Thursday, 14 May 2015

Learning Historical Literacy through Role Play: The Trial of Louis XVI

Recently, Grade 12 students in the Headlines of History class were given the opportunity to travel back to revolutionary France and put King Louis XVI on trial for crimes against the people and the revolution. By facilitating a trial that loosely follows the actual events of 1792 (which, unfortunately for King Louis XVI, resulted in his execution) students were able to work together, focus on their individual strengths and develop their critical thinking skills.

In Headlines of History, along with other Canada and World Studies (CWS) courses at Greenwood, we have been working toward integrating and fostering an approach to history education that develops students' historical literacy. This is done using "historical thinking concepts" that engage students to become competent and critical historical thinkers.

As researched and developed by the Historical Thinking Project and reflected in the recently revised Ontario CWS curriculum, teaching students how to understand and leverage historical thinking concepts helps them understand and analyze historical issues from a number of angles.

The goals of the Trial of Louis XVI lesson were to develop two particular historical thinking concepts:
  1. Taking historical perspectives
  2. Understanding the ethical dimensions of history
Students had to use their understanding of the different positions and perspectives of both Enlightenment-era thinkers and the varied interests and factions of French Revolutionary thought.

Students were divided based on their own personal interest and strengths into teams that consisted of the prosecution, the defense and the jury for the trial. After taking the perspective of specific historical actors, the students researched and determined their position on Louis XVI's culpability, based on their character's philosophy. For example, a student who had chosen to take the role of radical Jacobin Maximilien Robespierre had to address the charges and the ethical issue of the trial by using only Robespierre's perspective.

This process was successful because it developed the students' ability to remove their own contemporary opinions and perspectives on the events of the past and develop historical empathy. This enhanced their understanding of the complexities of historical issues and in turn, developed their critical thinking abilities. It also allowed students to work together and bring their own individual strengths to bear in the activity; each student was able to leverage research on Enlightenment thought that they had developed earlier in the unit.

The result of Louis XVI's "second trial" at Greenwood? On this occasion, the students in the jury found him guilty of all charges - as the National Convention did in 1792 - but unlike the 18th century trial in Paris, Louis was spared execution and given life in prison instead.

Eugene Henry
Teacher, History

No comments:

Post a Comment