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History Teachers: are you teaching historical skills or historical info itself?

(17 Posts)
swanthingafteranother Mon 24-Sep-12 12:28:28

I may sound a bit minging, but I sometimes think the lessons are taken up giving the children skills in evaluating evidence, when they don't actually know very much about the topics to start with.

So for example we have ds1 doing the Gunpowder plot.So far he doesn't know anything about Bloody Mary, England being Protestant, the Reformation, anything at all about the Wars of the Roses, the Prayer Book. Yet he is now doing so far as I can see advanced evaluation of "evidence" that Guy Fawkes may or may not have been innocent.

What sort of context is he going to be able to set it in when he doesn't actually know anything much about the period. I mean he doesn't know about the system of goverment, or the King's Ministers, or really ....anything much....He had to prepare what a spirited defence of Guy Fawkes...we did it from the web...but I just felt he didn't know the frame of reference or whatever you call it.

Why can't they teach them the really important things that HAPPENED? Like teaching facts in science. And then gently lead them onto intepretations when they are a bit more clued up. Like when they are 14.

trixie123 Tue 25-Sep-12 19:45:12

I teach y7-8 history. We start with the Celts and work our way through all the way pretty chronologically, hitting all the big landmarks like Magna Carta, Becket, Plague etc up to and including the Civil War. Along the way we will do "skills", looking at primary and secondary sources, bias etc but generally I do concentrate more on the story. I also tend to focus more on the leaders and big events rather than social history - the life of a peasant frankly isn't that interesting when you could be learning about longbows vs crossbows, hot pokers up the bum (Edward II) and the Princes in the Tower. We do do evaluating evidence but its alongside the story. Independent school though so more freedom to choose. The boys (single sex school) love it.

Bajas Tue 25-Sep-12 19:54:32

Both as both will be eventually assessed at GCSE.

We teach the info first, otherwise it would be difficult for them to evaluate the source material so I can see why your DC is finding it difficult.

For example in Year 9 we teach about the rise of the dictators. This is followed by evaluating sources on this topic for bias, accuracy, reliability etc.

Iamnotminterested Tue 25-Sep-12 20:14:55

Glad I happened upon this thread. Dd is in year 7 and has always loved history lessons. She had history today and I asked her, as you would, what period they were/ about to study? She answered that they aren't doing a period at the moment, but honing their analytical and thinking skills,'s lesson was about Richard III and whether he really was a bastard or just a mis-understood "nice guy". She loved it, they have to explore evidence for and against, helping them to see that one interpretation of things might not be the truth.

Copthallresident Tue 25-Sep-12 21:54:19

trixie 123 Is that how you would teach History to a coed class or girls only? I also assume you are teaching to 13+ Common Entrance because it is how Common Entrance History is examined, and seriously out of step with how History has developed as an academic study. I am part of a History Faculty within a RG/1994 university and we were shocked when a student, formerly at Eton, bought in a paper to illustrate the sort of white men's elite history that had been his first experience of History. Of course now Gove wants it to be everybody's...

Frankly it is the sort of History that turned me right off. Fortunately there were enough good authors like Rosemary Sutcliffe and Henry Treece and even bad authors like Jean Plaidy that wrote about ordinary people's lives to keep me interested enough to go to university and be lucky enough to be taught by E P Thomson. So you think hot pokers up King's bums were more interesting than all the other hot pokers that were put up homosexual bums????? That longbows v crossbows were more interesting than the evolution of weaving from home based looms through flying shuttles to factories and the huge, and world changing difference, that made to "peasants" lives. I can't think of a part of the world's story that isn't interesting if taught in the right way.

This is the sort of material available in Key Stage 3, DD used it in Year 6. It gives the background and give pupils a chance to see the issues from the point of view of those involved. I think it is great that they get to look at original sources and see different perspectives, and start to develop skills which evaluate those perspectives/ different points of view. I agree that if the teacher isn't explaining the context then it is poor teaching but I do think that saying no child can be taught anything but what happened before the age of 14 is going to make the teaching of History very dull. Whilst some children may thrive on being taught about Kings, crossbows and wars some of us were / are inspired by the way in which History was experienced by all sorts of people.

Copthallresident Tue 25-Sep-12 21:59:44

woops! Feeling so passionate, forgot the link!

Jux Tue 25-Sep-12 22:24:04

Kings, wars, turned me off history at school. So booooring. When I was in my mid-twenties I made friends with a guy who showed me that history is fascinating. Though my sources are often Sutcliffe et al, I am intelligent enough to separate (most) fact from fiction, and we do have complete sets of 3 different encyclopedias here, so I can always check.

At secondary, I'm much happier that dd is learning to assess and evaluate, think for herself, do research etc. as she knows a lot of the context anyway - they cover a lot in primary school - she is far happier doing it this way, than just this happened on this date etc. She's in Y9, and they're doing the Industrial Revolution.

BestIsWest Tue 25-Sep-12 22:59:34

Well said Copthall

trixie123 Wed 26-Sep-12 15:18:19

hi - no its the first two years of an 11-18 school that gets superb GCSE and A level results. We concentrate in yr 7-8 on giving the boys a general grounding in the major events of British history and hopefully making it interesting and enjoyable. Whenever we do group project work, guess which topics they all vie to do? Weapons and War. Guess which gets the groans and begging to swap? Food and Fashion. I teach to my audience and if I taught in a different school, yes, I would do it differently. It may be an old-fashioned way of doing it but that doesn't make it bad. Of course there are a million other topics out there and all of them will be interesting to someone but there is plenty of time for them to do the industrial revolution, suffragettes etc (Year 9 primarily) and they opt for history GCSE in large numbers, so FOR OUR SCHOOL, I think we're getting it right.

Copthallresident Thu 27-Sep-12 01:36:05

I did say some may thrive on Kings and crossbows and whatever inspires is good but I might find food and fashion a little uninspiring? Obviously old fashioned is not necessarily bad but it becomes so if you don't keep evolving. What about "revolting peasants". Get them to understand why these historical figures undertook what were essentially suicide missions. Or celebrity and reality, how some monarchs ruled by creating a cult of celebrity that was at odds with reality, good thing about that one is that a women did it best, because she had to. It all helps them think, and to avoid that trap of living by stereotypes which is the one thing our students really complain that their secondary education did not equip them to avoid.

trixie123 Thu 27-Sep-12 08:23:52

The thing is Copthall, I think we do cover the things you just mentioned, we just don't package it up that way, so they do learn about the myth of royalty- when we look at the way Charles I saw himself for instance and we do talk a great deal about the way women had to operate in a different way but actually I don't agree with this idea that every academic subject also has to teach them something about life and how they live it. It's history, it's a study of the past that helps them to understand how we ended up where we are now but not everything has to have cross-curricular PSE undertones.

senua Thu 27-Sep-12 10:15:08

*It's history, it's a study of the past that helps them to understand how we ended up where we are now but not everything has to have cross-curricular PSE undertones.

I agree. In fact, you could say that it is perverse to want to try to understand the past through the prism of current-day "PSEism". The past is a foreign country, remember.

I agree with OP that you have to be careful of trying to run before you can walk. Copthall your social history only works if the pupils have got the proper context. For example DS did a (general knowledge) quiz at school the other: guess when his team (but not him, I'm pleased to say) thought that slavery was abolished?

Answer: the 1980s shock How can you make any meaningful 'evaluation' when you are a century-and-a-half out on your dates!
The flesh of the clever analysis only comes into it when you have learned the skeleton of basic facts, like OP said. I think that it is a higher skill that should be left to older minds.

Copthallresident Thu 27-Sep-12 12:28:42

Senua Trixie My point is that if you package it as a long story of what happened, of projects on "Food" and "Fashion" then you may lose the chance to inspire. I agree it is scandalous that a group of pupils might think slavery was abolished in the 1980s but that is poor teaching, and also poor parenting. I wonder why parents are not talking about these issues with their children? Could it be they were switched off History at school? I certainly don't believe History is taught for PSE. However I do think that to study History properly it is really important that children have a chance to develop empathy and skills in evaluating other points of view from the start, not just what happened.

You can do both. My daughter came home absolutely thrilled after her academic prep took them to Kew where they were shown letters written by Henry VIII and his wives. It led to a piece of work on exactly why Henry ruled in the way he did, the story if you like, but it inspired her to the extent that she still takes herself and her friends off to Hampton Court and the V&A etc. out of sheer fascination with the whole of the Tudor story, not just what happened but the way the people who were part of the story lived, in it's widest sense.

At my very academic Grammar school we started at From Ur to Rome, taught by our dragon Headmistress, and then went on from there. They lost me in Ur!

I teach the history and literature of another culture, for my students it is often a road to Damascus, as it was for me. They may be familiar with aspects of that culture and even have visited it but they failed to appreciate that the people who grow up in that culture are not "exotic", mysterious and enigmatic, or sometimes plain bonkers, the attitude often adopted by those who can only look at the world from one perspective, an attitude that holds UK PLC back. They are people like you and I who simply act out of a different cultural framework and belief system, much easier to understand and engage with once you are familar with not just the story but also the source of people's motivations. Many of my students have been on gap years and it is the source of their frustration that I highlighted above with the way they have been taught History, that it left them ill equipped to go out into the world and understand it from a different perspective to the one shaped by a one dimensional approach to telling our story. Frustration that has given rise to this sort of thing smile

bradbourne Thu 27-Sep-12 14:53:47

My dsd (12) is very interested in history but regularly complains that, in history, they are taught "how to be historians" rather than learning much history itself. For example, recently, she had to write about whether it was fair to describe Queen Mary 1 as "Bloody Mary", yet it was unclear to her from her history lessons who Mary's father and mother were or even that Mary was Catholic.

trixie123 Thu 27-Sep-12 16:52:22

exactly Bradbourne. We do the exact same task of whether on Bloody Mary but it is preceded by some weeks' work on the reformation and succession. You can't evaluate anything without knowing the facts that you are basing it on. You have to judge by the standards of the time and if you don't know them, all you do is judge them by modern standards. I always react quite strongly to the immediate response of "that's sexist" whenever the status of medieval women is under discussion because that's a modern response and unfairly condemns a society for attitudes that they would have had virtually no choice in holding.

Copthallresident Thu 27-Sep-12 17:26:06

trixie, that is how it should be taught, bradbourne's dsd isn't being taught "how to be a historian" because a historian applies their skills to analyse what happened. Otherwise it is data and evidence free analysis, not that that doesn't seem prevalent in determining education strategy at the moment. However the fact that some History teaching is poor doesn't mean that we have to have a kneejerk reaction back to the days of only teaching what happened, and not giving pupils a chance to develop those skills of analysis.

I actually don't think we are far apart, it was my point exactly that the past is another country and we need to teach pupils to adopt different perspectives to understand it. I can see that what you do probably works in your school but in DDs very academic indie in Year 7 and 8 they studied their own school's history through the original documents, and talking to old girls, then moved on to other 17 and 18thc topics, and then the Victorians and Edwadians including, shock horror, cross disciplinary studies of the suffragettes. They also have excellent GCSE and A level results, some of the best in the country, and each year historians winning places at Cambridge and Durham.

trixie123 Thu 27-Sep-12 22:07:18

I doubt any school now honestly teaches no analytic / evaluation skills at all. I suppose my feeling is that those skills are not really all that difficult to gain and with the maturity of, say 14+, are not hard to grasp and master in time for public exams. I do think that children brought up in the UK should have a working knowledge of the major historical turning points that are so frequently referenced in our society. I also teach RS and within that subject we explore all manner of different cultural values and historical episodes. I think that, as you say, for the boys I teach, the peasants revolt etc is the way forward, but for the girls you teach, a different selection is most likely to motivate them. It is a generalisation and there will always be exceptions of course, but we are unrealistic if we don't acknowledge that and teach to our audience. The fact that we both have high achieving historians suggests we are getting something right! smile

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