In one of the studies used, teachers of the social sciences were asked which area of study within their discipline was the most appropriate venue for showcasing and assimilating current events into the curriculum. The response from these teachers was overwhelmingly “history”. Current events and history go hand in hand. To properly understand global occurrences, one has to have a sufficient knowledge of the factors that led to these events. To more accurately comprehend an abstract ideology or political theory, one can compare the particular issue to a current notion or trend. Hence, this mutual relationship between history and current events should merit its inclusion in the curriculum, but oftentimes it does not. The two articles that I have found stress the importance of teaching current events; the first article does so from a subject-specific (i.e. history) viewpoint, while the second article accomplishes this through connecting current events to cross-disciplinary literary skills.
In “Teaching Current Events: Its Status in Social Studies Today”, a survey of new and experienced elementary, middle and secondary school teachers is conducted around the issue of teaching current events. For my purposes, I only focused on the data collected from their secondary action research. Most teachers indicated that they did not infuse current events into the secondary history curriculum because they were pressed to fulfil ministry expectations for their students. I find this to be a bit ironic, as even though ministry expectations do not explicitly designate a “current events unit” in every history course, they do impress upon teachers the ability to use their professional judgment and creativity in delivering this course content. Hence, competent teachers would already make use of current events as a “linking tool”, to be used for understanding abstract or “supposedly outdated” historical concepts, as I have mentioned in the opening paragraph. However, these teachers do stress that the proper use of current events is to be able to teach controversial issues and use the classroom as an open discussion forum, so that students are able to recognize bias and make informed decisions. A third use of current events in the history classroom is to prepare students to be well informed and participating members of a democratic society. This last argument tends to be the traditional answer, however, I believe that using current events as a “linking tool” and an opening into the realm of deconstructing controversial issues are the better explanations. It is for this reason that my final sub-activity in Activity 2.4, entitled “Symbolism and Current Events”, highlights the fact that groups of people still associate certain physical objects with abstract notions (i.e. as the Bastille was a symbol of absolutism) and that symbolism is a concept that is still used today. Besides using current events as a linking tool, this sub-activity also lets the student select the current event, therefore giving them more freedom to deal with a controversial issue that illustrates symbolism.
In “Reading Current Events Items”, the main message is that current events can be used to foster literacy skills and enhance a student’s vocabulary (or to create it as with ESL/ELL students) and be implemented across all disciplines (i.e. similar to THINK LITERACY). In Activity 2.4, although not directly connected to current events, the ESL/ELL word bank (Appendix 2.4.18), assists in fostering these literacy skills. Bibliography
Ediger, Marlow. Reading Current Events Items. 2001. Educational Resources
Haas, Mary E. and Margaret A. Laughlin. Teaching Current Events: Its Status in Social
Studies Today. 2000. Educational Resources Information Center.
Infusing Creative Controversy in the History Classroom
In “’Constructive Controversy’: The Educative Power of Intellectual Conflict” authors Johnson, Johnson and Smith ask how it is possible to keep students intellectually attached to class material – and their answer is to ‘stir up conflict’ (Johnson et al. 27). Both authors define controversy as a state when “one person’s ideas, information, conclusions, theories or opinions are incompatible with those of another person, and the two seek to reach an agreement” (Johnson and Johnson 51). The authors believe that this is something that should fuel the classroom, but should be conducted in a creative and safe environment that encourages students to creatively and collaboratively seek a higher quality of conclusion as a result of the amalgamation of student opinion. Johnson and Johnson define knowledge as something that is “assumed to by dynamic, socially constructed, and best learned through applying and transforming it into intellectual arguments and syntheses” (Johnson and Johnson 28). Knowledge is not meant to be something that students accumulate over the course of the year, being passed down from the teacher, but rather it is something students create and shape themselves.
The benefits to incorporating creative controversy in the classroom, creative defined as providing diverse outlets for students to explore one another’s opinions, allows students to learn from one another in order to further develop their opinions. This also encourages student motivation while developing cognitive and moral reasoning skills. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of team collaboration in creating creative final results.
One major implication of teaching controversy is that it must be created within the first few minutes of class, and if this does not happen students will not intellectually engage in the lesson. Asking students for their opinion will allow them to create an opinion is an instant way of engaging students, and encouraging them to question and discuss the material being studied. With my activity surrounding Napoleon for example, students are asked to debate a historical figure. This encourages them to see history as something that is flexible instead of static.
However, controversy, above all else, must occur in a safe space in which both peers and authority figures are supportive and accepting of various opinions and achievements. Controversy should be promoted through co-operative learning opportunities, allowing students to be a part of setting the groundwork for controversy as well as teaching the “importance of perspective taking and rational arguments” (Johnson and Johnson 59).
In terms of the benefits for the history classroom students learn the importance of evidence and being able to defend their opinions. This encourages students to complete more effective research as they see it is essential to heightening the credibility of their work. This skill, of course, applies to multiple disciplines and is therefore beneficial to the overall development of the student.
Johnson, David and Roger Johnson. “Conflict in the Classroom: Controversy and
Learning.” Review of Educational Research 49 (1979): 51-69. www.jstor.org/stable/1169926. 8 Jan 2011.
Johnson, David et al. “’Constructive Controversy:” The Educative Power of
Intellectual Conflict.” Change 32 (2000): 28-37. www.jstor.org/stable/40165478. 8 Jan 2011.