Volume 9, Issue 1 2020

HSSE Online Editorial

The articles in this volume make a strong case for a re-invigorated Humanities and Social Studies education at all levels of schooling; an education that as Wang notes in the first article, helps educators “grow to become comfortable with the uncomfortable,” whether it be with controversial issues and difficult discussions, challenging inquiry methods or the move away from comfortable classroom routines to more inclusive, experimental and progressive pedagogies. All of the articles in this volume make a strong case for putting students firmly in charge of their learning, whether it be through constructive conflict talk, issues investigation, environmental action, empowering students to construct what it means to be a citizen, giving students greater voice and choice in their lessons, or using talk moves to enhance student participation and agency in Geography classes. Putting students at the center promises a shift away from teacher-dominated lessons and didactic instruction toward what makes learning worthwhile, engaging, relevant and meaningful for learners.

This move toward more experiential, active and challenging pedagogy involves addressing authentic social problems that connect to students’ experiences, teaching through meaningful classroom discussions and engaging students in complex thinking processes. Such learning supports the building of an inquiry culture, inquiry mindsets and the social practices that can support lifelong inquiry and learning. Each of the articles in this volume provide insights, examples and practical approaches that can move classroom practice more firmly in these directions.

The first article by Melvin Wang provides an approach to teaching controversial issues in primary schools by encouraging students to consider different points of view through the skillful use of open-ended questions and constructive conflict talk. This approach draws upon and respects students’ emotions, imagination and inventiveness to address conflicts they are likely to experience in their lives and as citizens. In doing so, students will be better prepared to understand and address conflict that is part of living in society with diverse others who will have different perspectives, values and emotional concerns, an important aspect of creating informed, concerned and participative citizens.

In the second article, Peidong Yang reports on a study that examined the challenges teachers face in teaching “Issues Investigation” as part of the issues- and inquiry-based Upper Secondary Social Studies syllabus released in Singapore in 2016, as well as how they “tamed” or managed these challenges in their instruction. The paper highlights how teachers and students must continually negotiate curriculum and instruction, given particular constraints and competing priorities encountered in educational settings.

The third article addresses the gap between students’ “knowing” and “doing” in Environmental Education in Singapore. The author, Yee Jie Ying, creates a framework to analyze components of Environmental Knowledge in the Lower Secondary Geography curriculum to show how the emphasis on knowledge may impede environmental action among students and the author calls for greater consideration of what sorts of knowledge might more effectively promote environmental stewardship among youth.

The fourth paper by Ysabel Ortiz is a moving autobiographical account of how powerful pedagogy and the influence of a teacher can inspire one to be a caring citizen with a keen sense of agency and commitment to one’s society and nation. The powerful idea of teaching the nation as a work in progress, an ongoing project continually formed and reformed by its citizens, invited the author to develop her own sense of agency as a citizen, empowered to contribute to the nation in her own way (as an educator). The transformative potential for both the individual and society is a testament to the ways an instructor can engage students in transformative pedagogies that deepen their sense of agency.

Lin Yunqing highlights the role of “talk moves” to engage students in the geographic literacies and thinking skills necessary to work with geographical data. In the fifth article of the issue, she draws on social constructivism to demonstrate how geographic knowledge construction is supported by talk moves that require students to voice and clarify their reasoning, listen closely to each other and engage with other students’ reasoning. The article outlines specific moves that can aid both teachers and students in classroom discussion to develop geographic understanding and skills.

The sixth article by Siti Dzhawieyah offers a teachers’ reflections on an action research project that gave her primary students greater voice and choice during monthly lessons on current affairs known as News Sharing. In her reflections, she highlights many of the tensions she experienced as a teacher in moving toward more student-centered discussions about complex issues.

Finally, Mark Baildon shares a commentary on inquiry-based learning (IBL) research in Singapore. In this article, he shares what Singapore-based research tells us about IBL and pedagogical practices in classrooms that have effectively supported IBL. This article was reprinted with special permission by NIE Perspectives. To access the site, click: https://nie.edu.sg/perspectives and log in with your NIE gmail which is in this format: john.smith@g.nie.edu.sg (log in with your NIE password). Alternatively, you can go to the NIE portal > Staff Services > NIE G Suite and click Perspectives. Following the commentary, is a curated list of related research by NIE faculty.

The articles in this issue of HSSE Online highlight the essence of a powerful humanities and social studies education in which students are taught to see themselves as both active learners and participatory social actors who can make a difference in their societies. On behalf of the authors of this issue, I invite you to dig into these articles, share them with your students and colleagues and continue to move the field of humanities and social studies education forward, toward new directions that are more meaningful, authentic and enriching for students and society.

Mark Baildon

Editor, HSSE Online 

Exploring Controversial Issues in the Primary Social Studies Classroom

"In order to better prepare students to handle the complexities of the 21st century world, it is imperative that primary Social Studies educators in Singapore grow to become comfortable with the uncomfortable – carving out space for children to critically and meaningfully engage in educative controversial discussions. This article explores the merits of introducing controversy in the classroom and demonstrates how an affective instructional approach in the controversial issues literature, known as constructive conflict talk, can be used to prepare young learners to display respect, imagination and inventiveness when addressing actual conflicts in their lives. "

Taming “Issue Investigation”: Singapore Secondary Social Studies Teachers’ Accounts of Challenges Encountered and Strategies for Coping

"The upper-secondary Social Studies (SS) syllabus (Express/Normal-Academic) released in Singapore in 2016 introduced an inquiry-based component called “Issue Investigation” (II). Given the relatively recent nature of this introduction, so far there has been little research on II. Drawing on a small qualitative study, this article reports on some of the typical challenges experienced by Singapore SS teachers in implementing and enacting II, as well as the coping strategies they developed. According to these teachers’ accounts, II was from the outset hindered by an exam-driven pragmatic attitude prevalent in Singapore schools; whereas specific enactment challenges included the II’s (perceived) overwhelming scope and depth, time constraints, and deficits of certain skills or preparedness among students and teachers. Faced with these challenges, teachers developed broadly two types of coping strategies—simplification and “piggybacking”—to tame II by making it manageable, both for the students and for themselves."

Environmental Education in Singapore: An Analysis of Environmental Knowledge in the Lower Secondary Geography Curriculum

"Geography is a discipline believed to be a potential platform for the delivery of Environmental Education (EE) in Singapore. Most local research investigating EE in schools reveals a gap between students’ ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ in relation to the environment. This naturally calls for attention towards raising environmental knowledge (EK) among students such that they can be empowered to act for the environment. However, what exactly do we mean by EK in the geography discipline? This paper examines the cognitive aspect of EE by creating a framework to analyse the form of EK present in the Singapore’s Lower Secondary Geography curriculum. The main finding shows that the curriculum reflects positive strides towards the incorporation of EK although the disproportionate emphasis of the EK dimensions might impede the effectiveness of instigating environmental actions among students. It is argued that to achieve the desired outcome of geography education - one that promotes responsible environmental stewards through EE - there needs to be serious considerations of what sorts of EK geography teaching and learning should emphasise."

Backtracking towards a Transformative Rizal Curriculum

"Despite their inclusion in the Philippine social studies curriculum to inspire patriotism in the youth, the teaching of Jose Rizal’s life and works is often lifeless and barren. In contrast, my experience studying Rizal under Professor Paul A. Dumol was a potent educational experience that led to my firm conviction in my role and duties as a citizen. Merging the autobiographical/biographical and political strands of curriculum scholarship, this paper recounts my lived experience of Professor Dumol’s Rizal course to examine its capacity to produce transformation in both the individual and society. My findings reveal that the transformative power of his curriculum lay in its treatment of nationhood as an ongoing project that is continually formed by the individuals that comprise it. Applicable to social studies curricula across different contexts, this principle allows the student to comprehend his or her power as a citizen, inspiring transformation in the self, for society."

Where Literacy Meets Geography: Using Talk Moves to Engage Students in Geographical Data

"From a perspective of social constructivism, literacy is shaped by social practices (Moje, 1996) and serves the purpose of knowledge construction in a discipline (Moje, 2008). To help students become “geographically literate” (Dolan, 2019) entails equipping them with skills to make sense of and critique geographical data presented in multimodal formats (Roberts, 2014) by creating more space for geographical dialogue in the classroom. This paper first discusses the relationship between talk and students’ ability to analyse and account for geographical data. Using the evidence of a questionnaire survey, it examines the impact of Talk Moves in supporting dialogic teaching in 3 Singapore’s secondary geography classrooms. Statistics show that Talk Moves helped students improve their analytical skills for geographical data and their ability to articulate answers in a geographical manner. However, more support could be provided to enhance students’ classroom participation and their writing based on geographical data."

Centering the Periphery: Giving Students’ Voice and Choice

"In April 2019, I carried out an action research study with a class of High Ability Primary 6 students to understand how to better engage students in a Social Studies class through discussion of controversial issues. Based upon my observations, these students demonstrated behaviors that showed they were disengaged during the monthly lesson on current affairs known as News Sharing. During News Sharing class, students were typically given an adapted news article chosen by me with a set of questions that tested mainly their comprehension of the article, the relevance of the article to National Education (NE) messages and how they might contribute to society based on the issue featured in the article. I felt that the formulaic nature of the lesson defeated the aim of News Sharing which was initially introduced with the purpose of improving students’ general knowledge about the world and Singapore. The lesson eventually resulted in an English language comprehension class where discussion was minimal and almost perfunctory."

Commentary: Inquiry-based Learning and Teaching

"This article has simultaneously been published in NIE Perspectives. In this commentary, Singapore-based research on inquiry-based teaching and learning is shared. It provides a summary of research findings that highlight pedagogical practices in classrooms to effectively structure and support IBL, build an inquiry culture in classrooms and develop inquiry mindsets and social practices that support inquiry."

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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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