Being a history teacher, one may seem to be set up to be a factual names and dates type of teacher. I have had several history teachers like this in my time as a student. There are indeed some people and specific dates that are good for students to know, but that isn’t really the point of teaching, is it? It may make things easy to assign, and I know some students like the ease of just memorizing facts and spitting them back out.
The question you very well may receive from time to time is the question of: why are we learning this? While seasoned veterans may have developed a crafty response to that question over the years, I attempted to give it an honest look. I do remember having that question as a student, and I figured students may appreciate having an honest answer. This question is admittedly tough when studying self-proclaimed “dry spots” in the wide array of history.
My best attempts to answer this question came when I tried to answer a specific question about a certain time period or event: Why is this significant in the big picture? Though that question might lead to further hair splitting, generally this helps give perspective. At the end of each unit, I try to either answer that question myself, or have the students answer the question.
When students answer this question, I try to prompt them towards ideas such as: how can the effects of this person/event be seen today, how would things be different without this person/event, or what specifically made this person/event so unique/significant? The final history trump phrase is the good ole, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
While it may seem like this may be something that only History teachers can use, the objective of having students relate a topic to the big picture can be applied to all subjects. I also teach geography, and each time there is a term or place that students think seems insignificant, I have them think about things from the big picture. If a science teacher fought issues with student’s concerns of relativity, there are many opportunities to show how important understanding the details of life are. Or for a Math teacher, the dreaded, annoying, and undoubtedly repeated question of, “why do we have to do this?” For this, God has given the ultimate comeback of the word question. The questions that put the skill learned into a direct, “real life” situation. Though some word questions are certainly better than others,the concept of making things more applicable to students is something to give acknowledgement to and genuine thought to. Though many things students learn may be tough for them to grasp the significance, have them think big picture. Try it out, and see what you can learn…