Deeping the Dialogue

Second, students’ historical reasoning in the dialogue can be deepened. When analyzing processes of change, for example, it is not enough to only identify what changed and what stayed the same. Changes can be connected to a larger historical context of developments and themes. It can be discussed whether it concerned a sudden or a gradual change. And when trying to construct a historical explanation, we need to think about other (e.g., more structural or indirect) causes and discuss how they together resulted in a particular development or event.

In the example below, students (pre-university education, 15 and 16 years of age) worked on an assignment about resistance and collaboration during the Second World War in the Netherlands (see also Van Drie & Dekker, 2013; Van Drie & Van Boxtel, 2011). For their small-group work, they were provided with descriptions of the acts of six non-fictional persons in this period, and they were asked to classify these persons on a quadrant with two dimensions; collaboration versus resistance and personal interest versus common good. During the whole-class discussion, the outcomes of the group work was discussed. Table 30.1 shows a fragment of the end of the discussion, where the teacher tries to deepen the discussion by asking the students why she had made them work on this assignment for the whole lesson. The students come up with the answer that it is difficult to decide which acts were acts of resistance and of collaboration and which acts were done out of personal interest or with an eye on the common good. The teacher summarizes what the students said and continues by deepening the discussion further by asking whether it is alright to judge people afterwards (line 1). Student 1 answers by saying yes and the teacher asks why. This student does not come up with an argument, but another student does (line 5). The teacher does not respond to the answer herself, but throws this answer back into the class, by asking who would like to respond to this answer. Student 3 comes up with an elaborate answer. This shows that this move of asking the class to respond (instead of responding herself) stimulates students’ thinking. The teacher summarizes the answer (line

Table 30.1 Episode in a whole-class discussion about collaboration and resistance in the Netherlands during the occupation by Nazi-Germany



We made these categories afterwards. But actually it is ‘sliding scale’ [...] it is hard to put one into one category. [...] We, we’re actually making judgments now, afterwards, about people living back then. Do you think that’s all right?






Yes? Why?



Just because.



We make judgments about other people as well [...]



Okay, so it’s all right. Who, who would like to respond? Jane?



Of course you can’t know exactly what they think, but you can learn from it. You also get a better grip of those, uhm, of those concepts, collaboration and resistance, and you’re, and you are condemning them a little, but they’re not living anymore, yes. And you learn from it for yourself, and you don’t exactly know what they were thinking.



OK, so you’re saying they don’t notice it. Erica?



I think that as long as you know that you’re never going to be able to find out the real story. Yes you can, but you’ll never know what drives them to do that.





Uhm, I hope that it gets you thinking a bit and that you also see that all of it isn’t so easy to situate indeed and that this of course doesn’t only apply to the Second World War, but to all other topics as well

8) and gives the floor to another student, who also comes with an elaborate answer. In line 11, the teacher summarizes the main conclusion that it is hard to judge people and that it is not a simple matter of black and white, good or bad, and that this refers also to other topics. The insight that how we judge actions of people in the past is affected by our own values and knowledge and that we need to be cautious to judge past actors from our present position is in this episode co-constructed and this reflection on historical perspective taking in history deepens students reasoning about the fact that people in the past made particular and also different choices and their use of the concepts collaboration and resistance.

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