Thursday, 6 April 2017

Junior Cycle History Classroom Based Assessments: Some Ideas

The new Junior Cycle History curriculum features two Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs), both of which are designed to facilitate the student in attaining "the big picture" and understanding history in context.

A Young Life in Time (Europe and the Wider World)
Towards the end of Second Year, students will undertake an evidence-based study on the life of a young person who lived in an historical era in Europe or the wider world. All that is known about this assessment for now is that students must explore the young person's life and experiences through research, and report on their findings. The report can take a number of formats.

The Past in my Place (Ireland)
In the second term of Third Year, students will undertake an evidence-based study on an aspect relating to the history of their local area. Local libraries, archives and interviews will likely form the bulk of the research for this assessment. Like A Young Life in Time, the students will report their findings to the class through one of a variety of formats.

Both of these assessments are to be subject to a SLAR review meeting.

On first impression, these CBAs seem promising. It's well past time that the History curriculum promoted the exploration of local history, and A Young Life in Time opens our lessons up to people from times and places that might otherwise have been ignored by the curriculum. Both CBAs will help students develop their research skills, and both can enhance the learning experience for our students. However, they present as many challenges as they do opportunities, and the limitations of each have been of concern to teachers.

Since the draft curriculum was released last week, teachers have been giving their views on all aspects of the proposed course, including the pros and cons of the CBAs. In particular the Cork HTAI has had lively discussions on both Twitter and Facebook.

How big is the picture?
One of the driving points of Junior Cycle History is that students should come to understand the people and events they learn about in a broad context, "the big picture" in other words. It seems odd, however, that the CBAs have so many limitations. One of the most prevalent concerns voiced by teachers about both CBAs is that after the first few years, originality will be replaced with repetitiveness as students begin turning in the same topics over and over.

For A Young Life in Time to remain original and varied, teachers will need to provide resources on a variety of eras so as to avoid an influx of young Romans modelled on the same lines as the existing People in History question. Likewise, teachers could easily find themselves dealing with the same local history topics year and year for The Past in my Place. There's also the concern that this CBA would end up being conducted primarily on revolutionary times.

If we strip the CBAs down to their bare bones, they are both presentation-based assessments. The content is up to the students within the framework provided, so why not just expand the framework? Leaving Cert History students must learn three case studies for the Document-Based Question in the exam. The case studies, which are proscribed, change every two years.It's not a grand change, for sure, and the case studies are never "new", but if we're in the business of reforming then why not think big?

A few days ago I made a somewhat idealistic suggestion for a solution to get around the limitations of the CBAs. I don't claim sole credit though, Kilkenny Presentation's Dan Campion and no doubt others who have thought the same thing.

Why limit the CBAs to just two topics? If they are assessed as presentations, we should be able to add more variety. The following is just an idea, itself with its own potential problems, but one that would go some way towards preventing some of those limitations. I have added ideas from other Cork HTAI teachers, with names attached.

The CBAs would be held at the same time (one in Second Year and one in Third), and would still be divided between the two strands (one would be linked to Ireland, the other to Europe and the Wider World). Instead of the CBAs being the same tasks every year, we could instead change them around every two years. Below I've made a list of alternative CBA ideas, some my own, some from other teachers, and some adapted from other elements of the curriculum.

There would be six options from the list below - three relating to Strand Two (Ireland, and three relating to Strand Three (Europe and the Wider World). Students would complete one of each. Given that school and class sizes can vary so much, I would leave it to the teacher's discretion whether to allow their students to choose individually, or to choose one each as a group.

Interview Project:
Format: Students would have to undertake research by interview. They could interview an elderly person about social change or an aspect of local history. Their findings can be backed up with further interviews conducted with local historians, archaeologists, community archives or museums.
Strands Involved: All three - a project such as this would help to develop students' research skills as described in Strand One. The content generated by these projects would probably relate more to Strand Two (Ireland) than Strand Three (Europe and the Wider World) but it would be possible to bring the latter in depending on what kind of experiences they research.

Art and Culture:
Format: Students would conduct research on a particular event or figure in the history of art and culture. The default era for this project would be the Renaissance, but we should have resources to promote other eras and artistic endeavours as well, not to mention other cultural events. The field is wide open on this one, which could lead to questions about what constitutes a relevant artistic or cultural event in history. In this case, the same criteria we use to judge Leaving Cert RSRs should apply. This project could also allow cross-curricular links with Music and Art, not to mention providing a link to Leaving Cert Art History for students who choose to study it.
Strands Involved: Both Strands Two and Three, but it could be limited to one or the other.

Life for Women:
Format: This project could take a number of forms. It could take a similar approach to A Young Life in Time wherein students would investigate the experiences of women in a particular time and place. Students could also choose an individual historic woman who would not appear on the curriculum, for example Joan of Arc, the Empress Matilda or Amelia Earhart, and women who only ever get a mention, such as Queen Isabella. Obviously one of these ideas focuses more on powerful and influential women than on ordinary life in the context of a time and place, but for now I'm just throwing both ideas out there.
Strands Involved: Both Strands Two and Three, but it could be limited to one or the other.

Format: Students could research the causes, course and consequence of a particular battle at any point in history. Like the two ideas above, this one is wide open. Ideally we would avoid the world wars and the Irish independence struggle, since they would be the default choices. For example, students could pursue a project on the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest and link their findings to their learning on the Romans.
Strands Involved: Both Strands Two and Three, but it could be limited to one or the other.

Impact of a Movement:
Format: The draft curriculum contains a learning outcome requiring that students examine how a movement or organisation contributed to historically significant change in Ireland. The Labour movement, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement, the IRA (both in 1916 and 1969) and the Catholic Church all come to mind, but if this learning outcome were to be co-opted to a CBA it could be opened to include other parts of the world too. Needless to say, the possibilities are endless.
Strands Involved: The learning outcome relates only to Strand Two, but it could include Strand Three.

International Organisations:
Format: The draft curriculum also features a learning outcome in Strand 3 requiring that students will reflect on the role of an organisation such as the UN or the EU in relation to human rights, peace and co-operation. This could easily form the basis for a CBA. It would also link in with CSPE.
Strands Involved: This one would pretty much only concern Strand Three.

Format: Strand Three will also include content on technological developments. Most likely this topic will be similar to the existing "From Farm to Factory" section on the Argicultural, Transport and Industrial Revolutions. It is possible that developments from other eras could be brought in to this, but a CBA on this topic would allow students to research and make a presentation on technological developments and their impacts from the discovery of bronze to the development of ICT.
Strands Involved: Strand Three is the more likely strand for this one, but ancient Irish civilisations could bring Strand Two in.

Modern Genocide:
Format: Strand Three also requires students to explore the causes, course and consequence of a genocide in the history of Europe and the modern world. The Holocaust is the foremost example, and students should absolutely learn about it. This CBA might work more if mixed with the above idea on Conflict.
Strands Involved: Strand Three.

Famous Photo: (suggested on twitter by @KenneallyEmma)
Format: Students could research the history behind a famous picture or photograph. There's a lot of potential in this one - the 20th century is full of famous photographs of defining moments. Students might also look at how photos can be used - Stalin and his frequent editing of photographs could come in here.
Strands Involved: Both Strands Two and Three, but it could be limited to one or the other.

Myths and Misconceptions:
Format: There are plenty of common misconceptions in history. Did Emperor Nero play the fiddle while Rome burned? Did Christopher Columbus discover America? We'd have to be careful with this one, and keep it to the same standards as the Leaving Cert RSR. Students could investigate the origin of the myth, the impact it had, and the truth behind it. If done well, this would make for an interesting presentation.
Strands Involved: All three would be involved in this one. Research skills would be especially important.

Post-Office Political Figures: (suggested on twitter by @MsBrowneHistory)
Format: The 2015 Higher Level Junior Cert paper threw some people a little when it asked students what post Mary Robinson held after her presidency. While some textbooks do mention it, Robinson's post-presidential career doesn't actually appear on the curriculum. She's had a very active career since, however, and she hasn't been the only one, and that's not to mention other former world leaders through time.
Strands Involved: Both Strands Two and Three, but it could be limited to one or the other.

Format: This idea would be dependent on any centenaries or anniversaries taking place. For instance, if the new course was in place already, a CBA choice could be announced wherein students have to research an aspect of the Russian revolution. In 2019, students could research an aspect of the Troubles. In contrast to most of the other ideas above, this one would be proscribed rather than open.
Strands Involved: Either Strand Two or Three, depending on upcoming anniversaries.

Demographic Change:
Format: The Cork HTAI had a very active discussion on Twitter yesterday on the learning outcome in Strand Two which requires students to recognise the effect of demographic changes such as settlement, migration and plantation. At first thought, this covers the Normans, the Plantations and the Famine, but students could also conduct research on migration from West to East (in a link with Geography) or the history of minority groups in Ireland - the history of the Travelling Community is something which should definitely appear in this new course.
Strands Involved: Strand Two.
Most Influential Person/Event: (suggested on twitter by @angelicboyne)
Format: Students would select a particular person or event which they believe has been the most influential (whether in the context of a time or place or possibly a broader context) and through their presentation they would have to justify their choice.
Strands Involved: Both Strands Two and Three, but it could be limited to one or the other.

Modern Events: 
Format: We don't yet know when the date parameters for the new History course will be. The existing Junior Cert course wraps things up around 1990-1. In the nearly 30 years since then, there have been a huge number of historic events. Of course, there's a good reason we don't cover current events in History class, but if a date parameter of, say, 1990 - 2010 was set for this CBA, students could choose an event or a prominent figure from that time. They would then explain its historical significance, its relation to historic events in the curriculum (if applicable) and its causes, course and consequences (if applicable). This CBA has the potential to link in with other subjects, and would help to promote the understanding that History isn't just things that happened to black and white people a long time ago - it's constantly with us, and what we see in the news today will one day be studied by future students.
Strands Involved: Both Strands Two and Three, but it could be limited to one or the other. 
What we need
For any of these CBA ideas to work, we would need clear instructions, clear parameters, and clear assessment guidelines. It is great that there is scope for teachers to be creative and to bring new and interesting facts and topics to the classroom, but at a very basic level we all need a structure from which to operate, and for Junior Cycle History to be the success we all want it to be, that structure has to be free of vague elements which may cause confusion.

Like I said, all of the above are just ideas - they each have their own pros and cons. The more ideas we have, the better. With teachers working together to help shape this new course, the end result will hopefully be something we can all undertake with optimism and excitement.

If you have any ideas for CBA possibilities which don't appear above, please share them in the comment section below!