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Multi-ethnic high school students' conceptions of historical significance : implications for Canadian history education Peck, Carla Lee

Abstract

Sociocultural studies in history education demonstrate that “positionality” influences how one understands history. In this study I investigated the relationship between students’ ethnic, cultural and/or national identities and their ascriptions of historical significance to moments in Canada’s past. Twenty-six grade 12 students living in an ethnically diverse urban centre in British Columbia participated. Phenomenographic research methods were followed, with a range of data informing the findings. In groups, students completed a “timeline task” during which they were asked to make decisions about the historical significance of particular events and themes in Canadian history. Students were asked to describe their ethnic identity and then reflect about the ways in which their ethnic identity may have influenced the decisions they made during the timeline task. The students in this study employed five types of historical significance consistent with the typology originated by Cercadillo (2000; 2001): contemporary significance, causal significance, pattern significance, symbolic significance and significance for the present-future. It was common for students’ explanations to include multiple types of historical significance. Students employed three narrative templates to construct the history of Canada and used specific types of historical significance depending on the narrative(s) they used. The narrative templates were categorized as: Founding of the Nation, Diverse and Harmonious Canada and Diverse but Conflicted Canada. The students’ ethnic identities played a central role in determining which narrative template(s) they employed and the criteria they used to select the events for their narratives. Many students articulated complicated notions of their identities, with some perceiving that particular “sides” of their identity were at play, or in use, during the research task. Students who collaborated during the timeline activity often interpreted the timeline using different narrative templates. The students in this study were able to engage in metacognitive thinking because of a research design that pushed them to articulate their beliefs about the relationship between identity (self-ascribed) and the narrative they constructed. Implications for teaching, policy and further research are explored.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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