Tanya Andersen Transcript

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Welcome to another episode of Teaching Canada’s History Podcast. I’m your host Julia Richards and in this special educator’s series, we’re speaking with the finalists for the 2022 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Created 26 years ago in 1996, the award recognizes best practices in teaching Canadian history and is an opportunity to highlight the important work that teachers and students are doing to interpret and share the stories of the past.
I’m sitting down with Tanya Andersen. Why don’t we start by introducing yourself? You can tell us a little bit about your school or the classroom you teach.

Tanya Andersen

Okay, sure so my name's Tanya Andersen and I've been teaching for — I think this is — will be year 22 um so I've been in the same board the whole time. The Halton District School Board which is just sort of west of Toronto. Um, this is my third school in that board I teach at Milton District High School at the moment. Um, it's about 1700 students who go there. It's a pretty big school, growing school because it's Milton's a pretty um, fast growing community at the moment. And I teach normally — I teach Grade 10 and 12 history and social science.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Do want to tell us about your project then?

Tanya Andersen

Okay, sure. So, my project is kind of — the way that I teach it's the unit culminating or the choice of unit culminating but it depends um sort of on the way that I've started teaching history these days. So, my project is for a Grade 10 history course, specifically Ontario, but I started teaching Grade 10 history thematically and each of the units revolve around a critical thinking question. And so, I made a choice board, or a learning menu as I like to call it, where the students can choose sort of what how they want um, to learn mostly with various types of resources so some are video, some are articles that kind of thing. But what I — but the project really is the idea that at the end they again choose which — how they want to show their learning or how they want to show what they know.

So, they have a choice of 3 assignments, and they can answer the course question or right rather the unit question in the, um, medium of their choice. Um, or they can do a deep dive and so that's where they choose something that maybe we didn't get into in class in as much depth as they would have liked and they write their own critical thinking question around that topic, and then again, answer it using reason judgment using, um, again in the medium of their own choice.

Or they do what's called an — like I call it — an “Andersen Assignment” because it's one that I've actually written for them — created for them myself. And in this case, what they did was — they had to for this unit, they had to redesign the history textbook. So that — the course question for this unit — or the unit question rather — for this unit is: to what extent have diverse voices shaped Canadian identity and culture? And so, they took a look at a textbook that we use and they looked for spots where they felt like there was room for more diverse voices and so they designed some sort of element; it could be an addendum; it could be a pamphlet; it could be anything they wanted just to fill in those spots where they thought that we needed to hear more from diverse, um, voices in Canadian history. And so yeah, that's pretty much what it was the idea that, um, there's choice all the way through and then at the end with the unit culminating there's those um, 3 choices of assignments.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

I love that.  That's something that I would have loved to do as a student. Um, how many students chose to do the textbook part of the assignment?

Tanya Andersen

Um, well I've done it now, I would say 3 times. Um, and I think I used to get a good chunk of them doing that actually, so I would say, probably 40-to-50% of the class chooses to do that on average.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

That's really cool! Um, so what inspired you to develop this project?

Tanya Andersen

Um, it was kind of a combination of few things. Teaching thematically really, um, opened — I felt like it opened up opportunities, a lot of opportunities, for choice for students. And I also felt like then — that's there's an opportunity to look at the textbook in its entirety because we're looking for a theme and not necessarily a chunk, like a chronological chunk of time. Um, and so there was that.

There was also the — I found a lot of students — I find actually a lot of students are not choosing to take history beyond Grade 10, because in Ontario Grade 10 is the only time you have to — the only time the course is compulsory, and I felt like it was because a lot of them weren't necessarily seeing enough of themselves in the curriculum. And so, I thought this was in that — this was a place where they could um, see where it was missing, see that they are in fact, a part of Canadian history they are the diverse voices. They have had an impact, and this was their opportunity to ameliorate that for themselves and for me and for us to see it. So that's sort of how I — and that's sort of what it inspired, it was the idea that yes, I'm acknowledging that maybe we haven't done the best job of, um, in Canadian history of teaching all of it. And that, um, we can ourselves take it upon ourselves to ameliorate that and learn about it.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Yeah, absolutely it must be really good for these students to see or to be engaged in that way to see and put themselves in the narrative.

Tanya Andersen

Yeah, they really do seem to enjoy and some — I was expecting students to sort of choose like their voice for lack of a better word and that hasn't always been the case. There have been a lot of times where students have chosen another diverse voice in Canadian history that isn't necessarily theirs. Um, so that has been really nice to see as well.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

What do you think is the greatest impact of your project?

Tanya Andersen

I really think the greatest impact of it is, um, getting the students engaged. I have — and actually that's, I'm just thinking — I was thinking of moving this, um, the units around and now that, now that you've asked me that question, I actually have answered it for myself — I'm not going to move the units. Because actually this does — because it's — there's an introductory unit but this is the first sort of big unit, it really does get the students engaged in “Okay, so we're going to be able to have a say in what we're learning, how we're learning it. This does it, this does apply to me. This is relevant.” Um, and yeah so, I just think it gets them involved. And so, you know, later on when we're talking about things that maybe don't directly impact them — sorry they, when something maybe doesn't directly impact them, they can still see a way of how maybe it just looks like it didn't but um, there are in fact relationships, and cause and effect, and things like that that maybe at first glance or on the surface, you don't necessarily connect them to yourself but they are in fact, um, really is.

So yeah, I just feel like it sort of starts us off on the yes, this class is going to try to incorporate all of you, what you're concerned about, and yes, it does, you know, history does actually have a massive impact on today. You should know about it. Um, it'll make you better at dinner parties or on Twitter and all that stuff. You'll be informed and you'll understand why things are the way they are.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Yeah absolutely! It’s so important, even anecdotally like that. So, you have already touched upon this, but how you do keep your students engaged in the history? How do you make it relevant for them?

Tanya Andersen

Um, well yes, I think it's a lot to do with choice helps for sure. Um, and also, oftentimes because we're doing — because I'm doing it thematically, I start with the with the now and then we work backwards sort of to see how we got here. So, I start — sort of right away with them the relevance and then there's a lot of, I worked with the Critical Thinking Consortium, and so having most things be a question for them to answer or investigate really helps as well. And the fact that with a critical thinking question, there’s supposed to be multiple plausible answers, there's no one right answer; it has them thinking. So that's really how I try like I'm asking them questions you're going to answer this; it's your opinion. It's not my opinion. We're just we're going to use the historical evidence um to learn. But also, you have to choose, um, based on criteria like is this evidence good? Is this evidence good to answer this particular question? Why are you choosing it?

And then also I just, um, the pandemic has really kind of freed me to just say yes to things that kids are —  I’m not so um, rigid as I was with like we have to get through all of this. And also thematic teaching really allows you to kind of, um, come back to things, but you, I feel — I feel like I've kind of cheated and gone and taught before 1914, um, and you know, in a theme and things like that. So um, when students ask hey, can we do this? I've just been a lot more and going, yeah, sure, let's do it. And then we just figure out if that has taken more time than we than I was, um, expecting then I just sort of rejig other stuff. So yeah, I would say that I'm just more open to saying yes to things that kids are interested in and that was kind of the idea with the option for a deep dive and then of course kind of starting with. Okay, so this is what's happening now. Um, let's look at why you know some reasons why this could be that way.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Alright, that's all that I have. Did you have any final thoughts that you want to share something that you didn't get a chance to touch on before?

Tanya Andersen

I don't I think — um the one thing that I, um, am going to try to sort of do, um, from here on out, I had um, intention — I had great intentions and then of course COVID happened and we weren't really, um, you know, our courses got moved around and we're online/offline and all that kind of stuff, and we haven't been able to sort of have as many in-person experiences. Um, but I want to concentrate more I think on the — on a call to action. So now that I know this you know if they're answering the question, okay, now what are we going to do about it? So, that's what I think my goal for this this upcoming year is to turn some of these assignments into calls for action and actual action I guess not just the we should do this, let's actually try and do it.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Yeah, yeah, take sort of taking it out of the theoretical into like what can we actually do now.

Tanya Andersen

Yeah, yes because I think that will also increase engagement as well.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Alright, well thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure chatting with you!

Tanya Andersen

Oh, was nice talking to you too!