Rethinking Secondary 4 History Teaching to Engage Students

In Quebec, the Secondary IV history course is "a big year", as teachers of this sanctioned discipline often say. In this context, how can we rethink the teaching of this course in order to better engage students in their learning, while ensuring that the annual objectives are met? Two projects along these lines were presented at the 2022 Acfas Congress.

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In Quebec, the 4e Secondary school is "a big year", as teachers of this sanctioned subject often say. In this context, how can we rethink the teaching of this subject in order to better engage students in their learning, while ensuring that the annual objectives are met? Two projects along these lines were presented at the 2022 Acfas Congress.

Heritage at a Glance

The project Heritage at a Glance has proven itself. For the past 10 years, it has allowed students from 4e to explore the heritage of the Châteauguay region. Véronique Charleboisa history teacher in Secondary 3 and 4 at Heritage College in Châteauguay, presented the project. According to her, it allows young people to develop a sense of belonging to their community, while improving their understanding of history.

"Students have a hard time connecting the national historical narrative that is taught with the local narrative, the history of their community. The project allows them to link the two and discover bits of their own family history," she explained.

In this project, students are first introduced to digital photography during their history class. They then travel to their community to photograph different elements (religious, architectural, military, industrial, natural heritage, etc.). Then, they must conduct research and write a text that explains the heritage value of one of their photographs.

"The process is insecure for students at first. They ask themselves, 'Is this or that element valuable enough for me to document? As the project progresses, they develop their autonomy in their search for information and take a fresh look at their environment," says Ms. Charlebois.

In their quest for information, they can consult people around them or refer to historical works. The school has acquired many books on local history to help them enrich their bibliography.

Their photographs and texts are then presented to the entire community through the LePailleur HouseThe Châteauguay Museum and Historic Site of Quebec has turned this into a real exhibition-competition. The public can then vote for the favorite photograph of the year.

"The youth are impressed with the seriousness given to their project. Museum standards are applied to their photos and texts when preparing the exhibition. It is very rewarding for them. Year after year, we feel a growing excitement in the community, while the public is eager to discover the students' new productions."

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Interpreting a work of art in history class

The project of Catinca Adriana Stan, a professor at Laval University, was born from two observations: "In history classes, images are generally used in an accessory way to accompany the text. Moreover, the work of interpreting historical documents leaves little room for the students' feelings and rarely allows them the freedom to interpret them themselves, i.e. to give their opinion.

In 2021, she conducted research in a class of 4e secondary school, also from Collège Héritage in Châteauguay. About thirty students analyzed war posters, paintings, statues and monuments using an analysis grid that combines aesthetic and historical reading (evidence, meaning, continuity and change, causes and consequences, historical perspective, moral dimension).

They had to answer questions like:

  • What surprises, delights or saddens you about this work?
  • Why did the artist create it? What information/messages did he want to convey?
  • What do we learn about history from the work?
  • Can this work help us understand the present?

During six sessions, they learned to express their feelings and to better contextualize the works of art through modeling and guided practice at first, then independently.

"At the beginning of the project, kids said they had little interest in history, were afraid of the end-of-year departmental exam, and placed little importance on the works in the books," says Stan.

There was a turning point, according to her, in the 5e workshop, as the youth were asked to select a piece of art and analyze it. "We reached a higher level. The students produced high quality writing, which was generally longer than the minimum length required. We felt we had touched them. They revealed great historical empathy. They interpreted the posture, the facial expressions of the characters, they made connections between the colors used and the feelings expressed," enthuses the teacher.

The project was designed to allow students to develop their documentary analysis skills and historical thinking. They also developed their interpretive independence. "They realized that there is a story, a value, a message behind each work and they made connections. They especially appreciated being allowed to choose which work they would present to their peers."

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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