Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Get over teaching content!

Characteristics of a model society,
as determined by students on the first day of the course.
I am currently teaching Grade 10 History for the ninth time in my short teaching career.  I have always struggled with teaching the third unit, which covers over three decades of Canadian history (1945-1982).  It is an area of Canadian history where my own knowledge lacked, and I used to focus too much on content coverage.  I needed to make sure the students knew all about the mega projects, the ins and outs of the Cold War, the minute details of the issues with Quebec, etc.  Over the years, I have realized that this is NOT an effective way to teach.  Just because I say it or because the students read it doesn't mean they have actually learned it.

I really have found the essential question for the unit (What is the perfect society for Canada?) to be helpful.  On the first day of the course (way back in February), the students and I brainstormed possible answers to all of the unit essential questions on chart paper.  I began Unit 3 by referring the students to what we came up with as characteristics of the model society and gave them a chance to add some new characteristics.

I did some direct teaching of the immediate postwar era and Louis St. Laurent's leadership.  We focused on key people, events, and issues that helped determine what Canadian society looked like during this time.  Afterwards, students got into small groups and were responsible for creating a slideshow about the final three Prime Ministers of the unit: Diefenbaker, Pearson and Trudeau.  The slideshow requirements are below.

I was very impressed with my students' work.  I did not directly teach any of them what any of the three
How I used to feel when teaching the post-war period.
prime ministers' visions were--they discovered the visions themselves.  They were able to sift through information and draw connections between what they found and a vision.  Additionally, students had the choice to focus on ideas and events that were of most interest to them.  Another positive was the small group feedback I was able to give the students.  I actually had the opportunity to talk to each student and discuss their learning.  No student was able to "hide".

Obviously, nothing is perfect.  There are certainly things I will change the next time I teach.  For example, many students skipped, or skimmed over, discussing French-English relations.  I'm not entirely sure how I will approach this omission.  My first thought was to directly teach the tenuous relationship during this time period.  Upon further refection, I could also add French-English relations specifically to the task outline.

I feel that this independent task prepared students to transfer their learning from the unit to the summative task.  When I reviewed the assignment, I was concerned because I had trouble seeing a connection between the assignment question ("what was the most dominant value in Canada during this time period?") and the unit essential question.  After listening to the students' slideshows, the summative assignment made complete sense.  It demands that students now synthesize the visions of the Prime Ministers during this time period and find an overall similarity and defend it.

Overall, I feel like this was the best job I have done teaching the post-war era, despite some concerns.  I am unfortunately not teaching CHC2D next year, but I really think that I can easily adapt this learning strategy for my CHC2P class.


  1. Another great reflection Sarah. I appreciate how openly you share your journey.

    I wish I would have followed you through the third unit. I too often feel overwhelmed by this unit, and scattered as I try to get through the time period following so many different themes or ideas. I will be doing this next time (and incorporating some of the things you learned ie: including Fre-Engl relations in expectations.

    On a related note, you have had a lot of more formalized conversations with your students this semester about their learning. I wonder if this is what is being referred to in the "Assessment & Evaluation Guidelines for Secondary Schools" the board has put out when it says: "Evidence of student achievement for evaluation is collected over time from three different sources - observations, conversations and student products." At this point I don't really base any of my marks on observations or conversations. I like the professional judgment involved in these sources.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Lisa. I really enjoyed the process, and I think I am going to structure 2P in a similar manner for next year.

    I never realized how often I actually have formal conversations with my students about their learning until you wrote that I did! For example, with the law class, I sat down with each mock trial group to assess each students' level of engagement, and I also met individually with each student and made notes about their contributions. I am meeting again next week with each student to again discuss my observations and see where they are at in their learning. (Maybe I will actually see if they can make a connection the big idea with the mock trial!)

    Also, I haven't marked the pod casts yet, but I am thinking of using class time to mark them. As students are working on the culminating, I think I will listen to each student's pod cast with them, and discuss my impressions with them, and hear their thoughts on their performance. I think this will give the students a chance to clarify any misconceptions, as well as provide clearer feedback.