Necessary Idealism: A History of Westgate Mennonite Collegiate

Mural inside Westgate’s front entrance. Photo copyright Janis Thiessen.

Manitoba Mennonites’ ethno-religious identity was transformed in the last half of the 20th century. As a school situated in the heart of the city, Westgate Mennonite Collegiate‘s history offers a unique means of exploring generational and class differences within the Mennonite community. Westgate has been a significant site of contested power and social integration: authorities (government officials, church leaders, and school administrators) struggled with others (parents, students, faculty and staff, church members, neighbourhood residents, and non-Mennonites) to (re)define Mennonitism for the post-Second World War generations.

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Canadian Food History Symposium, 4 April 2013

In what I hope to make a regular event at the University of Winnipeg Department of History, honours and graduate students enrolled in my Advanced Studies in Canadian Social History class recently presented brief summaries of their original research in Canadian food history.

Tony's Canteen at University of Winnipeg. (SOURCE: University of Winnipeg Archives, SC 2 4 A0626-19416)
Tony’s Canteen at University of Winnipeg. (SOURCE: University of Winnipeg Archives, SC 2 4 A0626-19416)

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Why I don’t give exams

I taught high school students for a decade and a half before my current university career. I obtained my education degree in the early 1990s, at the height of the interest in “alternative assessment.” The phrase “alternative assessment” was replaced eventually by “authentic assessment” and finally the term became simply “assessment.” The change in terminology reflected a change in understanding: alternatives to traditional paper-and-pencil testing should not be considered “alternatives” but as central methods of assessing students. Those methods should be “authentic” in that they reflect actual real-world (meaning, outside of school) tasks, and should require demonstration or performance of student skills. As these ideas became the norm among secondary school teachers, the adjectives “alternative” and “authentic” fell away.

Authentic
From University of Tasmania, “Authentic Assessment,” http://www.teaching-learning.utas.edu.au/assessment/authentic-assessment.

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Class discussions

Earlier this year, I led a workshop for the University of Winnipeg History Department on leading class discussions. Below is a summary of that workshop.

Preliminaries:

In my first scheduled class with undergraduates, I take some time to explain how to read journal articles in preparation for class discussions. (See the suggestions provided in Patrick Rael, Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students (Bowdoin College, 2004)). I like to centre the first discussion around a non-threatening text – usually a poem, such as Tom Wayman’s “Paper, Scissors, Stone” or Bertolt Brecht’s “A Worker Reads History.”

rock paper scissors. © Janis Thiessen, University of Winnipeg, ja.thiessen@uwinnipeg.ca.
rock paper scissors. © Janis Thiessen, University of Winnipeg, ja.thiessen@uwinnipeg.ca.

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