Volume 7, Issue 2 2018


The collection of papers in this special issue of the HSSE Online – the first part of a two-volume edition on history education – brings together expertise and experience from all sections of the history education community to discuss matters related to the teaching and learning of history in the classroom. This “conversation” between historians, history educators, curriculum specialists, teacher educators, pre-service teachers, and seasoned practitioners takes on a mostly reflective tone when describing instructional strategies that can enhance the quality of student learning, yet challenges readers into an ongoing dialogue with the pedagogy and practice of school history. Beyond simply thinking about history teaching in terms of standards, competence and performance, the authors postulate more creative and innovative means to address the real and concrete problems students face in learning history. Collectively, they encourage a critical reflection of both the epistemic and methodological aspects of the discipline, and indirectly seek to promote a reflective environment that allows teachers to become more thoughtful and self-evaluative practitioners.

In his paper, Historical Sources in the Classroom: Purpose and Use, renowned US history educator Keith C. Barton addresses the lack of clarity in teachers’ understanding and use of historical sources. He urges deeper reflection on the purposes of using historical sources in the classroom and illustrates how sources can be used both as a means to an end, and as ends in themselves. He argues that using historical sources in more effective ways can help students develop deep understanding of historical content and allows them to appreciate how historical knowledge is constructed.

Ivy Maria Lim takes on a key idea raised by the previous author and shares her own personal experience as a professional historian. In her paper, Studying and Constructing History: A Historian’s Take, she delves deep into the historian’s world and highlights the intricacies and uncertainties involved in historical work. She emphasizes the distinction between academic and school history and cautions the dangers of oversimplification in students’ understanding of historical sources and the historian’s craft.

The discussion on the use of sources and evidence in the classroom continues in Oh Ying Jie’s paper, Historical Evidence: Archaeological Practice as a Pedagogical Tool for Historical Education in Singapore. In her paper, Ying Jie highlights the difficulties history teachers face when communicating knowledge about Singapore’s pre-1819 past. She shares her experience working on an instructional approach that uses an amalgamation of archaeological methods and close examination of historical sources to teach 14th century Singapore, and believes that such an approach can reverse students’ misconceptions about the subject and engage them in the process of constructing history.

The next paper describes an action research project undertaken by history teachers at St. Andrew’s Secondary School. In their paper, Improving Student Ability in Interpreting Visual Sources through Action Research, Chew Ee, Marek Otreba and Gwee Yi Fen reflect on the team’s strategy to develop literary strategies meant to improve their students’ ability to read and interpret pictorial sources. They found that an approach that focuses on addressing students’ prior conceptions, the explicit teaching of interpretation methods and persuasive techniques, and the use of think-aloud-protocols, can result in significant improvements in students’ ability to analyze pictorial sources.

The use of teaching interventions to improve student learning and historical understanding lies at the core of the next three papers. In his paper, Rethinking the Approach to Teaching Causation in the History Classroom, Noel T P Ong highlights the challenges students face in understanding the nature of historical causation, and the common mistakes they are likely to make when demonstrating causal reasoning. He reflects on his experience conducting a small-scale study that tests the effectiveness of a teaching intervention meant to improve students’ confidence and understanding when responding to causation-focused questions.

In a similar vein, Jane Choong explores the use of a discussion strategy to improve her students’ understanding and thinking in history. In her paper, Classroom Conversation: The Use of Discussion-Based Strategy in the History Classroom, she describes how having students engaged in intentional, constructive and critical discussions can lead to more effective learning. She found that using discussion-based strategy in her classrooms has helped resolve some learning difficulties her students faced, and allowed them to overcome specific challenges involved when dealing with the historical past.        

Helping students deal with a complex past appears to also be the concern of Goh Hong Yi and Tham Chin Pang Joseph. In their paper, Teaching Historical Understanding through Role-Play, the authors raise pertinent issues confronting teachers when teaching the history of Singapore’s post-war political developments. They demonstrate a role-play strategy that allows students to consider events from diverse and multiple perspectives, and propose that such a strategy enhances students’ historical understandings and help develop empathy with characters or personalities who lived in the past.

The final two papers shift the focus to the teaching of substantive concepts in history. Pre-service teachers, Edward Tan Yu Fan and Andrew Yap Ming Hwee, reflect on their academic grounding as students of history and offer insights on ways teachers can more precisely, and in a more opportune way, approach the teaching of “migration” and “bi-polarity” to secondary school students.

In his paper, The Significance of Mass Migration, and How to Better Talk about It, Edward ponders the heavy emphasis, and the enduring impact of narratives surrounding mass migration to Singapore in the post-1819 years. He considers the event unexceptional given greater developments that were taking place elsewhere around the world. He suggests that teachers aspire to go beyond this narrative and give students a deeper understanding of the complex global forces that were at work and which led to Singapore’s founding. Andrew’s paper, Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Bi-Polarity in the History Classroom, proposes a re-consideration in the teaching of “bi-polarity” as a concept. He believes that the concept can be approached in less limited ways, and proposes strategies that can broaden students’ understandings of developments during the Cold War. By studying events using historical lenses such as chronology, change and continuity, teachers can demonstrate how the Cold War was fundamentally an ideological struggle between the USA and the USSR, before helping students appreciate the fluctuations or variations in the ways “bi-polarity” is viewed at various points in the conflict.

Suhaimi Afandi
Editor, HSSE Online


Historical Sources In The Classroom: Purpose and Use

"Historical sources are a common feature of history classrooms, but the purpose of using them is not always clear, and as a result, instructional activities with sources may not be as effective or meaningful as they should be. This lack of clarity stems in part from the fact that there are four distinctly different reasons for using sources, and each carries its own implications for classroom practice. These purposes are 1) illustration and motivation; 2) evidence for historical inquiry; 3) visual or textual interpretation; 4) source analysis. By reflecting on how each of these purposes can play a role in the classroom, which kinds of sources are appropriate for each, and where they fit into an overall sequence of instruction, teachers can ensure that their use of sources deepens and extends students’ historical understanding."

Historical Evidence: Archaeological Practice as a Pedagogical Tool for Historical Education in Singapore

"Historical education in Singapore has seen much progress following the shift away from Rafflesian history to studies on pre-1819 Singapore with new publications and exhibitions. However, many educators still face difficulties in delivering this knowledge to their students. This article looks at how historical education in Singapore can be enhanced by using an amalgamation of archaeological methods, historical evidence, and an inquiry-based approach as a pedagogical practice to teaching 14th-century Singapore. "

Improving Student Ability in Interpreting Visual Sources through Action Research

"This paper reports the experience of a History Professional Learning Team (PLT) from St. Andrew’s Secondary School in 2017 in developing literary strategies to improve student ability to read and interpret pictorial sources. An action research strategy was used with 150 students for this purpose. Students were explicitly taught the “Triangle Method” of source analysis, as well as specific persuasive techniques used in political cartoons to help them make sense of visual sources. The team found that the strategy of focusing on students’ prior knowledge and allowing them to engage in think aloud protocols had resulted in significant improvements in students’ ability to analyze pictorial sources. "

Rethinking the Approach to Teaching Causation In the History Classroom

"​Core to historical research and the teaching of history is the concept of causation – in fact, E. H. Carr (1961: 87) famously opined, “the study of history is a study of causes”. Without an awareness and understanding of the concept of causation, it would be difficult to comprehend the reasons why events happened the way they did, and that evidence could be marshalled within a historical context to justify the relative hierarchy of factors for any given historical occurrence."

Classroom Conversation: The Use Of Discussion-Based Strategy In The History Classroom

"In Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Sam Wineburg argued that historical thinking “in its deepest forms, is neither a natural process nor something that springs automatically from psychological development” (2001: 7). He proposed that in order to understand and grapple with the past, we must change our existing mental structures. In reality, however, Singapore teachers often find themselves “telling history” to their students, as if particular stories about the past can be told in a linear manner or told through a given narrative. The idea that students would need to learn how to mentally wrestle with unfamiliar content, and to also become competent at requisite examination skills that demonstrate proficiency in managing the specified content, may perhaps seem an unfeasible expectation. "

Teaching for Historical Understanding through Role-Play

"For the average fourteen-year-old student in Singapore, knowledge about the nation’s road to independence may be limited to a rather narrow field-of-view, i.e. seen through the actions of leaders from the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the events that led to the achievement of independence under Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership. They may not be aware of the different political parties that were vying for political power at the time or the complex circumstances that paved the road towards independence. "

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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