I think I had my most fun in the introductory unit when teaching significance. I engaged my students in a one-on-one debate format defending to another student their choice of an event as either being of greatest significance or of least significance. But, before I explain how I did this, I need to backtrack.
In attempting to teach significance, I turned to two sources. The first was The Big Six. One of their criteria for teaching significance is “EVENTS, PEOPLE, OR DEVELOPMENTS HAVE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE IF THEY RESULTED IN CHANGE. THAT IS, THEY HAD DEEP CONSEQUENCES, FOR MANY PEOPLE, OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME.” I also borrowed from a resource I found that used a particular and specific set of criteria for measuring the significance of an event (The Twentieth Century Teacher’s Resource Book, Hodder Murray):
1. PEOPLE AT THE TIME THOUGHT IT WAS IMPORTANT
2. IT AFFECTED A LOT OF PEOPLE
3. IT AFFECTED PEOPLE DEEPLY
4. IT AFFECTED PEOPLE FOR A LONG TIME
5. IT STILL AFFECTS ATTITUDES OR BELIEFS TODAY
6. IT LED TO OTHER IMPORTANT EVENTS
Using the six criteria listed above, the students revisited the thirty events of the 21Century that I outlined (see attached) in my introductory lesson. These events ranged from the September 11 attacks and the Newtown shooting, to the release of the first Harry Potter movie and the introduction of Facebook to my 50th birthday. Students were expected to rank the thirty events according to the criteria I shared with them.
After they ranked their events, my goal was to set up a series of 1 minute debates between students. They were to be involved in a series of rotating sessions with 4 different opponents. In Round 1, they were to debate which of the thirty items listed was the most significant. In Round 2, with a different opponent, they were to debate which of the thirty was least significant. Round 3, with a third opponent, they were to again debate the most significant and finally in Round 4, they were to debate the least significant event.
I had not informed the class about my plans to set up mini-debates; I was going to set these up once they had ranked the items from most to least significant. Unexpectedly, I didn’t get this far. They began to naturally debate with their seating partner as they began their ranking. The debates were loud, boisterous but well-argued. If I have learned one thing as a teacher it is that students love to debate and challenge. With the right set of criteria and parameters, debates can be incisive, productive and reasoned. Otherwise, they can be loud, obnoxious, at times angry and unduly emotional. I was pleased that, while good-natured, my students naturally fell into debate mode using the prescribed set of historical thinking concepts. My only complaint – the number of students who ranked my 50th birthday as the least significant event of the 21st Century!