer and Laurence Abbott. Narrative is something I am really interested in, so this is another clue.

I am learning about qualitative research, and this is something I want to understand better. There is more of a story-telling approach in qualitative research and this immediately appeals to me. I am also learning about oral history which is fascinating.

Can I combine oral history with qualitative research?

I also have to work on my academic writing and how to do citations and references properly. The only way to do this is to keep writing and listen carefully to all the advice I get.

These are early days, so my journal is a collection of random ideas. I have decided to put this out on my regular blog so that I can keep this process visible. I also hope that along the way I will get some sage advice that might help.

This is the introduction, the next post will be a chapter 1.