Rachel Collishaw

Recipient of the 2013 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching 

November 19, 2013
Canada's History speaks to Rachel Collishaw about her classroom project which teaches students to think and act like historians.

Glebe Collegiate, Ottawa (Ontario)

Rachel's project is a complete integration of historical thinking into the Grade 10 Canadian History course, grounded by three anchor projects/units. The course overview unit, the Glebe World War II soldier memorial and the final summative interview in lieu of a written exam.  All of these pieces ask students to engage in thinking and acting like historians and informed Canadian citizens.

In the course overview unit, students are introduced to the 6 historical thinking concepts in a personal way using activities to engage them in thinking about their own lives in the ways that a historian would.  Rachel then teaches six events/topics of the 20th century and the students match each event with a historical thinking concept. The events were selected to give a full chronological and thematic overview of the issues and events of the 20th century. Each lesson is structured to take 2 class periods or less, with content delivery, a student/group activity, a journal entry and a product for the portfolio.  At the end of the unit, students select two of the products (eg. a poem, a memorial, a paragraph etc.) to submit for assessment along with an overall assessment of the quality of their thinking in the  journal.  This course overview serves as a foundation to encourage students to ask better questions, give them basic skills in using historical thinking and gives the whole class a knowledge foundation that we continually refer to for the rest of the course.

Rachel began the Glebe World War II soldier memorial after being inspired by Blake Seward's cenotaph project several years ago. Since the school was opened in 1922, there is a memorial plaque in the main hallway to the 200 men who attended Glebe, served and died in WWII, most in the air force and in the bombing campaigns of Germany. Once the WWII archival records became available, Rachel was able to have students use the primary source archival documents, along with our old yearbooks and other school-based primary source documents to create memorials to these men.  Students then posted their work on the Glebe CI Second World War Memorial online.  As they have done so, Rachel has had feedback from some of the men's relatives and other historians creating a more complete picture of the impact of the war on the lives of the students, and she has been able to add a substantial amount of information to the site as a result.

The final interview (in lieu of an exam) asks students to prepare an analysis of two primary source documents in a ten minute interview.  Students use the historical thinking concepts to interpret the evidence and demonstrate a full understanding of both the event and the concepts.

Rachel's teaching philosophy is that students need to feel valued in the classroom and actively engaged in their own learning to be successful. She loves it when students get engaged in issues that matter to them through history.  By actively engaging them in constructing history as historians in training, they gain a deep awareness of both the past, the country and they start to see their place in it.