In a previous post, James Miles raised the issue of how to incorporate historical thinking concepts into summatives, particularly with regards to exams. With a growing emphasis in curriculum on historical thinking concepts I think that there is very little choice but to directly evaluate thinking concepts into our evaluations. In Ontario, at least, the new curriculum incorporates historical thinking directly to its entire course overall expectations. So the question is not whether we should incorporate historical thinking into things like tests, but how. This will be a major shift in how teachers approach, not only their teaching practice, but their evaluative practice as well. The best way I can describe it is that we are moving away from a model where students are expected to “know history” to one where students are expected to “do history and think history”. But how do we measure this?
Three key thoughts:
What I mean is this:
A simple example for a test would be the following: instead of asking a student what are the main causes of World War I ask how the main causes actually led to the outbreak of World War I. The criteria would include identifying the main causes, explaining the main causes, using accurate historical detail to support the ideas and making direct and logical links between the cause and the consequence.
A lot of the work found in the Big Six can go a long way to providing some solutions. The guideposts provide a good reference point for identifying the quality expected in higher level thinking. The key is to produce the criteria students need to produce quality work and teachers need to evaluate quality.
A more detailed approach is one I used in developing an assignment on cause and consequence. Students were asked to compare any two maps of Europe from 1914 to 1989. They were to explain what caused the changes and identify the consequences of the change. I used the following guidepost from the Big Six:
CHANGE IS DRIVEN BY MULTIPLE CAUSES, AND RESULTS IN MULTIPLE CONSEQUENCES. THESE CREATE A COMPLEX WEB OF INTERRELATED SHORT-TERM AND LONG-TERM CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES.
Within this guidepost is the following description of the “demonstration of powerful understanding”: (the) student identifies multiple short term and long term causes and consequences of an historical event recognizes their complex interrelationship.
The following is a simple list of the criteria I generated from the descriptor above:
Students will identify the short term causes and consequences of an historical event.
Students will identify the long term causes and consequences of an historical event.
Students will identify how both short term and longer causes and consequences are interrelated.
For the map study itself, these were specific guidelines for the students:
I WILL IDENTIFY AT LEAST THREE CHANGES THAT OCCURRED BETWEEN TWO MAPS IN 20TH CENTURY EUROPE
I WILL EXPLAIN THE FACTORS THAT CAUSED EACH CHANGE ON THE MAPS.
I WILL INCLUDE AT LEAST 5 RELEVANT, ACCURATE, AND IMPORTANT FACTS EXPLAINING THE REASONS FOR CHANGE FOR EACH EXAMPLE.
I WILL EXPLAIN THE EFFECTS FOR EACH IDENTIFIED CHANGE ON THE MAP.
I WILL IDENTIFY AT LEAST 3 CONSEQUENCES FOR EACH CHANGE.
I WILL EXPLAIN THE CONSEQUENCES OF EACH CHANGE ON THE MAP.
The depth of the work I got was incredible. The students made links between the identified changes, what caused those changes and the consequences of the changes. As well, the historical detail used to support their conclusions was impressive. Using the criteria, I was able to create a rubric that measured how well the students met my expectations.
In conclusion, the measuring of a student’s ability to understand historical thinking concepts presents a number of challenges. It requires creativity and a lot of planning on a teacher’s part but I believe it becomes not only a necessity, but the key requirement of our teaching practice, especially as our curriculum demands it. The key is understanding the historical thinking concept and the criteria we need to measure it.
Sorry for the length of the blog, but I thought I would leave you with some nice summer reading.