How do we decide what we believe? – Helping students learn how to question beliefs and test claims to become more (self) critical and evidence based in their thinking

The essence of this practice is to sensitise students to the fact that there are different ways of receiving claims. Furthermore, the practice gives students regular opportunities to sharpen their thinking skills by providing four “claim testers” that can be applied to any claims made in the history classroom. The practice should gradually teach students how to assess claims as an automatic part of their thinking and equip students with the language and practice needed to analyse claims made in many forms, including primary and secondary sources, data charts, videos, infographics, and even in-class discussions. This practice wants students to understand the claims that people make when answering (historical) questions. But this practice also wants students to go further: to develop the skills to recognise when people are asking good questions, to begin to assess other people’s claims – to use intuition, to use authority, but most importantly to use logic and evidence to assess claims in determining whether or not they are trustworthy. An important characteristic of this practice is its recurring nature – it is not a one off lesson or activity but more a method of teaching to be applied throughout classes over a prolonged period of time.

The Practice

The main issue that the practice addresses is the trap many students fall into when it comes to processing and dealing with new information, which is to take information at face value. Learners can take information for granted, can be unable to make a judgement on its reliability and they either don’t recognise bias and don’t always know how to correctly use sources that are biased. Examples of students taking information at face value include not looking for additional evidence that either supports or challenges the information they find, not asking (critical) questions about the origins and purpose of a source, and copying the information that they find first. Thus, this practice aims to teach and encourage these exact skills.

This practice has no set resource requirements or fixed format as it is more about using an approach, which can be used flexibly during all kinds of history teaching in many different contexts. This practice does not have a specific timeframe but should be thought of as a long term practice, one that is incorporated into teaching and learning on a daily, routine basis. This practice has a wide target group as ideally all students of history should aim to think critically when given claims. Using the four claim testers to test claims effectively can be done in classes of any size and a broad age range.

It is advised to first have an introductory lesson to the claim testers, how they work and the general benefits of thinking in these terms when you encounter information. The  activities outlined below can be used as suggested content for this starter lesson on the four claim testers.

 

A possible title for an introductory lesson to this approach could be: How do we decide what we believe?

  • First ask students what they think a claim is. Discuss this with them, eventually giving them a definition, eg: “To say something is true”. Discuss with students how you might not use the word claim very often day to day but you make claims constantly. Discuss some examples. Then pose to students the question: “But then how would you know which claims to trust, which claims to ignore and which ones to investigate further?”
  • Explain to students the importance of the degree of trust in claims: How do you learn to trust claims or how do you learn to evaluate claims?
  • Then, take students through a scenario that introduces the different ways humans make claims. The “Big Café” scenario (a scenario described by Bob Bain, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan) is one way of doing this.This scenario can also be adapted to the match the context:
  • Tell students to imagine you are going to go and try the new Big Café that you’ve heard great things about – exotic food, huge portions etc – but unfortunately you have got lost and so need to ask directions
  • Luckily there is a person approaching who appears to know where they are going so you stop them and ask how to reach the restaurant.
  • They reply “Yes, of course. You go down to the corner, make a right and pass a department store before you see on the left the Big Café”.
  • So we start walking the route but suddenly stop and think: “Do we trust her? Does she really know?” Explain that our gut, our intuition said she seemed confident so we should follow her.
  • But then we stop and decide we should investigate further so we go back to her and ask: “have you ever been to the Big Café?” to which she replies “Of course, it’s my favourite restaurant and I’ve been going there for years and years”.
  • We feel good after this reassurance, she seems to be in, so we head on our way.
  • But then you stop all of a sudden because you realise that the Big Café is a new café, so how could they have been going there for five years. This does not make sense. It’s illogical for her to have said what she did.
  • Good news though, you remember that you both have phones, with which you can use Maps to check the location. You also know that mapping apps can sometimes be inaccurate so you agree to both check using your phones.
  • Your phones both agree on the location of the Café. You realise also that you had been told the wrong directions by the passer-by. They had given you correct directions to the Little Café.
  • So by now you are confident that you have the evidence needed to ensure your directions are accurate and you head to the Café.
  • This is a simple story that can illustrate to students the four different ways human beings assess claims. Of course, you can adapt the fictional scenario as you wish – the key is that all four claim testers are referred to.
  • After telling this story, now is the time to introduce properly for the first time the four claim testers: intuition, authority, logic and evidence.  These four claim testers are effective because they provide students with memorable and accessible language to do this analysis. Define and explain the difference between each of the four testers and how they compare.For example:
  • Intuition: this is what many people call having a gut feeling, simply feeling as though “something is or isn’t right”. Some also call it their “inner voice” or having a “sense” of something. Intuition is when we act or make decisions without us being fully aware of the underlying reasons for something’s occurrence. Intuition is a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning. For a long time there have been debates about whether this “irrational” way of thinking is something to be shunned or not.
  • Authority: this is when you rely on the credibility of a source when assessing information, so putting “weight” on information because of where or who it came from. Your judgement of the “believability” of someone and the information they give you is influenced by or based on their ranking, position or recognised knowledge about a topic.
  • Logic: this is reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity, or what many call systematic reasoning. Logic is concerned with the principles of correct reasoning. Studying the correct principles of reasoning is not the same as studying the psychology of reasoning. Logic is the former discipline, and it tells us how we ought to reason if we want to reason correctly. Intuition, discussed earlier, falls into the second category.
  • Evidence: this is the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid. It is proof supporting a claim or belief. It can be anything that you see, experience, read, or are told that causes you to believe that something is true or has really happened.
    Evidence is data on which to base proof or to establish truth or falsehood.

 

  • Now that students are familiar with the four testers, explain how they were apparent at each stage of the scenario. Or you can ask students first to try and identify where these appeared at each stage of the story before giving them the answers.
  • As an additional activity, you can ask students to think about your credibility as a teacher. Ask them: do you believe all the claims I have made about myself? Demonstrate to them that apart from your name students know little else about you. Ask students why they even automatically believe the little information you have revealed about yourself – your name, that you are a teacher etc. Ask them what it was that makes them just accept you are who you say you are, which of the four claim testers is it? Is it intuition, authority, logic or evidence? 
  • Further examples of potential activities teachers can use as part of this approach could be: ask students to highlight an article’s major and minor claims, or use claim testers to shape a discussion of a current issue in the news or in school.
  • Teachers can also encourage student to question and challenge the order the testers are placed in – is authority really a “stronger” claim tester than intuition, for example.
  • In class discussions, teachers might encourage students to respond to each other with questions such as:
    • Do you think that’s a trustworthy authority? Why?
    • What’s the evidence for that claim?
    • Can you explain the logic for your statement?
    • This makes logical [or intuitive] sense to me but I don’t have much evidence. Can someone suggest some evidence to support this?
  • The claim testers give students a scaffold to measure the claims that they’ll encounter throughout their learning in history lessons. And they provide students with memorable and accessible language to do this analysis. Teachers can even create a poster of such phrases to scaffold the regular use of the claim testers in class. Plus, all the claim-testing activities in the course give students regular opportunities to sharpen their thinking skills.

Obstacles and lessons learned

Putting a poster with the claim testers in the classroom can be useful tool to remind students of these and refer to them. It is very important for students to see teachers modelling claim testing by making it a regular part of class work, which this practice encourages. The practice works most effectively when used repeatedly over a long timespan as it wants to teach students certain skills and approaches to their learning that require time and repetition to allow students to “relearn how to learn”.

The effect of the practice

An effect of successful claim testing should be evident in students’ writing as they begin to use these same strategies to show how they arrived at or are supporting their conclusions. A further effect of this practice, if applied effectively, should be that students routinely ask questions such as to what degree do you trust claims, whether or not you should ignore a claim or whether or not claims need further investigation, whether they need new questions to be asked about them. Students will slowly ponder these questions as a matter of reflex whenever they encounter new information in the classroom. A related effect of the practice is that students think before they pass along potential misinformation and that they develop a healthy skepticism to their learning.

 

About the contribution

The practice is based on research by Antonia Gough (EuroClio Trainee)  and Steven Stegers (EuroClio Acting Executive Director). Steven was informed by this practice when Constance van Hall (author of Big History – een vakoverschrijdende oriëntatie op de wetenschappen)  introduced the practice during a meeting of the World History Committee as part of the Dutch History Teachers Association in 2018.

Background to the project

This practice was initiated by the Big History Project which is a free, online social studies course that puts skills development and student engagement first.  BHP delivers a big picture look at the world, and helps students develop a framework to organize what they’re learning both in and out of school.

Their inspiration is to create students who are equipped with a set of intellectual tools that help them think critically, ask questions, tie together big ideas, and build informed arguments.

Additional Information

Big History Project blog posts: https://blog.bighistoryproject.com/2017/09/27/using-claim-testers/

https://blog.bighistoryproject.com/2015/09/16/claim-testing-and-critical-thinking/

https://blog.bighistoryproject.com/2017/03/16/critical-thinking-across-the-curriculum/comment-page-1/

Video on claim testers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkDCkD88-B0#t=356

 

Written by Antonia Gough (EuroClio) in The Hague on 20 October 2018.

Augmentative Communication: the creation of visual vocabularies as a support in the study of works of art

This practice presents the application of augmentative communication (a language used by people with intellectual impairments in the production or comprehension of spoken or written language) to the interpretation and description of works of art. By using such communication method, facilitated by the software “Invento”, the Machado de Castro Portuguese Museum has been able to allow members of the public with special needs to feel «as part of a whole, of a cultural identity».

The program may be used not only by schools, but also by institutions or by small private groups that include individuals with special cognitive needs.

The Practice

Augmentative communication is an overarching technique that can serve several projects, because it gives the possibility of combining keywords with pictures, in order to easily convey information. The user is, in this way, provided with a reference concept portrayed by an image, and then additional text with supporting information. In the case of the Machado de Castro National Museum, augmentative communication is applied «in the approach and reinterpretation of works of art», with the intent to create guidebooks for the interpretation of works of art.

The provision of a visual vocabulary as a means to “read” and understand works of art is based on the simplification of texts and on the selection of symbols which clearly depict the concepts underlying the works of art.

In the image depicted above, augmentative communication was used to describe the painting “The Lady with the Rose”: a caption saying “We are watching a lady with a baby on her lap – The lady is sitting on a chair and she has a rose in her hand”, with symbols depicting the lady, the baby, the chair, the rose and the hands.

It is recommended to prepare such a visual vocabulary when a school with students with special needs wishes to visit art or history museums. In the case of the Machado de Castro National Museum, whenever a school contacts the museum to organise a visit, they receive a PDF document with explanation of the works of art subject to the visit, and then teachers and museum employees work together to prepare a visual vocabulary which can be useful for the visit. This allows the teachers to be able to carry out the visit in the museum without the need for external support. The knowledge transmitted and acquired during the visited is further consolidated at school by means of a dialogue with students having the guidebook with augmentative communication as a support.

Obstacles and lesson learned

The biggest obstacle encountered in the creation of visual vocabularies refers to the simplification of texts. Sometimes, the first symbol chosen or simplification produced is not enough, either because it does not touch upon the correct concepts, or because it might result distractive for students. When this happens, the only possible solution is to go deeper in the interpretation and simplification, until a good symbol for concepts is found.

For example: during a workshop, a school group chose to create a visual vocabulary for the description of a sculpture – Agrippina. The description of the sculpture underlined the fact that Agrippina had a long neck, and the chosen symbol was a giraffe. Students with special needs, however, were no longer able to look at the statue and see a woman. They interpreted it to be the depiction of a giraffe. The work needed, of course, to be adjusted, and a new symbol was found. The drawing of two squares (one big and one smaller) were put side by side, so that visitors could depict the notion of big. Then it was explained that the painter drew the lady very big because she was very important:

Another challenge is that of remaining true to the purpose and nature of the museum and of the work of art the practice is applied to. Usually, museums and works of art are curated and described by specialists, and the application of augmentative communication to the work of specialists might result in oversimplification.

Finally, the implementation of the project requires also time to prepare the material, and the interdisciplinary work of teachers with specialists in students with special education needs and with museum curators might prove as a real asset.

The effect of the practice

As an inclusion strategy, this augmentative communication project is completely new in Portugal. The Machado de Castro is the “only museum in Portugal that has this kind of work.” It is also innovative due to the fact that there is a collaborative work with special needs experts. “The message we want to put forward is not so much about the stylistic value of the work of art, it is more about history, about what that particular piece can tell us, the stories behind the piece itself. All simplified writing goes in this direction, of telling a story. Especially because it is easier to apprehend, then because there is an  increasingly stronger move towards the meaningful and transformative experience, caused by the emotion that the (re) interpretation of the work of art arouses in the visitor, according to his own condition. Also because this path is the one that is being followed by museums and also by schools themselves. There is this option for “experiences that touch us, that tell us something”. It is important that there is empathy, that there is that little story or a small curiosity, a relation with people’s daily life, something they will not forget. We know that, especially in younger audiences, we return to the spaces where we were happy and with which we have a link.»

This project started in PAPFMDC and, from a certain point, the museum started to have a great amount of requests, not being able to respond to all of them. So, the museum staff thought it was important to organize “a workshop aimed at therapists, museologists from other museums, people from institutions that work with this kind of public, where they would learn to prepare these materials for this kind of visit, so they could prepare a self-guided visit”, one in which visitors would not depend on the museum technicians. “This training was made to give these instruments and it had great adhesion”, in such a way that a second edition will be made and is already full.

 

About the interviewee

Virgínia Gomes is the Museum Conservator at Machado de Castro Portuguese Museum. She has a History degree by Lisbon University and a  Master’s degree in Augmentative Communication. She coordinates the  Inclusion projects that are being  developed by the museum. Contact: virginiagomes@mnmc.d

Background to the project

Augmentative Communication was first introduced in Portugal by Dr. Célia Sousa, a teacher at the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria who started to provide interpretation through pictures for children with special education needs.

The Augmentative Communication Project started from a cooperation between Machado de Castro Portuguese Museum and a specialized school – the PAPFMDC (Portuguese Association of Parents and Friends of the Mentally Disabled Citizen). The project is developed by means of a collaborative work between the two institutions.

This project had prior and subsequent academic research «and it was also disseminated scientifically, although it is not yet in the Good Practice Notebook. Working with audiences, the need to do things and look for tools, led the interviewee, Virginia Gomes, to go on to do a master’s degree on augmentative communication, to improve her own skills. The Master Degree only comes after the need to do it. It was the need that led to academic study».

At the Machado de Castro Portuguese Museum, augmentative communication captions for fifteen works of art will soon be available. The museum is also always open to be contacted from schools who wish to touch upon particular themes, and to prepare ad hoc captions and materials fitting best school curricula.

Additional Information

Support material

The museum has been building guidebooks for exploring the works of art. This work is presented in the shape of ‘a book with several A4 sheets occupied on one side only, having the picture of the work of art and the symbols of the “Invento” program. It is a computer program in which you put a simplified text (you have to pass a simple message, write a simple text) and the program provides pictures. The picture of the work of art is part of the program.

The program gives us 6800 symbols that we can adapt to the concepts.

This software is from WIDGIT. It is used by the European Standards for Information for All, the European Standards for Easy Writing.  It is used for all cases of intellectual incapacity, for multiple disabilities, for low literacies, etc. It is applied in 22 countries. ”

More info

ANACED (NAACDP – WIX –  National Association of Art and Creativity by and for Disabled People) is a national association with international dissemination. It works with people with disabilities, helping them to become known in Europe and to enter into the job market. The Good Practice Notebook of this institution includes the museum’s practices developed between 2012 and 2015. In 2016 it was included in Coimbra’s Directory.

http://anacedarte.wixsite.com/anaced

http://www.museumachadocastro.gov.pt/

Additional Resources

Link that allows us to access the projects developed by the museum under the topic “Inclusion”. http://www.museumachadocastro.gov.pt/pt-PT/projetos%20inclusao/ContentDetail.aspx?id=1042 

Link to “Accessible Guidebooks”. Guidebooks in augmentative communication about works of art and spaces inside the museum. 4 guidebooks with pictographic symbols (for an autonomous visit to the museum, for people with intellectual impairments and low literacy):

http://www.museumachadocastro.gov.pt/pt-PT/projetos%20inclusao/ContentDetail.aspx?id=1528

Link to the guidebook in augmentative communication available for interpreting the painting “The Lady with a Rose” and the sculpture “The Nativity Retable”:

http://www.museumachadocastro.gov.pt/Data/Documents/Gui%C3%A3o%20comunica%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20acess%C3%ADvel%20-%20Senhora%20da%20Rosa%20e%20Ret%C3%A1bulo%20da%20Natividade.pdf

Link to the ANACED’s “Artistic and Cultural Good Practice Notebook” – pages 103, 105 and 118 refer to projects developed by Machado de Castro National Museum:

 https://issuu.com/anaced/docs/3___edi____o_do_manual_de_boas_pr__

 

Written by Elvira Santos (Montemor-o-Velho School Cluster) based on an interview with Virgínia Gomes, Curator of Machado de Castro National Museum, Coimbra, Portugal, on 14th December 2017. The interview was conducted by Elvira Santos and António Joaquim.

The Other, The Different, The Identical

This practice is based on the use of personal journals and reflections as a means of teaching the Second World War to young pupils aged 11-12, linking it with the themes of immigration, prejudice, and labelling behaviour. It starts with a virtual tour of the Anne Frank House, and especially of the Secret Annex in which Anne hid in Amsterdam, and it takes place over a series of lesson that gradually move from the persecution of Jews and the genocide, to the contemporary era. The use of journals provides, in this way, continuity to history, linking past events with present ones.

The Practice

This practice takes place over 12 lessons, moving from the teaching of Anne Frank’s life and the holocaust to contemporary issues such as prejudice and labelling behaviours.

Before diving into the topic, pupils receive (or are invited to buy) a small notebook, which becomes their personal journal. Throughout the practice, students are invited not only to express their own thoughts, feelings, and impressions in the journal, either in written form, or drawing, or with any other creative means.

The lessons do not take place directly one after the other: it might pass some time between one “journaling” and the other.

The practice is divided in two blocks, which include discussions, reflection, creative activities, and group works. It is followed by a final exhibition within the school.

 

The first block consists of 4 lessons and deals with the teaching of Anne Frank’s life story, which is used a case study to teach the Holocaust, as well as with the concept of ‘humanity’.

Lesson 1. The practice begins with a lesson focused on the virtual visit of the Anne Frank House, especially of the 3D reconstruction of the Secret Annex. After this tour, students are encouraged for the first time to use the journal to express their emotions and thoughts in relation to the life of Anne Frank. The aim of this lesson is to help students get a general understanding of the life of Anne Frank and of the main reasons why she was forced to spend two years in the secret annex.

Lesson 2. Then, a frontal lesson on Anne Frank’s life and on the holocaust is done, during which students who would like to are invited to share with the class parts of their journal. It is important not to force any student to share the content of the journal, this must happen on a voluntary basis. During this lesson, students are invited to reflect, out loud or on their journals, on the following questions: “what does it mean to hide?”, “How difficult can it be?”, “How long can you hide for?”.

Lesson 3. Finally, students reflect on the sensations that Anne Frank and all the people who shared her fate might have proved. They are invited to reflect on what does it mean to be angry, sad, and lonely. At the end of the lesson, students receive an envelope, a printed copy of Anne Frank’s signature, a yellow star, a copy of one of the letters, and a small piece of metal chain, to prompt thoughts about what it means to be arrested and lose one’s freedom. They are invited to attach them to their journal, and to write/draw/express their thoughts in relation to such items.

Lesson 4. The last lesson of this first block is focused on the concept of humanity. Students are encouraged to share their thoughts about Anne Frank’s life, and to reflect on what they believe means to be “human”, what is their definition of the concept of humanity. They are encouraged to think that they need to send a time capsule in space, filled with objects and with a message to show to aliens and to humans in the future what determines today’s “humanity”. Divided in small groups, they discuss the questions “who am I” and “who are we”, and in this way develop an understanding of the fact that humanity is composed of different human beings, and it is rich and diverse. At the end of the lesson, they are asked to reflect on what they understood about humanity during the day, and to express their reflections in the journal.

 

The second block is focused on contemporary issues. It is composed of 7 lessons, which deals with attitudes toward people with disabilities, people with different ethnicity, people with a different religion, people from the poorest parts of society, and foreigners, immigrants and refugees. The last two lessons deal with prejudice and stereotypes, and hate speech.

Lesson 5. The first lesson of the second block focused on people with disabilities. Students are asked to participate in simple games, in which they have the possibility to experience life as people with disabilities: they have to recognize object blindfolded, to paint a picture using their mouth to use the brush, etc. Afterwards, they are encouraged to discuss and reflect on how they felt when they were not able to do things as they were used to. Such reflection is not only carried out with the classroom, but also by students in their journals.

Lesson 6. Then, the classroom focuses on the ethnic groups living in the country. Divided in small groups, students prepare a short presentation on one of the many ethnic group present in their country (in the case of Bulgaria, such minorities are Roma, Jews, Russians, Armenians, Gagauz, Pomaks). Then, the class reflects on how such ethnic groups are depicted in everyday life. This reflection is carried out both out loud and on the journal. This is especially important for students who come from such groups, or for all student who might not feel comfortable in expressing their thoughts on a delicate topic like this.

At the end of this lesson, students can share special desserts from the ethnic group they studied (such as: Russian candy, sweet Armenian, Jewish unleavened bread, cakes recipe of Pomaks, etc.). As desserts need to be pre-cooked, this is possible only if the preparation of the group presentation is carried out as homework.

Lesson 7. The seventh lesson of the practice explores religious minorities and their symbols. It is carried out with the same design of the previous one: students in small group present a minority, and then reflect on how such minority is depicted in everyday life.

Lesson 8. Then, the focus moves on what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor, and on considering what real poverty means and looks like. This is carried out using a world map where areas are coloured differently according to their wealth. Every student is given one of such maps, which can be attached to the journal.

Lesson 9. In this lesson, focusing on foreigners, immigrants, and refugees, students receive a short story written in a foreign language. They have to try and read it out loud, as well as to recognize the language. Then, they have to reflect and discuss on the questions:
“what does it mean to be a stranger in a foreign land?” and “what does it mean to find yourself in an unfamiliar culture, among people who speak a different language, dress differently, eat different food…?”. They are also encouraged to use their journal to reflect on how would they feel if they were going through the same experience.

Lesson 10. The tenth lesson brings together all the lessons of the second block, and links them with Anne Frank’s life. It is focused on prejudices and labelling behaviours, and it  starts with a brainstorming and discussion about words used to label others. The teacher asks students which words they use might be labelling, and writes them down on the blackboard. Then, the teachers asks which words they have heard or they know about might be labelling, and writes also those on the blackboard.

All the words are, then, categorised in “unfair”, “untrue” and “hurtful”. The categorisation is followed by a discussion. To guide the discussion, the teacher asks pupils: (1) if think that words are powerful, and why; (2) how to effectively overcome prejudices; and (3) what is the value that each one can bring to society.

After this discussion, pupils are encouraged again to use the journal and express their thoughts and emotions.

Lesson 11. Finally, a last lesson focusing on hate speech is carried out. This lessons deals with words that hurt and insult, and starts from the categorisation produced at the end of Lesson 10. It tackles, specifically, cyber bullying. To encourage students to think at the words, they use, each of them is invited to describe the others with just one, positive, word or sentence, which will then be shared out loud with the rest of the classroom. This helps not only creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom, but teaches also students that their words have an impact. As with all the other lessons, students are encouraged to write their emotions and thoughts in their journal.

After lesson 11, students journals will be filled with thoughts and emotions relating, showing their very own growth path, which led them from the understanding of the life of Anne Frank, victim of hate speech, labelling behaviours and prejudices more than half a century ago, to the development of a new awareness of the importance of words and of avoiding labelling behaviours and unfair, untrue, and hurtful terms.

Lesson 12. This understanding is, finally, shared by the classroom with the rest of the school by means of an exhibition. Flipcharts are made, showing the experiences, information and emotions gathered thanks to this growth path, and are placed in the school corridors.

Obstacles and lessons learned

Successful implementation of this type of lessons depends on the pre-training, which requires time, enthusiasm and dedication. Building a culture of acceptance tolerance, critical thinking, and self-examination requires perseverance and pursuit of pedagogical goals. In this sense, the only obstacle that a teacher could encounter is a lack of time for the development and implementation of all the lessons outlined above. For this reason, Teodora carried out the practice only with ‘her’ class, a class with which she has extra hours every week. Another possible solution is to carry out such lessons spreading them throughout the school year, or in partnership with other subject teachers, such as, perhaps, grammar and language teachers.

The effect of the practice

The use of the journal was welcomed by students, which accepted it as a challenge to be taken. Most of them kept using the journal also after the end of the project, collecting in it memories and thought about various classes. The use of the journal helped them to create an emotional connection with the topics, determining a big impact on pupils attitudes. Most of the pupils in Teodora’s class, in fact, developed a positive attitude toward diversity, stopped using labelling terms, and started to promote respect, tolerance, and the importance to get to know each other as an important pillar of social life.

Moreover, the series of lessons helped expand students’ worldview. Teodora received good feedback from parents, who shared that their children told them what we were doing in the hours that it was very interesting, different and exciting.

Teodora was also invited to the Ministry of Education in Bulgaria to share with her colleagues her work on these lessons and the results.

 

About the interviewee

Teodora Nikolova is senior teacher at the primary public school 33 OU “Sanct Peterburg” in Sofia. She teaches to students aged 11 to 14.

Background to the project

In the past couple of years, the topics of social justice, acceptance, and inclusion have become more and more important in Bulgarian society. In a society where refugees are viewed as a “them” sharply separated from the “us”, this practice allows to connect recent events with important historical moments in the XX century, enabling pupils to understand the context in which they live and to make informed choices in future.

In Bulgarian schools, history curricula do not envision enough time to deal with holocaust and contemporary issues. Each teacher, however, has one class that is “his/her class”, with which they have an extra hour per week. It is with this class that Teodora implements the practice.

Teodora developed and implemented her idea for the series of lessons presented in this post after a seminar dealing with the Holocaust and our attitude to the history of the 20th century.

Additional Information

Some of the lessons and of the materials were video recorded by Teodora, which posted on Facebook the results.

www.facebook.com/teodora.nikolova.524/videos/10208603271624610/UzpfSTEzOTQxMTQxNDc6MTAyMTExNzQ0MzA5ODE5ODc/

www.facebook.com/teodora.nikolova.524/videos/10208820565096811/UzpfSTEzOTQxMTQxNDc6MTAyMTE0NzMxNTgwMDk5NzY/

 

Written by Teodora Nikolova, 33 OU “Sanct Peterburg” in Sofia, Bulgaria on 20 .07.2018.

Silent Learning: the use of Quizzes to motivate and assess participation and learning in the classroom

In order to challenge students and to assess how well they have internalised the learning material, Ofelia Asatryan makes large use of quizzes. Such quizzes are of a peculiar typology: students do not receive each one his/her own paper with the quiz written: it is the teacher who reads out loud the questions, and students answer in a participatory manner. In this way, quizzes are designed and carried out in a manner that promotes equal opportunities for students with special education needs (SEN) to participate and learn. In particular, Ofelia applied this practice in a classroom with a student with hard-of-hearing, registering extremely positive results.

The Practice

This practice is characterized by a clear step-by-step approach.

  1. before the day of the quiz: Students are made aware that the quiz will be comprised of multiple-choice questions based on their learning material, and they are assigned as homework to go through the material in the days preceding the quiz (do home-reading, writing, etc).
  2. on the day of the quiz: students are provided with cards carrying the letters “A”, “B”, “C”, etc. (one card per option of the multiple choices). The quiz is carried out one question per time: the teacher reads out the question loudly and clearly and the students raise the card which has the right answer option’s letter. While other students hear the question read out, the student with hard-of-hearing gets the sense of the question by reading it from the teacher’s lips.
  3. After raising the cards, the teacher quickly scans the answers. If there are wrong answers, she provides the students with supplementary information on the question, without mentioning whose answer was wrong. Afterwards she repeats the question once more and scans the answers again. If all the students have answered right, the teacher goes on, if there are students who answered wrong again, the teacher writes the names of these students in her notebook. Then she reads the next question. For the students answering wrong twice, the teacher organizes extra lessons. In case of stable and long lasting difficulties, Ofelia asks the school special pedagogue for help.

Obstacles and lessons learned

Lip reading can be an obstacle, since it is not well developed in all the children, and besides, not all the teachers, taking this into consideration, apply expressive lipstick or speak expressively.

In addition to this, lip reading can sometimes be very difficult for the hard-of-hearing student, and as a result some questions may be attained incorrectly. Taking this into account, Ofelia now prepares slides for each question, in order to ensure the full comprehension of the hard-of-hearing student. When reading the question, the corresponding slide is shown on the screen.

This type of questioning requires the teacher to be very quick and attentive (read the question, scan the answers on time, remember those answering wrong, mention the names of those answering wrong for the second time, not to let the students help each other), thus the application of modern computer technologies (e.g. apps or tablets with the use of quiz softwares) would be preferable for choosing the answers.

The next obstacle typical for this technique is that active and talkative students have to be silent, which sometimes makes them nervous, so after the assignment they may be hyperactive.

This approach may be applied productively in the classes having teacher assistant. Ofelia often asks her students to help her, including the hard-of-hearing one. For example, they may be asked to write down the names of their classmates answering wrong.

The effect of the practice

Usually, teachers working with inclusive classes are challenged with the requirement of assessing students’ achievements, including those of students with special education needs (SEN). In such situation, the use of quiz can be a help as it allows the teacher to clearly see how well the (SEN) student has mastered the given material.

This approach provides the students’ participation not only as ones being questioned, but also as a teacher’s assistant. The role of the teacher’s assistant is particularly productive in case of students who are active, dynamic, have difficulty in focusing attention, as well as in case of hard-of-hearing students. The students who have strong abilities in attaining the material, will gain from the role of a teacher’s assistant as well, since in case of wrong answers the repetitions and additional support can be boring for them. When they have the role of the teacher’s assistant and have to accomplish additional activities, they remain active and included in the lesson process.

 

About the interviewee

Ofelia Asatryan is a secondary school History and Citizenship teacher at a public school in Yerevan, Armenia. She has 10 years of practice in working in inclusive school.

Background to the project

Inclusive education has been introduced to Armenian public education system since early 2000s, while it was mainstreamed into the Law on Public Education in 2014 requiring all public schools in Armenia to turn into inclusive schools.

Five students with hard-of-hearing attend Ofelya’s school. From that point of view the school is unique, because in Armenia students with hearing disabilities usually attend  special schools. Two years ago a student with hard-of-hearing came to Ofelia’s class. Now she is in 8th grade. She does not speak, instead she has a well-developed lip-reading skill that helps her understand what others talk. To meet her needs, Ofelia has tried several techniques to make her History learning more meaningful.

 

Written by Armenuhi Avagyan (Armenian State Pedagogical University after Kh. Abovyan) based on an interview with Ofelia Asatryan in Yerevan, Armenia on 11.05.2017.

Silent Learning: the use of small-group learning and sharing to ensure full participation in the classroom

A History teacher in an inclusive secondary school based in Yerevan was challenged when a student with hard-of-hearing joined her class. As the student’s hearing and speech disabilities were compensated by well-developed abilities, the teacher could pivot on such talents to ensure History classes were meaningful and accessible for all the students. One of the most effective methods, in this sense, was the creation of small groups for the teaching of specific topics, and the sharing of group work within the classroom.

The Practice

With a new student in the classroom who has a hearing disability, the first challenge a teacher meets is to develop a strategy to ensure that everyone is fully participating and learning. To do so, Ofelia Asatryan applied the strategy of “small-group learning”, a format where each student in the group has his/her part of learning and sharing.

Prior to the group work Ofelia gives students individual assignments to prepare the class. Next day, to follow up with the assignment, Ofelia divides the class into small groups. Students are grouped to ensure that all parts of the assignment are covered and a meaningful learning and sharing process is taking place among the group members.    She usually assigns roles to group members such as a leader, host, drawer, etc. The roles should be assigned keeping in mind pupils’ strenght. For this specific class, for example, the drawer’s role in the groups is usually in place by taking into consideration that drawing is the strong skill of the SEN student. This is also a tactics that proved to be effective in ensuring Ofelia’s hard-of-hearing student maximum participation in the learning activities.   A practical example for this was a History class on Ancient Egypt. Members in the groups had to share with peers the parts they had been assigned with while the ones with the role of the drawer were to outline the map of Egypt with the major historical landmarks. The idea worked really well as the SEN student as a drawer in a group not just fulfilled her task but did more by highlighting the Nile on the map in addition to the historical landmarks.

Obstacles and lessons learned

The main obstacle in dealing with SEN students is the lack of methodological support for teachers. They lack training for competences and  approaches to  work with SEN students, and very often have to learn on their own experience and mistakes. Since not all the teachers take initiatives and risks, Ofelia’s experience is valuable in this regard.

Ofelia faced this herself as in the early days of having the student with hard-of-hearing in her classroom, she would tend to task her with assignments much simpler the SEN student would be able to accomplish of. Another obstacle faced by teachers of SEN students is the tendency to focus on students’ weaknesses, rather than their strengths. Both of these can be easily overcome by collecting more information about SEN students before their actual arrival in the classroom. In this case, for example, the SEN student came to Ofelia’s school from a specialized art school. The evaluation form Ofelia received from the previous school mentioned that the student had well-developed drawing skills. This information was crucial for the teacher in choosing her tactics especially for group- by focusing on the strong points of the child.

For this specific practice and example, a great obstacle/shortcoming was that the student with Special Education Needs was always assigned the same role (in this case the role of the drawer) while other students can shift from one role to the other. Nevertheless, with the help of this approach the hard-of-hearing student feels herself fully included and satisfied.

The effect of the practice

The practice of small groups learning and sharing provides not only opportunities for students’ meaningful and accessible learning and participation but, above all, has a strong effect on the integration of SEN students within the classroom. In this particular case, the talent of the student with hard-of -hearing was highly estimated by her fellow-students having  a very positive effect on her integration and relationship peers in the class.

 

About the interviewee

Ofelia Asatryan is a secondary school History and Citizenship teacher at a public school in Yerevan, Armenia. She has 10 years of practice in working in inclusive school.

Background to the project

Inclusive education has been introduced to Armenian public education system since early 2000s, while it was mainstreamed into the Law on Public Education in 2014 requiring all public schools in Armenia to turn into inclusive schools.

Five students with hard-of-hearing attend Ofelya’s school. From that point of view the school is unique, because in Armenia students with hearing disabilities usually attend  special schools. Two years ago a student with hard-of-hearing came to Ofelia’s class. Now she is in 8th grade. She does not speak, instead she has a well-developed lip-reading skill that helps her understand what others talk. To meet her needs, Ofelia has tried several techniques to make her History learning more meaningful.

Additional Information

This technique can be applied when teaching topics connected with mapping, symbols, artifacts, characters, historical events. The application is also useful when the students are assigned to represent a historical era, region, the life and livelihood of people, by introducing their imaginations and interpretations.

 

Written by Armenuhi Avagyan (Armenian State Pedagogical University after Kh. Abovyan) based on an interview with Ofelia Asatryan in Yerevan, Armenia on 11.05.2017.

Imagining a past that is no longer there: the use of interactive timelines

Sometimes, students are inclined to learn by heart dates and events, without inserting them in the wider historical picture and, thus, failing to understand the interrelations between past events. In order to support pupils’ orientation with time and to increase their awareness of the relations between present, past, and future, Patrizia Seidl promotes, in her classroom, the use of an interactive timeline, result of students’ researches and filled with visual category-based support that they can refer to throughout the school year.

The Practice

The practice can be implemented with pupils aged 11-19, increasing the level of detail of the visual research carried out by students according to the school year. It combines the idea of using a “classical timeline”, which is often used in History lessons and textbooks, with (a) students’ own historical knowledge and questions, and (b) the provision of visual category-based support throughout the school year.

It can be easily implemented in few steps.

Before the beginning of the lesson, the teacher should provide a double arrow for class display, on which the different historical epochs are marked with different colour.

Such epochs should be the ones provided in the textbook and, in the case of Patrizia’s classroom, were Pre- and Early History, Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Modern Era/History, and Contemporary History.

Finally, on the right-hand side of the arrow, the teacher should write the current year and attach a class picture, making sure that some centimetres of space are left, representing “the future”.

This will help students in their orientation in time, in that they can literally see where and when they are, and that there has been a time “before” and there will be a time “after” that moment.

In addition to this preparation, the teacher should also select some categories to be use for the provision of visual support, such as clothing of the time, typical buildings, famous people, household items, etc.

In the classroom, the timeline should be put on display in a reachable position, and, at the very beginning of its usage, it should appear empty, featuring only the classroom picture and the beginning and end dates of each epoch.

In the classroom, students are presented with the timeline. They are asked to write down, on flashcards or on post its, any historical event they already know (and its date(s), if they know). Each student has to write at least one, but the number of cards for each student can vary according to the dimension of the class and to the teacher’s needs.

In a plenary session, each student presents one event, and all together the classroom discusses where it could be put onto the timeline. After an agreement has been reached, the flashcard/post it is fixed on the timeline.

Then, students are divided in small groups (2-3 students per group) and are asked to pick out an event and to try and find out all they can about one of the categories the teacher has selected. For example, a group might research on typical clothing at the time of the French revolution.

During the following lesson, each team presents their findings and fixes their visuals, together with a short description, on the timeline.

Obstacles and lessons learned

An obstacle that the teacher might encounter in the implementation of this practice is the selection of the categories for research. First of all, the teacher should be careful not to identify too many categories for the category-based visual research. This is particularly important, because a too-broad choice would ‘paralize’ the teams at the selection moment. At the same time, proposing only one category would force the students into the selection, sometimes also preventing students from researching in something that interests them. It is, therefore, advised to identify 3 or 4 categories, and to maintain them constant throughout the school year (in case the teacher decides to implement the practice in more sessions, more information on how to do so are available in the section “additional information”).

In addition, as mentioned above, the practice is suitable for students aged 11 to 19. This means that, when it is the moment to carry out visual-based research, younger students might need some guidelines and assistance in the sketching out of the research.

The effect of the practice

The timeline makes the abstract concepts of time and change visible and, therefore, more comprehensible for students. As a result of the implementation of the practice, and of the presence of the timeline in the classroom throughout the school year, students: are made more aware of the interrelations between past, present, and future; are supported within their own orientation within time; are helped in understanding the difference between visual sources; and improve their research and presentation skills.

 

About the interviewee

Patrizia Seidl works for an inclusive school in Germany which has many students from a various different migration backgrounds, as well as students with special needs in learning and behavioural problems.

Within the project Strategies for Inclusion, she has been a Special Interest Group Member for the group “Motivation and Learner Variability”.

Background to the project

Along with Hamburg University and the Council for Teacher Training in Hamburg, Patrizia wanted to broaden the horizon for inclusive education. They found that there is a lack of good practices which discuss most recent historical events.

Patrizia developed this approach in the context of wider research being conducted by Hamburg University on the development of Complex Learning Tasks and Scaffolding in order to professionalise teachers for working inclusively. The use of interactive timelines is just one of many scaffolding techniques that Patrizia uses with her pupils, together with, for example, the use of cards or of HistVlogs, both presented in this collection of practices.

Additional Information

The timeline can be used a single time, as in the practice presented above, or over a whole school year. To do so, the teacher should ask pupils to add now category-based items to the timeline for each topic/time period/event. A suggestion, in this case, is to change weekly or monthly the team responsible for this task.

In addition, it can be also used to integration worksheets distributed to the classroom, or even tests. In this case, it would be enough to take pictures of the visuals and copy them as small symbols into one corner of the worksheet or of the test.

 

Written by Alice Modena (EuroClio) on the basis of input provided by Patrizia Seidl in the framework of the project Strategies for Inclusion on 27 July 2018.

HistVlogs: taking information at face value vs. perspective taking

In approaching historical events, students might encounter difficulties in understanding the fact that history is, sometimes, constructed, due to different cultural, personal, and time-related perspectives shaping historical narrations. This does often result in accepting single stories with respect to historical events, failing to recognise that different historical perspectives are constantly shaping history.

The Practice

The practice can be implemented with pupils aged 15-18, and it can be applied to various historical contents/topics. It is, however, advisable to apply it to contested topics or events. In her classroom, Patrizia discussed the First World War.

It is a practice that covers more than one “classic” (45 minutes) lesson, needing between 90 and 120 minutes.

At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher should clarify for all students what a Vlog is, possibly with the use of an example. Teachers should explain that a Vlog is a video blog: the video documentation on the web of a person’s life, thoughts, opinions, and interests. As this format is often used on YouTube and other video platforms, teachers could ask their students if they know any Vlog before showing them a Vlog they selected.

Then, the class is divided in groups, depending on the size of the class. In this phase, it is important that the groups are balanced, ideally containing the same amount of students each.

The classroom should be divided in at least one group of vlog hosts, and one for each different historical perspective. In her classroom, Patrizia created four groups, one of Vlog Hosts, one of those in favour of the War, one of those against, and one representing today’s perspective.

Then, the sources are distributed to the groups. Each group receives the source representing the perspective they are representing, with the exception of the group of vlog hosts, which receives all materials.

Each group is asked to work with its materials. In particular, the group of hosts will need to (1) prepare short descriptions for each group, and (2) prepare one relevant question that all other groups will have to answer to. The perspective groups, on the other hand, will need to (1) prepare a description of their position and (2) to discuss and answer the question proposed by the host group.

Once all groups feel sufficiently prepared, they mix up, so that now there are one host and one representative of each perspective in each group. With the use of either a camera or of one of their cell phones, each of the new groups video tapes their Vlog.

After all Vlogs are recorded, students come back in a plenary, and watch the Vlogs produced. Students are then asked to present some of the feedback for the Vlogs watched in plenary.

At the end of the practice, the teacher summarizes the results and highlights the (a) constructive character of history and (b) multiperspectivity of historical narrations. Then, students are asked to stand up and shake out their bodies, to symbolically “get out of their roles”.

Obstacles and lessons learned

When dividing the groups, teachers should bear in mind that groups should not be too big, otherwise some of the members are not enough engaged and prepared for the Vlog videotaping. Therefore, it is advisable to have groups of 4-5 students. If needed, having two groups of hosts, two groups for perspective A, etc., is preferable to having bigger groups. In addition to this, teachers should take into consideration students’ particular skills and abilities when dividing the groups: being an host, for example, requires to keep the discussion lively, and therefore it could be fit for extrovert students, or for introvert students who wish to ‘loosen up’.

Furthermore, the source material provided to groups must be of a high quality, and highly controversial. The specific perspective should be highly evident throughout the sources, so that students are able to build their arguments in an effective manner. In the case of Patrizia, she used a speech from Winston Churchill in favour of the war, a poem from Edward Thomas against the war, and an extract from an history textbook to represent today’s perspective on the war.

The effect of the practice

The use of History Vlogs helps in promoting students’ discussion and debating skills, together with their ability to work collaboratively. In addition, in contributes to the formation of pupils who are (1) aware of the construction character of history due to different cultural, personal, and time-related perspectives shaping historical narrations and (2) reluctant in accepting history as face value. They, on the contrary, would become curious and interested in the variety of perspectives which surround a common historical event.

 

About the interviewee

Patrizia Seidl works for an inclusive school in Germany which has many students from a various different migration backgrounds, as well as students with special needs in learning and behavioural problems.

Within the project Strategies for Inclusion, she has been a Special Interest Group Member for the group “Motivation and Learner Variability”.

Background to the project

Along with Hamburg University and the Council for Teacher Training in Hamburg, Patrizia wanted to broaden the horizon for inclusive education. They found that there is a lack of good practices which discuss most recent historical events.

Patrizia developed this approach in the context of wider research being conducted by Hamburg University on the development of Complex Learning Tasks and Scaffolding in order to professionalise teachers for working inclusively. The use of interactive timelines is just one of many scaffolding techniques that Patrizia uses with her pupils, together with, for example, the use of cards or of interactive timelines, both presented in this collection of practices.

An additional step

At the end of the practice, students can be asked to write down their own opinion, based upon their newly acquired knowledge, on the topic and content discussed in the Vlogs. In the case of Patrizia’s classroom, they have been asked: “based on what you’ve learnt during the lesson, comment on the situation at the beginning of World War I in Europe”.

 

Written by Alice Modena (EuroClio) on the basis of input provided by Patrizia Seidl in the framework of the project Strategies for Inclusion on 27 July 2018.

Using Cards to Understand History

In this practice, Patrizia Seidl presents the use of cards that act as tools in scaffolding to allow students access to the amount of support they feel they need in discussions of historical phenomena. Those more familiar with a topic or with higher cognitive ability have access to cards with more complex information, while those who struggle with grasping the same information can use more simplistic cards.

The Practice

This practice is suitable for students aged 12-18 with diverse learning needs. It is a practice composed of a variety of steps, and as such it might take more than one standard (45 minutes) lesson.

The first step of the practice is for the teacher to create complex historical learning tasks. Usually, such task is to make a narration of a certain big historical topic (example: ‘International protests and demonstrations’). As a part of this first step, the teacher creates cards where there is a picture on 1 side and text on the other side. For each image, the text I divided in two parts. There is a simple information (a name, a date, or a place), and there is a longer (usually one sentence) text. In this way, students with diverse learning needs are helped by the same card in the tackling the task. In the case of our example about protests in 20th/21st century, one side might contain the image of a protest banner, and the other the name of a “famous protester” and a short biography. This first preparation step, usually, takes place before the beginning of the lesson.

The second step of the practice involves directly the students: students, divided in groups of maximum 5, receive a paper with one question per side, reflecting the task. In the case of our example, they might receive the task to establish whether the protest is finished or still ongoing, and whether the problem is necessary/good or if it is dangerous/not necessary. They are asked to work in groups and try to answer the question. At this point, the teacher takes the cards deck and puts it visible, in a part of the classroom, inviting groups or students that might need help in tackling the task to go and pick as many as they like.

The third step consists in discussing group narrations with the whole class. It is a highly important step, because it fosters critical thinking and ability to discuss within the classroom.

As a final step, students write their own cards, basing on the results of their narrations and on “follow-up questions” discussed within groups. Following the example, the question should be; “What is currently an issue and what could lead to a protest in the future?”. From Patrizia’s experience found that “German” students wrote about Trump and fears relevant to Western civilization whereas students with a Turkish background wrote about protests for and against Erdogan.

Obstacles and lessons learned

During initial trials of the practice, Patrizia used only difficult cards with long portions of text on one side. As some students were struggling with this, she decided to create an easier option, and developed the cards with alternative options, which are the ones that she uses now.

As it is the case with all scaffolding methods, Patrizia also discovered that students need to be trained on how to use cards. They, for example, might not feel comfortable in getting up and going to the teachers’ desk to pick up cards. For this reason, Patrizia usually explains students how scaffolding cards work at the beginning of the school year. Another method that she uses to encourage students to take the supporting cards if they feel they need them is to put the deck at the bottom of the class, or on one side. In this way, students do not feel afraid or judged if they stand up. Also working in groups help, because students taking the cards are “doing it for the group”, and not for themselves.

Another challenge Patrizia faced in the implementation of the practice was the fact that some students had controversial opinions about certain events. For example, one of her students (from an Arabic migration background) found that the April boycotts against Jewish were not dangerous and quite good. When faced with different opinions the teacher must be confident to deal with them, explaining to the students why the reasoning is flawed, and teaching about the values and human rights that some opinions might be clashing with.

The effect of the practice

This practice has two effect, a short and a long term one. On the short term, students face tasks and challenges with a positive attitude, knowing that if they need support they can look for it in the scaffolding cards. On the long run, students learn how to structure their study and approach to tasks, and they start needing less and less cards to do so.

 

About the interviewee

Patrizia Seidl works for an inclusive school in Germany which has many students from a various different migration backgrounds, as well as students with special needs in learning and behavioural problems.

Within the project Strategies for Inclusion, she has been a Special Interest Group Member for the group “Motivation and Learner Variability”.

Background to the project

Along with Hamburg University and the Council for Teacher Training in Hamburg, Patrizia wanted to broaden the horizon for inclusive education. They found that there is a lack of good practices which discuss most recent historical events.

Patrizia developed this approach in the context of wider research being conducted by Hamburg University on the development of Complex Learning Tasks and Scaffolding in order to professionalise teachers for working inclusively. The use of cards is just one of many scaffolding techniques that Patrizia uses with her pupils, together with, for example, the use of interactive timelines or of HistVlogs, both presented in this collection of practices.

Additional Information

Scaffolding Cards are created using coloured paper and plastic foil, so that they can be re-used in more lessons.

 

Written by Alice Modena (EuroClio) on the basis of input provided by Patrizia Seidl in the framework of the project Strategies for Inclusion on 27 July 2018.

The use of matching exercises to assess the internalisation of notions

Sometimes, teachers might encounter difficulties in assessing the extent to which their students have internalised a topic or a specific concept. Pupils, in fact, might find “classic” assessment to be not stimulating enough, and therefore perform in a way that induces the teacher to believe their understanding of a topic is low, even if they did correctly internalised the notion. With the use  of a simple matching exercise, Ofelia Asatryan has been able to make the end-of-topic assessment engaging for her pupils, including at the same time a technique which allows her not to differentiate between her students with hard-of-hearing and the other pupils.

The Practice

The practice is suitable for pupils at their fifth grade (i.e. aged 10-11 years old).

Pre-class preparation.
Before starting the lesson, the teachers should prepare two PowerPoint presentations, summarizing the topic that they aim at testing. Both presentations should contain around 15 slides. The first presentation should contain, in each slide, an image referring to an historical event, people, symbol or concept relating to the topic under assessment, together with a short description of it and its relevance. The second presentation should present the same images, with no description.

In addition to this, the teacher should also print the descriptions on plain paper, one copy of each description for each pupil, and print one copy for each image, in A4 and color.

In class.

The “assessment lesson” begins with a summary of the topic. To provide this summary, the teacher should use the first power point (the one with images and descriptions), slowly touching upon the most relevant aspects of the topic.

Then, each student is provided with all the descriptions, and the teacher tells them to prepare for the “assessment”. The printed images are taped to the blackboard, in a way that leaves some free spaces underneath them.

The second power point is shown. For each image, the teacher asks one of the pupils to say which one is the correct description. If the description is correct, the student should go and stick it to the blackboard under the image. If it is not correct, the teacher should ask to another pupil which description he\she thinks is correct. This procedure is repeated until the correct description is found for each image.

Obstacles and lessons learned

Since students answer in front of their classmates, the teacher’s reaction to a wrong answer is extremely significant. It is important not to severely criticize the student’s mistake. Therefore, the teacher may ask to the classroom “who can provide us with an alternative answer to this question?”, without directly telling to the pupil “your answer is wrong”.

In addition to this, answering in front of the rest of the classroom carries with it also another obstacle: when the first student is answering, the right or wrong answer of a question is not known. This means that the question becomes easier and easier with the increasing of wrong answers: pupils who have not yet been “interviewed” can eliminate answers already given. At the same time, the assignment requires a skill to focus attention and remember the previous answers, otherwise the student may present the wrong answer once more. Taking into account this issue, the teacher should change the answering order every question.

Furthermore, if the school does not have enough resources, it might be necessary to print the pictures in black and white. This might result in a less motivating activity for pupils. In this case, it might be better not to print the images at all, and to carry out the exercise just with the use of the power point presentation.

The effect of the practice

This approach is really effective in engaging pupils while assessing their understanding of a topic. Thanks to the activeness of the students and their participation, it promotes their interest in the exercise. As a result, they are more attentive, and for a longer period of time. At the same time, it requires pupils to pay attention not only to the questions, but also to each other’s answer, training in this way also their memory.

 

About the interviewee

Ofelia Asatryan is a secondary school History and Citizenship teacher at a public school in Yerevan, Armenia. She has 10 years of practice in working in inclusive school.

Background to the project

Inclusive education has been introduced to Armenian public education system since early 2000s, while it was mainstreamed into the Law on Public Education in 2014 requiring all public schools in Armenia to turn into inclusive schools.

Five students with hard-of-hearing attend Ofelya’s school. From that point of view the school is unique, because in Armenia students with hearing disabilities usually attend  special schools. Two years ago a student with hard-of-hearing came to Ofelia’s class. Now she is in 8th grade. She does not speak, instead she has a well-developed lip-reading skill that helps her understand what others talk. To meet her needs, Ofelia has tried several techniques to make her History learning more meaningful.

Additional Information

The same exercise can be carried out also by sticking pictures and descriptions to the board in a random order and asking the students, one by one, to go to the blackboard and connect the appropriate picture with the description.

In addition, it is also possible to provide pupils with the images and ask them to connect them to the right description, projected with a Power Point. This might be indicated when it comes to complex concepts.

In case of classes with a high amount of pupils, it is also possible to apply the exercise in groups: each group receives a description and has to choose collaboratively the correct answer.

 

Written by Armenuhi Avagyan (CIVITAS – Armenia) based on an interview with Ofelia Asatryan (John Kirakosyan Yerevan school # 20).

The use of life stories to enhance students’ understanding of the connection between past and present

Often, students encounter difficulties in realising that historical developments, discoveries and achievements, such as scientific discoveries, are carried out by individuals who come from a troubled background, who encountered challenges in their life they had to overcome. Such challenges are, in fact, overlooked, preferring to focus on the impact the development, discovery, or achievement had on history and society. With this practice, students are faced with the life stories of important historical individuals, and invited to reflect on the challenges they faced. Ultimately, they are invited to compare and contrast not only different life stories, but also challenges of the past with challenges of today, developing in this way they critical thinking abilities, as well as tackling an important barrier to quality history and citizenship education: students’ difficulty in seeing the connection between past and present.

The Practice

This practice is suitable for the duration of one lesson, and can be applied to classrooms with students aged 14 or older. It requires, however, some preparations on the part of the teacher.

Before entering in the classroom, in fact, the teacher should individuate some historical figures that are suitable for tackling the selected topic. Such figures should have the following features:

  • Either them or their discoveries, role in historical developments, or achievements should be known to the students;
  • Their life story should feature some challenges, such as the fact that they had to face racism, or gender-based discrimination, etc.

The fact that the figures come from the same time period or that they had to face the same challenges is not relevant for the implementation of the practice. What is important, however, is that the challenges that they had to face are still relevant nowadays, and that pupils can somehow relate or understand their stories.

In the case of Milos Vukanovic’s practice, such figures were five scientists: Alan Touring, Albert Einstein, Charles Drew, Nikola Tesla, and Rosalind Franklin.

Once selected the figures, the teacher should summarise their story in one or two A4 pages, mentioning throughout the life story the challenges that they had to face and how they could overcome such challenges. In our example, the life story of Albert Einstein would say that “the Einstein family were non-observant Jews”, that “in 1933 he left Europe for California in the USA”, and that “his significant knowledge in maths and

physics was noted. He was therefore sent to Aarau”.

 

Once these preparations are finished, the lesson can actually begin. The lesson is divided in four parts:

  1. Students are asked to brainstorm about the topic selected by the teacher. This brainstorming is guided by the teacher by means of few questions, such as “can you think of any important historical figures related to this topic?”, or “what do you think is the impact that this topic has had on your life?”. In this phase, it is also advisable to ask pupils about scientists and historical figures from their own country or region.This brainstorm helps students fix the knowledge they already have about the topic, and create their own expectations on what they are going to learn from the lesson.
  2. Students are divided in as many groups as the life stories created by teachers. It is advisable to have at least 4 groups, so that all students can participate. Each group receives a life story, and is asked to investigate the following questions:
    how does the work of your specific historical figure impact your life?
    what couldn’t you do if it weren’t for them?
    how did their work impact their own life?
  3. Students, still within their groups, discuss the life story of their historical figure. This time, they tackle the following questions:
    what in the life of your historical figure helped them to do their work and/or prevented them from doing their work?
    b. how did society and/or individuals impact their work?Once they have discussed the questions, they are asked to present their findings to the rest of the classroom. They can choose the presentation method they prefer, however it is advisable to provide them with flipcharts and markers, so that they can develop a physical support for their presentation.
  4. Finally, the classroom is brought back together to reflect on the challenges historical figures faced in carrying out their work. Students are asked to discuss the following question: “looking at all the challenges your historical figures had to face, and the solutions that they found, can you identify any similarities or differences?”. To help students with this discussion, the teacher could prepare a list of features that might cause challenges, and write it on the board. In the case of Milos’ implementation of the practice, the features were: personality, religion, society, gender, living conditions, historical period, country where they grew up.One the challenges, similarities, and differences are discussed, the teacher asks the final question: do you think the features that determine challenges are still relevant today? Could you provide some examples?

Students could be asked to answer this question either in the classroom or as homework. In the second case, it is important, however, that the answer is discussed within the classroom on the following lesson, to fix the notions acquired.

Obstacles and lessons learned

Throughout the activity, pupils with a higher scientific knowledge, or more familiar to the history of scientific progress, will be trying to show their knowledge to the rest of the class. It is important that such pupils are allowed to do so, but not to take over the discussion: the teacher must ensure that all pupils have the opportunity to intervene and have a saying.

A second obstacle that teachers might encounter is the fact that for some students acts of racism might not be so clear or obvious. In countries with a small or non-existent racial minorities, in fact, pupils might neglect acts of racism which they consider normal as they happen on a daily basis: for example, they can say there is no racism in their country, failing to realise the (racist) attitude toward Roma populations in their country. In addition, throughout the discussion, the topic of positive discrimination might come up. In this case, the educator needs to be prepared to explain this social construct, and why it is necessary.

Finally, especially with older pupils, the lesson might turn into a debate on civil rights. Such debates should be facilitated by educators, without, however, letting the discussion go too far.

The effect of the practice

The practice allows students to express their opinion on (sometimes controversial) social issues and to discuss their difference of points of view. Especially when it comes to younger pupils (aged 14), this might be one of the first opportunities for debates in the classroom, and the use of the life stories of “famous people” would help them to find arguments and express their opinion in a nuanced way. Students found it more comfortable to speak about controversial social issues when it is accompanying a story of a famous person witch has a widely positive historical perspective.  In addition to this, pupils become also more aware of the effect history and historical events have on their lives, and of how social norms in the past differ from (and to what extent they are, on the other hand, similar to) today.

 

About the interviewee

Milos Vukanovic is a historian from Montenegro currently employed in the National Museum of Montenegro. As one of the founders of the Association of History Educators of Montenegro he has been engaged in several EuroClios projects as author, editor, and coordinator for Montenegro in the “History that Connects” and “Learning History that is not yet History” projects.

Within the project Strategies for Inclusion, he has been a Special Interest Group Member for the group “Blind and Partially Sighted and Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing”.

Background to the project

During the development of the Educational Resources for the project Strategies for Inclusion (of which this Collection of Practices is integral part), Milos decided to tackle the barrier of connectedness between past and present while, at the same time, aiming at further develop students’ ability of comparing and contrasting information. To do so, he developed an Educational Resource with the title “What challenges do scientists face”, dealing with the life stories of five different scientists and with the analysis of the constraints and facilitators of their scientific discoveries and achievements. Life stories, however, can be used not only for the study of scientific achievements, but also for the study of historical developments and discoveries. For this reason, this practice has been collected also separately, as a guiding skeleton for the development of activities relating to life stories of other historical figures.

Additional Information

This practice derives from the Educational Resource “how to ensure that the best scientists thrive?”, available on the eLearning portal Historiana.eu.

 

Written by Alice Modena (EuroClio) on the basis of the Educational Resource “How to ensure that the best scientists thrive?” and on input provided by Milos Vukanovic (Institute) in Metlika on 12 July 2018.