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!

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.

Year One of Graduate Studies – Finding My Way

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

In the first year of a doctoral program, one of the most important things to learn is who your supervisor(s) are. I am very fortunate to have two people working with me – Dr. Marie-Hélène Brunet and Dr. Cynthia Wallace-Casey. Marie-Hélène was suggested to me by Dr. Lindsay Gibson, a professor at UBC. I had messaged Lindsay to get some ideas about starting a Ph.D. I don’t know Dr. Gibson all that well, but I have read some of his work and I take part in the Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future project where he is on the executive committee. He suggested I contact Marie-Hélène and ask her to be my supervisor. Here, I have to stop to note what an incredible academic community I am now a small part of. I had only spoken to Marie-Hélène over Zoom, but she agreed to be my supervisor and carefully coached me on my letter of intent for the University of Ottawa. Pretty wonderful.

Incredible what one conversation on Twitter started!

I love this graphic from the Historical Thinking Project!

This year, Marie-Hélène introduced me to Cynthia Wallace-Casey, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa; she is now supervising me with Marie-Hélène. Dr. Brunet started out as a high school and CEGEP teacher in Montreal and after four years went back to school to get her Master’s and Ph.D. She has been an Assistant Professor of social studies and history education at the Faculty of Education since 2018 and her current work focuses on understanding the historical consciousness of teachers and students. Her work enriches the literature on Historical Thinking Concepts (2014); she is currently a co-investigator on the Thinking Historically project (2020).

Dr. Wallace Casey

Dr. Wallace-Casey has worked in the field of public history and heritage in New Brunswick for the past twenty years. For her Masters, she studied the contributions made by women weavers in 19th century New Brunswick and how they contributed to the economy of Queen’s County (2011). Cynthia also has an incredible blog – Cynthia’s Heritage Education Blog – A View from the Picture Province… (2022) started in 2009 and updated on a regular basis. Her latest post includes a webinar (2021) outlining ways to bridge the gap between educators and museums to facilitate student learning.

Dr. Marie-Hélène Brunet

Both of my supervisors have a keen interest in Historical Thinking Concepts, as do I. This is a methodology for teaching history that focuses on key concepts like cause and consequence, historical significance, ethics and the development of a historical perspective (Seixas et. al., 2013). They both write about this methodology and I am looking forward to working with them; there is a great deal I can learn. Dr. Wallace-Casey writes about the development of the Canadian History Hall in Constructing Patriotism: How Canada’s History Hall has evolved over 50 years (2018). She has also written about how students can develop historic consciousness through work with adult volunteers at community museums (2017). Dr. Wallace-Casey has followed up on this inquiry with a recent piece that investigates student learning at the Museum of History and their development of ‘Big Ideas’ in Canadian history (2019).

Tracing the story of the History Museum is reveals the evolution of our historical consciousness

Dr. Brunet writes about historical consciousness and students’ and teachers’ sense of agency. In a collaborative piece with high school teacher Scott Pollock, they analyze the historical understanding of feminism held by different groups of female high school students. The surprising results of their research led them to examine why girls were hostile to feminist ideas. Their inquiry examines the students’ sense of historic consciousness and their personal theories of agency (p. 12). They conclude that in the mind of the students, the past has no connection to the present. While past struggles for the vote and legal recognition by women were understood by the students, these struggles have no present-day meaning. 

Both of my supervisors see this concept as the key to understanding how people understand history. Both also reference Jörn Rüsen who writes about historical consciousness:

The basic category for understanding historical learning is that of historical consciousness. Its widespread definition sounds as follows: a mental activity of interpreting the past for the sake of understanding the present and expecting the future. Thus it combines past, present and future along the line of an idea of what temporal change is about. (p. 523) 

Forming Historical Consciousness – Towards a Humanistic History Didactics. Antíteses. 5(10), 519–536.

After conducting separate studies, Brunet and Scott concluded that most of the students were operating at a level of historical consciousness that views history as a steady progression towards the good. The past battles for justice, are now over; there is no need for a feminist movement  (p. 18). This in turn leads to a false sense of agency where the individual believes the past has no impact on the rights and privileges they currently enjoy. 

The works of Drs. Wallace-Casey and Brunet are linked by the concept of historical consciousness. In Dr. Wallace-Casey’s research, she recounts a narrative describing the development of an inclusive Canadian consciousness through the slow evolution of the Canadian History Hall. In this piece, it is important to remember that the weaving of Canadian Indigenous stories into the main narrative only happened in 2017 (2018). 

Historical consciousness – a mental activity of interpreting the past for the sake of understanding the present and expecting the future

Both Drs. Wallace-Casey and Brunet agree that a sense of the past is something that must be developed over time. Both use the same categories of historical consciousness to situate the students and teachers with whom they work. Dr. Wallace-Casey sees a strong role for local museums in helping students to develop personal relevancy to the past – something that was lacking in the high school students in Dr. Brunet’s study.

Dr. Brunet also examines ways to develop a greater sense of historical consciousness through teacher-candidate workshops that examine how traditional male-dominated narratives are still told in our current textbooks (Brunet & Demers, 2018). By analyzing the stories that are missing from our current historical narrative. Dr. Brunet attempts to deconstruct the traditional narratives still held by new teachers. In doing so, there is a chance that these educators will be able to develop new narratives in their classrooms. In this sense, both of my supervisors are examining how we perceive our stories and what can be done to develop a more inclusive look at the past.

Author’s Note: This video explains a lot about Dr. Brunet’s work

a great interview with Dr. Samantha Cutrara and Dr. Brunet – all about agency, teaching history in meaningful ways and the progress narrative. Part of the series Pandemic Pedagogies: Imagining a New We

Referenceswhat I read to put this together. Yet another challenge, figuring our APA!

Brunet, M., Demers, S., (2018). Deconstructing the history textbook to (re)construct more accurate knowledge: account of practice in initial and continuing teacher training. Erudit. 31(1), 123-140 https://www.erudit.org/fr/revues/rf/2018-v31-n1-rf03912/1050657ar/

Cutrara, S. (May 20, 2020) In conversation with Dr. Marie-Hélène Brunet {Pandemic Pedagogy convo 21} Imagining a New ‘We’. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJVgrBH3g9s

Cynthia’s Heritage Education Blog – A View from the Picture Province (2022) http://nbheritage.blogspot.com/

Pollock, S., Brune, M., (2018). “When it became equal”: How Historical Consciousness and Theories of Agency Can Explain Female Students’ Conceptions of Feminism. 

Canadian Social Studies, (50,1), 11-24.

(Rüsen. P., 2012). Forming Historical Consciousness – Towards a Humanistic History Didactics. Antíteses. 5(10), 519–536. https://doi.org/10.5433/1984-3356.2012v5n10p519

Seixas, P., Morton, T., Colyer, J., & Fornazzari, S. (2013). The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts Toronto: Nelson Education.

The Historical Thinking Project (2014) https://historicalthinking.ca/about-historical-thinking-project

The History Education Network (2011)

http://thenhier.ca/en/content/cynthia-wallace-casey.html

Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future. (2020) https://thinking-historically.ca/

Wallace-Casey, C.  (2017). I like to take everything and put it in my own words: Historical Consciousness, Historical Thinking, and Learning with Community History Museums. Canadian Journal of Education, 40(1), 1–28.

Wallace-Casey, C. (2018). Constructing Patriotism: How Canada’s History Hall has evolved over 50 years. History Education Research Journal. 15(2), 292–307. https://doi.org/10.18546/HERJ.15.2.10

Wallace-Casey, C. (January 20, 2021). Museum Collections and N.B. Social Studies: Bridging the Two. Association Heritage New Brunswick

https://amnb.adobeconnect.com/p2x51jb1n1g1/

Wallace-Casey, C. (2019). ‘I want to Remember’: Student Narratives and Canada’s History Hall, Yearbook of the International Society of History Didactics. (40), 181-199. https://jhec.wochenschau-verlag.de/back-issues/#40

My Academic Life (so far)

When I put things down on paper or in a blog I make a public commitment. Right now I am working on developing an academic schedule that will take me through the next four years. Yes, this is an assignment for one of my courses, but this is really a letter to myself. I understand the importance of committing to a plan. When I was working as a  principal I would plan ahead all the time, even though the job by its very nature, was unpredictable. Despite the chaos in running an elementary school, every week I would write weekly plans in a school blog to parents so that they would know what was intended to go on at the school. On some Sunday afternoons, this writing would take hours. I never resented the time. This was an opportunity to reflect on what had happened the week before and plan for upcoming events.

My last school blog post – December 2016

I never worried that the school schedule did not follow what was set down on Sunday. Writing was a  way for me to take a longer view and celebrate what was going on with our parent community. This also made the learning more visible for the community.

Six years later I find myself planning again: this time for a Ph.D. which will consume my time for the next four years.  The first year in a Ph.D. program is probably the most straightforward. I am in the process of taking six courses – two last semester, three right now and one in the spring. After this I will be starting work on my comprehensives. This begins with the development of my bibliography and continues on following the schedule below:

StepsExpected completion
Courses completed Spring, 2022
Committee Member List 
Comprehensive Exam: Bibliography
Written component
Oral presentation
1) October
2) spring
3) fall 2022 
Thesis proposal  winter 2023
Ethics approval spring 2023
Recruitment and data collection summer – fall 2023
Thesis winter 2024
Defense December 2025
my first draft at a long-term schedule

To get to 2025, I need a detailed schedule. I am sure this will evolve as I learn more about the Ph.D. process. However, on this cold January afternoon in 2022, there is comfort in editing a draft schedule that sets a future path and supposes order to a very busy four years.

The challenge will not only be managing a busy writing and reading schedule, it will be finding ways to balance this work with many other interests. The foundation of the week will remain exercise. If I have learned anything through the Pandemic it is the importance of keeping body, mind and spirit healthy. The activity can change from the Peloton to hiking to biking, but this is where I have to start, I simply can’t afford to let this go no matter how busy things get.

one thing we did regularly during Covid was to take walks and photos

At the heart of all this will be the thesis and defense. These are the end goals and I have to keep these in mind all of the time. Over the past summer I started to collect articles and write summaries of what I was reading. This has fallen off with the amount of work I have been doing, but now I need to get back to the process of preparing for my end goal. To do this, I will reserve one morning a week – Wednesday for reading and summarizing articles that I can start using for my comprehensives and beyond. It is a challenge to block out time for a goal that is so far away, but by the fall I plan to produce a bibliography of 20-30 pages that will prepare me for my comprehensives.

Every article – one-page images – can be single entry or represent a folder with hyperlink; text in different fonts – synthesized big ideas; icon for connections – your own and/or other articles or sources; photo scan – original written notes; ideas – applications for your own teaching.


content or topic with matching photo article on gallery walk – pedagogy
  




 text – big ideas/concepts


                   ← other resources







applications for own teaching/inspirations
the summary chart I started using last summer – designed by Heather Swail

The summary chart above was really helpful last summer and I plan to start using it again this Wednesday. I have known for a long time that I write best in the morning, especially after an exercise session, so I am going to reserve time every day for writing – summary notes, assignments, reflections, and revising.  I plan to put in two hours in the mornings each day to get something down. This semester, my goal is to improve my academic writing. Last semester I learned that while I write well, I am a little careless with my grammar and I need to brush up on my APA and academic style.

This leaves afternoons free for reading –  a highly necessary Ph.D. activity. Right now, I am working through Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life by bell hooks (hooks, 1997). She writes that when researching her first book hooks would read up to three books a day, sometimes getting only one line she could use for her own writing (p. 102-103). That will not be me. I am a slow reader; sometimes I need most of the day to absorb one article. I will read every day, otherwise, I will never keep up.

bell hooks (Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

It is one thing to write a schedule, it is another to live it. I will need to weave in the work I continue to do at the university and for Discovery Education. I won’t give up my work with Discovery, I love working with them. The assignments are always different and interesting. Whether I am writing or editing for one of their digital science books, there is a great sense of accomplishment in getting this work done. Without doubt, they are the most positive and affirming people I know, so why would I leave that behind? It is hard to add this work to my growing schedule as I never know when another contract will come up. When it does, I can easily put in 15 hours a week working on their material. Because there is always a deadline, I will have to estimate and portion out my hours throughout the week.

Right now I have one meeting a month with the graduate student committee for Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future. I am definitely the junior member of this group, but I am starting to meet some great people, so I need to find ways to become more involved.

I also want to keep up my teaching at the University of Ottawa. Right now the responsibilities are light: we work as faculty advisors to second-year teacher candidates, but we haven’t been able to visit their schools since the beginning of the Pandemic. Next year I hope to get either another section of this course or even better, a section of the history methodology course that I taught three years ago. I am certain that this experience led me to this PhD journey. I can’t really schedule this time yet, but when the fall comes I will have to restructure my days. For now, I will reserve one morning a week to work on our current course.

SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
exercisexxxreading for
comps
xxx
writingAMAMAMAM
readingPMPMPMPM
DEwhen
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
University
work
AM
classes5:30 – 8:30pm11:30 – 2:30 pm
free
time
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm – 6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –
My schedule – first draft

There will be adjustments to this schedule over time, but the daily reading and writing will remain the foundation of my schedule. I am leaving some events out like meeting with my supervisors and committee work, but as these become more frequent I will have to find space.

My schedule is seven days. Since my days as a principal, a seven-day schedule made more sense. There is less pressure and at times when there is no Discovery work I can get ahead on my assignments. I really hope to keep my nights free – there needs to be time for fun, just as bell hooks said (p. 122).

What is missing right now is something I love to do. If I mention it here I know I will get back to it – our regular radio shows – Old Fellas New Music. Bob Kennedy, a very long-time friend and I started doing this show in the spring. Work took over and we gave the show a bit of a rest. We got two episodes done over the holiday break and we hope to get another one in next week. This is a great creative outlet and I am determined to work this in, let’s say Wednesday afternoons for now.

You can find our shows on Mixcloud – https://www.mixcloud.com/paul-mcguire3/

What is also missing are some of the activities that were so important to us before Covid. In 2017 Heather and I developed a fundraising campaign for Christie Lake Kids, an Ottawa foundation that provides recreation programming for children throughout the year. Our campaign – Climb for Kids has raised over $100,000 over a three-year period. We raised this money by carrying out group climbing trips in Peru and the Alps. Our next trip was to be Mt. Kilimanjaro, but this has been on hold because of the Pandemic. Our whole family has been involved in this venture and all of our children have worked for Christie Lake Kids. The family is not on the schedule, but in all things, family comes first.

Our first Climb for Kids trip – The Ausangate Region of Peru

If I write it down, I will do it. If I publish this, I have to do it! Thanks professor for giving me the push to get all this down. I am writing again and it feels great!

References

hooks, b. (1997). Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life. Holt.

Canadian History – looking for connections – a rewrite.

This is a rewrite of a post I put out earlier this week. I am rewriting it because it lacks direction and frankly, it’s not very good.

My poor writing reflects my confusion.

I am taking a few months to read lots of academic material on the teaching of history. I am entering a Ph.D. program at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa and I am trying to get my head around the writing that is out there on teaching methodology.

History is a hard subject to teach well, but it is also hard to write clearly on what good teaching in this field is all about. Much of what I have read is confusing and complex. I despair that if we can’t write clearly about this topic we will fail to put out much that is helpful for teachers.

To bring down the confusion (I hope) the earlier writing I am keeping is in italics.

So, I wrote:

Today I am trying to figure out what we can possibly do to make history interesting for our students.

I started by randomly going through some of the sample questions in the Ontario History Curriculum document for Grade 9. This is what I found.


B: Canada, 1914–1929

Here are some of the Sample Questions based on Specific Expectations B 1.1 – B 3.4

When you analyse census data, what do you think is the most significant trend in the Canadian population between 1914 and 1929? Why? Did this trend affect all people in Canada?

What were some of the short- and long-term consequences of Canadians’ participation in battles such as the Somme,Ypres, Passchendaele, and Vimy Ridge?”

How did First Nations, Métis, and Inuit tend to view Canada’s participation in World War I? How did they view Canada’s status as part of the British Empire?

Every time I rewrite this piece, I take out more of the ‘sample questions’. I am now down to four. There are so many and they don’t do anything to help people teach or learn. Someone sat around and threw together a bunch of questions making sure they covered all the right bases. Why were these questions chosen? What is the thought process going on here?


What I wonder is this. How do we follow a provincial curriculum with so many specific expectations – 14 for the unit Canada, 1914-1918 – and at the same time enable students to build connections in the narrative?

Whose questions are these? How are they relevant?

As part of my reading, I am working through Samantha Cutrara’s book Transforming the Canadian History Classroom. She is challenging many of the ideas on what the Canadian history classroom looks like and she is arguing that the focus needs to be put squarely on the student.

I continue to read her book, but as I read I am again feeling lost. By the fourth chapter, she seems to be basing her theories on the teaching of one educator who is struggling with a Grade 9 Applied History class. She seems to be saying that the teacher does not ‘see’ the real students and is caught up in ‘edu-speak’ in order to explain what is not working well in her class (p. 109)

This is a really dangerous approach – to blame a teacher as a way to prop up your own ideas is simply wrong. Anyone teaching high school applied history for the first time would probably fail – based on my own experience, this is something that is really hard to do! It is so easy for a theorist to point out the practitioner’s failings. Nothing good can come from such an approach.

Cutrara does ask some pretty important questions about how we teach history:

“…when students encounter histories that lack meaningful connection to the present, when students have no clue where the information or story is heading, it contributes to a sense of demoralization about learning history” (p. 73)

She continues, Canadian history “fails to connect to the Canada they live in outside of class…”(p.74 Cutrara) – if we fail to connect to our students, what is the point of all the specific expectations and suggested questions we find cluttering up our history curriculum?

At this point in my writing, I am beginning to get lost, I continue:

What does our current curriculum have to do with creating the relevance students need to take an interest in history?

Maybe what we need to focus on is the telling of stories – maybe by doing this we can create relevance. This works for me. Every day when I go to the Globe and Mail, I often go first to the Moment in Time section – I do this because the photos tell a compelling story like the one below.

Part of the delegation of the Negro Citizenship Association is shown here boarding the train at the Union Station in Toronto, for Ottawa, where they presented a brief to Walter E. Harris, Minister of Immigration on April 27, 1954.
THE CANADIAN NEGRO

Protesting Ottawa’s immigration laws

More than 60 years ago, a group of determined Black activists boarded a train in Toronto to head to Ottawa to protest against discriminatory immigration laws. This marked the first time in Canada that a Black-led delegation brought activism directly to the doorstep of the federal government. The delegation, comprised of civil-rights activists, including Bromley Armstrong and brothers Stanley and Norman Grizzle, was led by Barbadian Canadian Donald Moore. 

Madalyn Howitt

This is a real story, this is interesting, it also could have some relevance to the students we teach. If not this story, there are hundreds more that could engage their interest.

As I reflect on this, I realize there is nothing really helpful in what I am writing here – any good teacher should be able to personalize the curriculum to fit their students. I will look for more writing on this topic, but nothing new here.

When so much is predetermined for students, how is it possible to link the interests of students to what they will be learning in history? This is one subject that really needs to cater to the interests of students in order to create connection to the lives of the people we are teaching. When we are in the process of telling our national stories, how can we decide what are the elements of this story before students walk into the room?

Another case in point, today I read this on the CBC website.

I grew up a young Black girl in Olds, Alta., without ever hearing the name Amber Valley.

Amber Valley was the largest Black community ever to have existed west of Ontario. It was only an afternoon’s drive away from where I lived. 

I also never heard or read about any of the self-sustaining all-Black communities founded by the 1,600 or so African-Americans who moved on to the Canadian Prairies at the turn of the twentieth century: Wildwood, east of Edson; Breton, southwest of Edmonton; Campsie, northwest of Edmonton; Maidstone in Saskatchewan. 

I grew up a Black girl in Alberta without ever hearing of Amber Valley. How does history go missing?

These are ramblings at best. I am throwing these ideas out there then I am rewriting them on the fly. I am mainly disappointed with what I am reading, but I am a long way from articulating something of value for myself. It seems to me that we have put a great deal of focus on effective teaching for math, language arts, and science, but we are at a collective loss when it comes to telling our own national story.

I will keep reading and writing. Sorry for the confusion, I have a long way to go.

Historical Thinking for the Common Good

Everyone knows what history is until he begins to think about it. After that, nobody knows.

Alan Griffin

I find sometimes that this blog is a good place to put ideas still in formation out there for me to take a look at.

This is one of those blogs. The teaching of history is one of the building blocks of our society. In Teaching History for the Common Good, Keith Barton and Linda Levstik write that history provides citizens with capability to engage in collaboration towards a common good Barton, Levstik (2004). The teaching of history is what makes us responsible and discerning citizens. So, if this is the case, why do we seem to have so much difficulty teaching it?

I started my career as a history teacher and I have a graduate degree in History from York University. My studies didn’t prepare me to teach the subject beyond putting out a narrative to my students. A narrative that was not really up for debate, a narrative that was a pretty traditional retelling of the classic Canadian story.

Later on when I scheduled teachers into their high school classes, the mandatory history class – CHC 2D/2P was rarely taught by someone who majored in history. Generally, we put in junior teachers who were working their way up in seniority hoping one day to get senior courses in grades 11 and 12. These teachers were provided with a text and possibly some resources from the more senior members of the department. I don’t think in most cases, the narrative model for teaching was ever really challenged. Consequently, history was one of those subjects that many students really dreaded. It was not relevant, it was not engaging and it told just one side of the story.

Now this was a long time ago and I would love to learn that this doesn’t happen anymore, so if you are a history teacher and I am missing something, please let me know. Now, of course there are a wide variety of resources available to the teacher. Some are better than others, some are curated, credible sources of information, others not so much. But I wonder, even with all these new shiny digital resources, has anything changed in how we actually teach the subject?

 

The Think Like an Historian series by Historica Canada is an example of material now available to educators in Canada – this might help to makes some of the necessary changes in how we teach history

Actually, a lot has changed since I taught in the classroom. For more than 20 years, scholars have been writing about historical thinking – what it is and how to impart this in classroom. Theorists started to write that students needed to be asked to do more than just consume a national narrative. Students should be analysing or establishing causal linkages in history, they should be responding morally by remembering, admiring or condemning people and events of the past. Beyond this, students could be expected to identify with the past by making connections between themselves and the people and events of the past Barton, Levstik p. 6.

These ideas are percolating and changing all the time. In 2013, Peter Seixas and Tom Morton came out with The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts and in 2017, the Critical Thinking Consortium came out with Teaching Historical Thinking, both texts that I relied on heavily when I taught a history methodology course at the Faculty of Education last year at the University of Ottawa. Besides these works there is a whole range of other material that has been produced on new methodologies for teaching history. The ideas are fresh and exciting and all challenge the notion that history needs to be a boring apology for a national story.

When you start to look into this material, you will see that the really big idea here is teaching students how to discern and think. The Big Six concepts include historical significance, the use of evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, the development of an historical perspective and thinking about the ethical dimension of historic events.

This approach to teaching is well researched. Great material continues to be written, for example, a recent study by Lindsay Gibson and Carla Peck, examines how to teach historical thinking methods to pre-service elementary teachers Gibson & Peck (2020). They make an important point as part of this study:

The hope is that identification of core practices will establish a coherent language of history teaching practice, and will create a closer relationship between research on teacher education and research on teachers’ professional learning and bridge the gap between research and practice

Gibson & Peck p. 220

While Gibson and Peck have been able to develop teaching methods that have shown positive results with their teacher candidates, the real challenge is how can this methodology be extended to other pre-service programs, in-service professional development programs and teacher-support publications and websites. This is the work that needs to continue. Work has been done on what represents effective teaching practice in history, Fogo (2014), but has this been translated into materials and resources for educators?

This work has been done much more effectively in Science, Math and Language Arts and there are materials available that can effectively guide teachers on how to conduct inquiry in these subjects. Where this work has been done in History, the scale of the work is much smaller and does not focus enough on the links between teaching and learning Fogo p. 152.

A good example of the current work being done in other fields includes the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which map out the key concepts and practices for teaching science in the United States.

Venn Diagram featured in The NSTA Quick-Reference Guide to the NGSS K-12

Maybe what is needed for history instruction is a version of the work being done to develop teaching strategies to be used in the classroom like the NGSS. This would be a huge task, but if we truly want to see a change in the way history is taught in our schools, we need to find more ways to translate the research into practice as Fogo suggests.

While there are materials for teachers to assist with teaching historical thinking concepts, like The Critical Teaching Consortium, The Historical Thinking Project, and the Think Like an Historian series by Historica Canada to name a few, there needs to be more resources that really assist teachers who are doing this important work. In other words, there is a great deal of the what and why of historical thinking concepts, but not nearly enough of the how.

There is no question that the teaching of history in our schools can be more effective. Research is showing that by and large, classrooms are still “sites of memorization rather than questioning, analysis, and interpretation” Gibson & Peck p. 213. While in other fields a great deal of work has been done to collect and study high-yield teaching strategies and then translate these though pre-service and in-service programming, this work still needs to be done in history education in our schools. If we really want to be doing history on a daily basis, we owe it to our teachers and students to bridge the gap between research and practice and replace old narratives with real thinking and analysis.

REFERENCES

Bain, R. B. (2005). “They Thought the World Was Flat?” Applying the Principles of How People Learn in Teaching High School History. Dans J. B. S. Donovan (dir.), How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom (p. 179-214). Washington: The National Academies Press.

Den Heyer, K., Abbott, L. (2011). Reverberating Echoes: Challenging Teacher Candidates to Tell and Learn From Entwined Narrations of Canadian History curi_567 610..635 KENT DEN HEYER & LAURENCE ABBOTT University of Alberta Edmonton, AB, Canada

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

Fogo F. (2014) “Core Practices for Teaching History: The Results of a Delphi Panel Survey. In: Theory & Research in Social Education, 42: 151–196, College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies Theory and Research in Social Education 42, no. 2 (2014): 152.

Miles, J., Gibson,L., Denos, M., Case, R., Stipp, S., (2017) Teaching Historical Thinking (Revised and expanded edition) The Critical Thinking Consortium and THEN/HIER

Salinas, C., Blevins, B. et Sullivan, C. (2012). Critical Historical Thinking: When Official Narratives Collide With Other Narratives. Multicultural Perspectives, 14(1), 18-27.

Seixas, P., Morton, T., Colyer, J., & Fornazzari, S. (2013). The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts. Toronto: Nelson Education

Teaching Historically for Canada’s Future: Overall Goals and Objectives (2020)

Getting Ready for the New Classroom

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to get my head around how I
will be teaching in the fall.
Last year, I taught a ten-week course on teaching intermediate history to Faculty of Education students. I loved the challenge of the course and I am really hoping I will get this again. While I wait to find out, I have been learning everything I can about how to teach online.
This is going to be a very different summer for many people as we prepare for an entirely new teaching environment.

remote teaching checklist available from our Teaching and Learning Support Service

The Teaching and Learning Support Service at the University of Ottawa now has a series of webinars archived on their site. You can access many of them here on Youtube. These webinars go through the elements of course design. I think I have seen each webinar twice and I know I will be looking at them again.

The webinars are very good at outlining the elements of our learning management system. Here, we use Brightspace.

The first thing I have learned is pretty important. You have to go with the LMS that you have. You may really love Google Classroom or Hapara, but what is most important in this new environment is to keep things simple. It is almost like making sure that everyone is speaking the same language right from the start.

Next, it will be really important to be very structured in how I present my material. I will also really need to make my organizational thinking visible to my students. At this point, it is important to say that most of these ideas come from Dr. Michelle Hagerman. Michelle kindly took the time to go over the basic ideas last week. Here I am trying to digest her main points for me and anyone else who is trying to figure out how best to do this in the fall.

Your structure is where everything will hang for your course. If your structure makes sense to your students, they will be less stressed and more able to learn from you.

The syllabus will have to be carefully laid out. This includes making sure your headings and subheadings are consistent. When setting up your modules of instruction, it will be really important to have a Module ‘0’ that explains how you have put your course together. This could include your welcome message, course description, assessment and communication policy for example. It should also include some type of screencast that gives your students a tour of how you have set up your course.

Remember, you can’t do this on the first day anymore, so somehow you have to make it human for them. This part I haven’t figured out yet. I may use OBS Studio, Screencastify or ECHO 360 or half a dozen other screencasting tools. I really don’t think it matters what you use as long as it is working for you. The big point here is that you want to make a connection with your students as quickly as you can.

Oh, don’t forget to include a short intro video featuring you!!

Once you have clearly outlined the structure of your modules, with the time each one should take, it will be important to outline how you are going to communicate with your students and how they are going to reach you. This I think is crucial. Are you using your school email? Do you have a special email for this course? Will you respond to texts or Messenger? Will you have virtual office hours? All of this you need to figure out before your course starts. Whatever you use, it will be really important to get back to them pretty quickly. Otherwise, I think you will start losing your students.

The active learning process – TLSS

 

When it comes to the design of your class, the structure should remain consistent. A typical 3-hour lecture needs to be broken up into recognizable components. Here I am quoting directly from Dr. Hagerman:
Design modules that include (a) a written lecture of sorts — with integrated resources, videos, infographics etc. that presents key themes, ideas and evidence; (b) opportunities for students to practice, create or be involved in learning in some way — this can take lots of forms; (c) an opportunity to show or share what they have learned — this can be formative or evaluative.
This helps me a lot. For a three-hour class, I can think of ways to do this. My lecture is only part of the picture. I will need to find ways for students to create and communicate each week.
While I haven’t yet started to map out how all this will look from week to week, I am starting to get my head around how this will be so different from what I have done in the past. One thing, however, will not change, in fact it will become all the more important – I will need to focus on developing relationships with all my students and I will need to create a safe social space for the people I am working with.
I fully expect to spend the rest of my summer thinking and learning about all this. Then, after the first class in the fall, I will probably have to start learning all over again.
This is probably a good first step. Maybe some good ideas will come from any comments I get on this. Whatever happens, I need to take one step at a time. I leave the last words to Professor Hagerman:
Keep expectations reasonable — you’ll probably be able to do less, but that is okay.

 

 

Fixed or Fluid? How Should we teach History?

NEW INTERACTIVE VIDEO SERIES: What purpose should school history serve? How can history education help students better understand the past, face the complexity of the present, and build a better future? #PastFwd

The new #Pastfwd series  – new conversations on teaching history

I am trying to come out from under the dusty miasma of COVID.

In ten weeks or so, I am hoping to be teaching in some form my course in Intermediate History again to second-year education students.  I will try to give my students some perspective on how history needs to be taught in grades 6-10 in Ontario schools.

To me, this is a daunting task. Fortunately, there is a great amount of discussion now on how history should be taught and why we still teach history in or schools. It is no longer good enough to draw out a narrative of events long past that have little or no relevance to the students we work with. We are now struggling to find a better purpose; we are trying to ignite the minds of our students.

Last year I was introduced to The Big Six, now the foundational text on teaching history in Canada. No longer can we string together a series of events and call this a history course. We need to find ways to talk about continuity and change, historical significance and cause and consequence. We need to bring in the ethical dimension to our teaching. We need to focus on perspective and the use of evidence.

This is not easy to teach. We need to listen to many voices and we need to become part of the discussion on the purpose of teaching history. Reading different and new posts will help me to come to grips with how to do this. A long path to discernment.

This week I can across a new series which I will be following over the summer – #pastfwd.

The series just started on Youtube and Twitter and I will be following every episode as I try to put together a course for the fall.

The first episode dropped this week and I have already watched it twice. This one is by Arthur Chapman Associate Professor in History Education at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London. His episode is called School History and the Public Understanding of the Past and it is fascinating. You can watch it below.

This 15-minute video is called a provocation and it centers around the historical interpretation of the Peterloo Massacre. It is really interesting to me that in the Manchester Guardian article I looked up about the battle I found this.

Why haven’t I heard of it?

Because it was rarely taught in schools. Some might say that was because history has traditionally concentrated on the battles and victories of royalty and the elite, rather than the working classes.

Chapman does a great job in his short video of showing how the event has been publically memorialized over the past 40 years. How we look at this event has changed dramatically over time. History is fluid, there is no static interpretation of events.

Look at this series of memorials to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. Chapman uses these images to illustrate some of the challenges of teaching history.

Peterloo Commemoration 1972

Commemoration 2007

Peterloo graphic novel 2019

This is what is so amazing when it comes to teaching history. The event doesn’t change. How it is written about and interpreted is incredibly different. Notice in the 1972 commemoration there is no mention of a massacre, just a dispersal.

What does this say about how we interpret history? What does this tell us about our own changing view of the past?

We can do the same thing here in Canada. Between the Lines, a collective of writers and artists have created and produced a graphic novel on the Winnipeg General Strike.

1919 A Graphic History

This book, a wonderful resource for history classes, does the same thing as the Peterloo graphic novel. It reinterprets history from a class struggle lens. It offers a new and refreshing perspective on our own struggles. What is the lens we use when we teach about history? Past, present or future tense?

Even better, we now have a conversation about this new approach with one of the Between the Lines writers Sean Carleton. This is a great interview, early on, Carleton sums up their approach –  “You don’t need a cape and tights to change the world”. Samantha Cutrara, a history education strategist based in Toronto has put together an important video series that explores the teaching of history in Canadian schools. You can find the entire series here.

There is a strong link between Peterloo and the Winnipeg General Strike graphic novels. Both show new interpretations of history and how we demonstrate the struggles for democratic rights that are not normally part of our narrative.

Getting back to where we started, when we teach history we certainly want to introduce students to their stories, as Chapman puts it, students need to have a robust knowledge of their past, but they also need to have a sophisticated understanding of how we come to know the past.

This is something new. How do we interpret the past? What is significant? How does that shift from generation to generation? I know my understanding constantly shifts. From the curried past of my high school history classes through university, my own classroom and now educating history teachers. Shifting is essential to learning and understanding. Perspective.

Moving forward in our own understanding and teaching means adjusting the lens we use to comprehend the past.

 

Why can’t we be more positive with each other?

In the last few weeks, I have been subjected directly or indirectly to a collection of feedback. I wasn’t really looking for it, but it always comes, smacking you in the face.

One was actually directed at Heather and another to a friend after a piece of writing that each of them put out there on different topics. Another was the ongoing feedback I get from my employers at Discovery Education and the last and most devastating was from my students from my first semester history class – an experience I had thought went pretty well.

What is the value of feedback? We promote assessment for learning as a way to gain useful feedback on what we are teaching. The exit card is a great way to get a sense of what just went well and how we can make slight improvements on what we are doing next. This feedback works best when it is constructive and impersonal.

What really works is positive and just in time feedback. I get this with the people I write and edit with at Discovery Education and consequently, I work harder to deliver a product that is up to their standards. I always like working with them because I know that they appreciate the long hours I put into their work. This is a good, creative partnership.

In the past two weeks I have seen comments directed first at my wife, then at a friend publically correcting them for something they wrote in their blogs. It really doesn’t matter if the suggestions were relevant – correcting someone in public is not an effective form of feedback. It produces nothing but shame, then anger. It does not produce positive change. Feedback like this shows a lack of social grace and really needs to be avoided. Having said that it happens a great deal in education – why is that? How is this possibly a good thing?

Today I read the feedback I received from the history course I taught at the Faculty of Education last semester. While much of it was positive, I was taken aback by some of the comments:

So unfortunate to have an instructor with a traditional lens on history. I
wish we had a more progressive academic for this course, rather than a retired principal who clearly has some catching up to do in this subject.

And other one. Yes, there were lots of presentations, we couched this as a way for us to learn from each other rather than follow along with the sage from the stage approach.

there were too many presentation assignments, with unclear instructions for what was expected for the assignments and how we were being assessed. Feedback on assignments was very unclear and didn’t offer what we did wrong that took off marks and what we could have done to get the next higher grade. When emails were sent for clarification on assignments, email response from the prof was fast, however, responses left us with more questions, rather than answering all of our questions.

I obviously have to find other ways to do feedback, however, we spent three hours together each week and none of these concerns were ever sent to me. We have email, we have a bulletin board, there are all sorts of ways to connect. Generally, however, communication was a one-way street.

Maybe we are a hypercritical society. Maybe my skin still isn’t tough enough. Maybe I should stick to gardening.

I can take some ideas from the criticism, but so much was toned in a negative way that it is hard to discern whether many had any interest in making things better. Some wrote later that comments were just a reflection of the natural negative atmosphere they found around them – what does that even mean? Is there no personal responsibility for making destructive comments?

Uncalled for public criticism and negative unconstructive critiques need to be called out. In all the cases I am writing about here, these comments were made by people who are currently in education or soon hope to be. This is a concern for me.

Why is it in education that we can be so critical of our colleagues? How can we expect our students to receive good constructive comments that they can learn from when we are so quick to judge others without any consideration of the impact on the receiver?

I felt strongly enough to write my class back. I am not including everything here, but I hope some of the more critical students will learn something before they inflict their negative energy on students:

To those who articulated comments designed to be negative and hurtful, I would ask you to consider how you communicate with fellow educators. Negative and hurtful comments are seldom helpful and do no lead to new learning. You may be in similar situations in the near future and I wish for you that you will not have similar experiences.

I wish you all success for next year. Try to be kind and considerate, it will take you a lot farther in your careers.

There are enough people out there who are going to go after public educators. We are seeing lots of this now. Please, if you are reading this and you are someone who thinks there is value in always ‘stating your mind’, maybe you could curb your natural instinct to pass on your valuable knowledge.

In many cases, your silence would be very much appreciated.

Are we willing to lose a bit of control?

A few days ago Dean Shareski came out with an interesting post that got me thinking (it’s time I got back into writing something). Dean has a great sense of humour so I think the post is a little tongue in cheek – I Don’t Think I’m an EdTech Guy Anymore.

In the article, he wonders whether what he once saw as edtech is really technical anymore.

Using digital media to create and consume, expanding classrooms to connect with experts and other learners, connecting assessment to technology, effectively using mobile devices as well as exploring the growing interest in digital citizenship were all topics and areas I spent time teaching and supporting. Today those topics, while still of interest do not have the same “newness” that we associate when with think of technology.

I can agree with this. The things that he writes about as now being technology leave me a little cold. His list includes:

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • 3D Printing
  • Coding (arguably coding has been around for a long time but has become a newly sought after skill/experience)
  • ESports
  • BlockChain (data security)

I remember bringing some of this technology into schools and being pretty excited about the possibilities of makerspaces and tools to start understanding how coding works. Now, while I am still (more than ever) interested and engaged in teaching and writing about education, I don’t seem to get as excited about some of this technology.

I have to ask here, what is seen as educational technology these days? In another part of the article, Dean references an ISTE article on the 9 hottest topics in Edtech. The list includes professional learning vs. professional development and student-centered learning as two of the nine.

My question is – are these really edtech trends? Am I off base or is the trend towards more individualized learning (two of the edtech trends) simply a matter of more intelligent pedagogy or must it be linked up to technology?

Earlier this week I observed a student teacher going through a lesson with some grade 9 students. The lesson did have technology – there were Youtube videos and digital media involved in the presentation. What was missing was any level of engagement with the students. The information was conveyed using a very traditional lecture style, the students were the passive receptors of the information.

We know enough about education now that this mode for delivering information is outdated. It is unnecessary and it accomplishes little. Technology doesn’t accomplish all that much if all the strings are held on to by the teacher. The same goes for professional learning. When we bring in the sage from the school board to enrich the lives of our teachers, no matter what technology they are bringing in they are missing the point.

Maybe what we need to be focusing in on is not so much the tech we have at our fingertips but the democratization of education – maybe what we need to do is lose some of the control over information and allow our teachers and students explore more and use their own tools to find out what matters.

Writing is a funny thing. I really meant to write about the importance of digital media in education and how it really is (in my opinion) revolutionizing teaching, but I guess that will have to wait.

there is a lot to write about when it comes to the use of digital media and the teaching of history – just getting started!

Whatever the edtech – AR, VR, 3D printing, coding etc, it really doesn’t matter if we do not understand the basic fact that we need to lose control. We need to let our teachers know that the sage on the stage is not a valuable way to get students excited about learning. We have to stop talking at our teachers in dreary PD sessions and we really need to model an approach that allows for inquiry and discovery in the classroom.

What I am seeing is that there is little excuse for not doing this. We now are able to bring almost anything into the classroom. I was astounded last fall when I was giving a course on teaching methods in history how much amazing primary material is now out there for students to examine. And you don’t need a classroom full of computers to actively engage your students.

We know better now. Students need to get their hands dirty and get involved in their own learning.

Why should we hold onto all the keys to the knowledge chest? Why not open it up and let our students and teachers discover what is out there? They are bound to find out more than we could imagine.

More on the treasure of digital media later. The world is unfolding in your classroom – if you are willing to lose a bit of control!