Risa Gluskin

Risa Gluskin has been teaching at York Mills C.I. in Toronto for the past 13 years. She is Assistant Curriculum Leader of Canadian and World Studies. Her favourite courses are grade 11 World History covering everything from Paleolithic times to the Middle Ages in Europe, grade 12 World History, covering everything else from the Renaissance on, and Challenge and Change in Society, a social science course that studies fascinating issues through the lenses of psychology, sociology and anthropology. 

Adapting Existing Assignments


In my first attempt at formally evaluating students’ written work, I adapted an existing assignment to include analysis and application of Historical Thinking Concepts (HTCs).


In my grade 12 West and the World course I had been using an assignment on Spanish conquistadors for quite a while. The class was divided into two perspectives on the Spanish conquest of the new world: Natives and Spanish. Within those two groups one-third of students focused their research on the Caribbean, one-third on Mexico and the remaining third on South America. Ultimately students wrote a one-page profile of their character, in-role, in which they argued their position on whether the Spanish were responsible for crimes committed against the Native peoples. They also testified in-role at a fictional panel addressing this “crime issue” in 1550. Following testimony, students from each “side” could question each other. This was where the assignment used to end. It was fun, and it definitely incorporated multiple perspectives, but it wasn’t hugely analytical.

This time I added a second written part to the assignment. Following the in-role testimony, students were given two more days to write an analysis of how one or more HTC applied to the topic of the Spanish conquest. I left it open ended how many HTCs they would apply. On the instruction sheet, I suggested some seemingly obvious connections: significance; unintended consequences; differing perspectives. Students were also given a suggested structure to help them organize their ideas.

It is important to note that previously written feedback had been given to students on a paragraph which incorporated one HTC, cause and consequence relationships. So this was not the first time they had to write an analysis using HTCs. That would have been quite difficult for them.

During the discussion/question portion of the panel while students were essentially debating in-role, I occasionally paused the lively back and forth discussion and suggested which HTC would be related to what they were discussing: unintended consequences was one that definitely became apparent in their line of questions and answers. I had given each student a small piece of scrap paper knowing that they might want to jot down some HTC suggestions while they were listening to each side answer the questions; they came in handy.

What I Would Do Differently:

I was actually very pleased with students’ ability to tackle an open-ended task. Though the level of analysis ranged from pretty basic to unbelievably high, I was pleased that everyone found a connection and could explain it in a somewhat analytical way, at least not just describing or summarizing their testimony. Most students gravitated toward analysis of unintended consequences. The only thing I’d do differently is eliminate the one page limit I had arbitrarily imposed on the analysis. Some students needed more space in which to analyze.

Adaptations for Other Courses:

The application achievement category (in Ontario) is generic enough that this kind of formal evaluation (assessment of learning) can be used without fear of straying from existing curriculum. I am considering doing this kind of open-ended analysis somewhere in each remaining unit of the course, perhaps even on unit tests. It is particularly suitable for any assignment that has an in-role component.