Associate Professor Carla L. Peck (11 July to 21 August 2015)
AST’s 17th OEIR
Dr. Carla Peck is an Associate Professor in the University of Alberta, Canada. Carla’s research interests include students’ understandings of democratic concepts, diversity, identity, citizenship and the relationship between students’ ethnic identities and their understandings of history. She is also the Editor of Theory and Research in Social Education, the leading journal for social studies education research.
She is currently involved in the pan-Canadian history education reform project, “The Historical Thinking Project”, which had been designed to foster a new approach to history education—with the potential to shift how teachers teach and how students learn, in line with recent international research on history learning. The Historical Thinking Project provided social studies departments, local boards, provincial ministries of education, publishers and public history agencies in Canada with models of more meaningful history teaching, assessment, and learning for their students and audiences.
During her attachment in Singapore, Carla conducted a lesson on the use of Historical Significance at Northbrooks Secondary School with secondary three students. The Secondary Three Express class went through a lesson that got them to provide their take on the question “What were the significant factors that led to Hitler’s rise to power?” The lesson engaged the students through a critical analysis of different events of historical events and challenged the groups to decide on which event they deemed the most significant in contributing to Hitler’s rise to power. The lesson built up the students’ confidence to articulate their thoughts; and as a result, many of them experienced success in the process of their learning. The students also demonstrated confidence as they discussed and debated on the events which they believed were most significant in contributing to Hitler’s rise to power by providing substantial elaboration and evidence for their choices. It was through this lesson that Carla helped the students appreciate different perspectives of the same event and at the same time, develop the language to express their opinion on what had contributed significantly to the way the event unfolded in history.
Carla conducted three Master Classes to help history teachers better understand the concept of historical significance, the role it plays in history instruction as well as how they could incorporate this into their own lesson delivery. Carla used video clips of the class she taught at Northbrooks Secondary School and did a walkthrough of the lesson with the participants, explaining the impact it had had on students’ learning. Carla got teachers to pre-empt the challenges that could hinder the use of this concept in teaching history and to suggest solutions (where possible). Through the activities and interaction, teachers better understood the role this concept played in teaching history more effectively to help students think deeply and critically. They also understood how students could be guided to use the content in the history texts to develop their own evidence-based conclusions about different reasons for the way a historical event had unfolded. Teachers recognised this as a means to enable their students to use different accounts and perspectives in constructing their responses in the history classroom confidently. This allowed the students to take charge of their own learning, and to realise that learning history was more than just about learning facts and figures. The discussions that teachers had on the challenges of using this historical concept in their own classrooms (e.g., a lack of time), and on the possible solutions around these challenges, provided for a hearty discussion as well as the sharing of good practices.
Carla met with officers from the Humanities Branch of the Curriculum Planning and Development Division (CPDD) and academics from the National Institute of Education (NIE) where she held discussions about the importance of the use of historical concepts in teaching history as a discipline as well as how teacher capacity in using such historical concepts can be built via professional development opportunities. These exchanges between Carla and the NIE and CPDD officers brought forth issues and challenges pertaining to teacher professional development and to the delivery of the syllabus, and how these could be overcome. Carla was also invited to engage in a dialogue with teachers on professional development issues at the Humanities Symposium held at the Academy of Singapore Teachers on 19 August. In addition, she visited three schools where she had the opportunity to observe lessons and to have professional conversations with the Heads of Departments (HODs) and teachers. Finally, she also had a dialogue session with the HODs, Lead Teachers and Senior Teachers where they engaged in discussions on curriculum leadership, and on how they could support their teachers on this journey of honing their craft in incorporating the use of historical concepts in the history classroom.
Through the OEIR programme, Carla shared valuable learning insights about teaching history as a discipline. Carla felt that the history textbooks used by our students have clearly articulated the use of historical thinking concepts. There is also a strong alignment between goals and outcomes in curriculum and chapter content in textbooks. However, she cautioned that that history teacher should not take the textbook as the only resource or the only manifestation of the syllabus. She felt that teachers had to be more discerning in their use of the textbook in order to determine the most effective way to instruct students in the using historical concepts to make meaning of the content. This could be done by front-loading the historical thinking concept that is the focus of the chapter (which is currently found at the end of chapter), and explicitly teach students the disciplinary language such as the criteria for historical significance early in the chapter. Teachers would then need to continually build students’ capacity in the use of this concept throughout the history unit. From her interactions with the teachers at the Master Classes, Carla believes that the buy-in the teachers had expressed with regard to the use of historical significance as a concept in teaching this subject is a step in the right direction. With the support of the HODs, Lead and Senior Teachers, the way ahead is to help teachers understand that historical thinking is fundamental to the history curriculum and the examinations.