Introducing Historical Thinking Concepts to a Grade 10 History Class in 5 days – Day 5 – Perspective

Ronald Martinello

I am currently the History/Geography head at  St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge, Ontario. I teach History, Law and Civics. I am in my 26th year of teaching.

Teaching perspective was one of the more interesting of the introductory lessons on historical thinking skills. My experience with Grade 10 students is that they have almost visceral reactions to events and become emotionally attached, especially if there is something they find offensive to their moral compasses. They also have a difficult time judging the actions of an historical figure without using a modern lens. What I tried to do in today’s lesson was have them look at some of the key events of the 21st century from 3 different perspectives; one being their own. I hoped that through this method, it would force them to look at events through the eyes of another.

Before doing this exercise, I put the students through two warm-up exercises. First we watched a few Rick Mercer rants. This gave them the sense that people can have strong view points on certain issues and that they could certainly disagree or agree with these views. I also used these segments as a set up for their own historical rants that they were to do later in the course.

I followed this up with a PowerPoint presentation on advertisements through the ages.  Some of these advertisements were from newspaper and magazine ads in the early 1900s. Most were from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Their task was to identify values that existed in those time periods which seemed at odds with current values.  Many of the ads approached gender roles or child rearing in ways that seemed out of date with modern sensibilities. Many of these ads stirred either humourous reactions or righteous indignation in my students. The whole idea behind this activity was to show that attitudes do change over time and are likely to continue to change over time. We also struck upon the idea that ads which we find completely unacceptable today were accepted, in many cases, without question in previous time periods.

We ended the lesson by once again returning to the list of thirty events I had pre-selected for a look at the 21st century. Their task was to look at three separate events from three different lenses. The first lens was: what are your views about what happened (a current perspective). The second lens was: how would your grandparents or great-grandparents have reacted to the event and how would it be different from your own. Finally, they were asked to speculate about how future generations would react to the event if they were to study it in a future history course.  While this activity may not have reflected the views of actual historical actors, it did force the students to open themselves to different viewpoints.  Two events were selected more often than the others for interpretation: the introduction of same sex marriages in Canada and the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. The idea of changing a societal value system was fairly easy for my students to comprehend.  Looking at reactions to less obvious values based historical events may prove to be more challenging, especially when we move to periods of history where the students have little personal insight or experience.

Overall, however, the discussion around the issue of perspective was informal but rich in its diversity of opinion. In my view, it was a good starter session to introducing students to viewpoints that may differ from their own based on little more than a person’s situation in time.