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Teaching Historical Thinking to B.Ed Students: What Happens Part II

Posted by David Bussell
16 December 2014 - 2:26pm

Building on observations and feedback from teaching historical thinking in a B.Ed program, I want to reflect on my first blog in this series, written just before the B.Ed. students embarked on their first teaching placement. I will extend consideration of the challenges and opportunities, this time based on my four weeks of instruction between their first and second classroom teaching placements.

When the teacher candidates and I debriefed their placement experiences, several of the students who had placements in history classrooms mentioned that incorporating historical thinking into their lessons was difficult, due to the fact that some of their Associate Teachers (A.T’s) were still demonstrating more “traditional” instructional approaches to teaching history (using mostly textbooks and fact-based learning). This was not the case for every teacher candidate, but a significant number of them noted this challenge.

However, a positive aspect to this situation was that a number of teacher candidates found their A.T’s to be very receptive to a more discipline-based approach. Some allowed the teacher candidates to incorporate historical thinking concepts into their lessons. This was welcome news, but also illustrates the gap between ongoing subject specific professional development and daily professional practice in history classrooms. This problem has been discussed by researchers in studies regarding the difficulties with teaching of historical thinking concepts to teachers, for example, Peter Seixas and Graeme Webber’s chapter “Troubling Compromises: Historical Thinking in a One-Year Secondary Teacher Education Program” in Becoming a History Teacher.

The teacher candidates also mentioned difficulties they faced when creating daily lessons and assessments that would highlight the various Historical Thinking Concepts (HTCs) on a consistent basis. With the variety of resources at their disposal, a common response was that the amount of quality resources also made things difficult when attempting to focus a lesson or topic with so many resources to choose from!

Likewise, the teacher candidates found they were not given enough time in class to learn and practice HTCs with students. Some of the teacher candidates continued to have difficulty developing critical questions for their lessons, which would help give the lesson a focus and link it specifically to HTCs. I’ve also found that the limited time in the university classroom presents challenges as to what should be covered, and how much time should be devoted to certain tasks or lessons. Time is always an issue in teaching, but with such substantial reforms underway in history, the limits of time are being felt more acutely.

Many teacher candidates are showing significant progress in their understanding of HTCs and the new Ontario history curriculum. It is still difficult to judge how many of them actually used this new discipline-based approach to teaching history in their placements, and how often they incorporated HTCs into their daily lessons. As THEN/HiER Graduate Student Committee member Scott Pollock has pointed out in his recent chapter “The Poverty and Possibility of Historical Thinking,” also found in Becoming a History Teacher, research has shown that many teacher candidates do not use a discipline-based approach using HTCs once they begin teaching students in regular classroom settings. The ongoing challenges of teaching HTCs to B.Ed students is summed up well by Seixas & Webber when they suggest that “scientific thinking and mathematical thinking are relatively well established and understood within and beyond education circles, what it means to think historically is only now becoming part of the conversation” (Seixas and Webber, 2014, p. 172). 

The HTCs have only recently become part of the history curriculum in Ontario. Much work needs to be done to establish historical thinking in the minds of both teachers, and the students that they teach. It is a journey that can begin in B.Ed programs, but must continue in the form of ongoing P.D. if it is to become a consistent part of history classrooms in the province. Online resources from the Critical Thinking Consortium and the Virtual Historian, as well as more resources listed in on our website, can assist both new and experienced teachers become more aware of HTCs and how to incorporate them into their history lessons.

What other challenges do B.Ed students have with learning and incorporating HTCs into their daily practice?



Pollock, Scott. “The poverty and Possibility of Historical Thinking,” in Becoming a History Teacher, edited by Ruth Sandwell and Amy Von Heyking, 60-74. Toronto,  University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Seixas, Peter and Graeme Webber. “Troubling Compromises: Historical Thinking in a One-Year Secondary Teacher Education Program,” in Becoming a History Teacher, edited by Ruth Sandwell and Amy Von Heyking, 158-174. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2014.