Across Canada many provinces have embraced the ideas of the Historical Thinking Project and embedded them into their curricula. In British Columbia (BC) the new Social Studies curriculum emphasizes the development of critical thinking skills that are key to the discipline. The skills selected are based on the six historical thinking skills identified in the Historical Thinking Project. As a result, students in BC are continually building these skills throughout their social studies education.
One teacher who sees the benefits of these changes is Carly Wenner who teaches Social Studies in Vancouver. She was first exposed to the ideas of historical thinking at the Historical Thinking Summer Institute hosted by the University of British Columbia (UBC) back in 2015. She has studied various approaches to historical thinking, including the one used in Advanced Placement (AP) history courses and the Netherlands Historical Reasoning model, and sees useful elements in each of these systems. She is currently enrolled in a Master of Education cohort at the UBC that is made up of practicing social studies teachers and focuses on historical inquiry. With the benefit of her considerable research, she continues to develop strategies that provide engaging ways for her students to learn social studies.
Wenner believes that one of the most important benefits of incorporating historical thinking skills is that they provide an excellent structure around which to build lessons and units. Since the curricular competencies for BC Social Studies are the historical thinking concepts, teachers can directly evaluate the competencies as accessible outcomes. In her Social Studies 8 class, which covers history from the 7th century to 1750, each unit is built around one overarching question that is tied to one of the “Big Six” thinking skills. So, for example, the overarching question in one unit explores the significance of the silk road on the development of Afro-Eurasia. Teachers can utilize the language and criteria associated with the concept of historical significance to evaluate students’ work. By working with these skills students assemble evidence to help them respond to the overarching question. This helps ensure teachers focus their assessment on the demonstration of skills and competencies.
Wenner also discussed how the historical thinking skills are interwoven. For example, if students are exploring cause and consequence, they will need to examine different perspectives about what is most significant. As Wenner says, “you can’t weigh which causes were more influential without talking about significance first.” Exploring multiple perspectives often requires analysis of primary source evidence to understand these perspectives. For a student to make an ethical judgement they need to consider different perspectives. The opportunity to use multiple historical thinking skills happens more often when students become confident with these skills, and they can better call on the appropriate skill at the appropriate time. Ultimately these skills allow students to be able to construct their own arguments. Wenner finds that students enjoy the arguments and debates in history and that these can be very motivating. Students learn that evidence is a powerful tool in their debates and that using historical thinking skills is essential to support their arguments.
John Tidswell is a member of SSENC/RESSC