Jump to content
The Education Forum
  • Announcements

    • Evan Burton

      OPEN REGISTRATION BY EMAIL ONLY !!! PLEASE CLICK ON THIS TITLE FOR INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR REGISTRATION!:   06/03/2017

      We have 5 requirements for registration: 1.Sign up with your real name. (This will be your Username) 2.A valid email address 3.Your agreement to the Terms of Use, seen here: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=21403. 4. Your photo for use as an avatar  5.. A brief biography. We will post these for you, and send you your password. We cannot approve membership until we receive these. If you are interested, please send an email to: edforumbusiness@outlook.com We look forward to having you as a part of the Forum! Sincerely, The Education Forum Team
Sign in to follow this  
Seán Lang

Historical Association Curriculum Project

Recommended Posts

History offers two great opportunities as educators.

Firstly the opportunity for us to teach powerful and thought provoking content, and secondly through our approach and methodology, the opportunity to prepare students to think for themselves. These are of course not mutually exclusive as the "skills versus content" debate often suggests. Actually I would argue it is very difficult to do one with out the other.

I had a minor success today when a girl in my sixth form class accused me of 'brainwashing her to think for herself' :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Inspiring and a very interesting debate (and an excellent start/speech). I agree with several of the people in the danger of making rigid formal courses that does not leave any room for our students own creativity and initiative. Though there is another problem...

Since I teach history in Sweden my experience of National Curriculum’s is a bit different then that from my British colleagues. We basically don't have a National Curriculum (or I should say we have several very general points that make it possible to make individual interpretations and since we don't have any National Exams the teacher in the class-room decides what and how to study the topic). In several other places I have argued how hard it is when you don't have an "enforced" National Curriculum. I do realize all the opportunities this gives the individual history teacher, but I have also seen a lot of problems which follows along this lack of indications of what should be taught (and hopefully learned). We have examples of teachers that never brought up the basics of European History during the last Centuries but resorted to fully develop their own interests in other fields; Swedish History in the 17th Century, Ancient History of Greece and Rome etc... Their students hardly know anything about the French Revolution, the industrial and political development during the 19th Century, Imperialism, the coming of the two World Wars, the Cold War, etc... all these parts that we count as being basic historical knowledge.

I’m also an IB teacher and there I run into the problems so well described by others in this debate – a very rigid formal system that is totally oriented towards exams and it gives very little room to the creativity and students own initiative…

As you might understand – teaching in these contradictory systems must make a very ambivalent teacher… :lol:

In the first lesson of the ‘A’ level class I decided to carry out a little experiment. All the students had followed the same courses over the previous five years. I therefore gave them all a quiz on the history topics they had been taught at the school. Much to my surprise, they had remembered very little of what they had been taught. This was true of my students and those taught by other members of staff. (I was to discover over the next few weeks that they had indeed remembered the skills they had been taught).

During the discussion it became clear why the students had forgotten this information. They had remembered the information for as long as it was needed (for tests and examinations). They were all good students and had done well in these tests and examinations. Although they had not done this consciously, they had discarded the information as soon as the task was over.

I think this is a very typical picture for IB History as well. Great students usually with good learning capacity totally focused on the final exams. The choice of topics within the system is limited and as also been pointed out, it gives the student a strange concept of history which they will forget in a short time anyway. IB also focus on the kind of uninspiring and formal source criticism described before which does not inspire them to go further and see the necessity to apply critical thinking in every day life...

So what could be done... Well in one smaller course that I teach - "Gothenburg History" I have been able to form the course and apply source criticism a different way. Here comes a little idea about how we worked with local sources...

Our school is located in the center of Gothenburg. Our closest neigbour is the Regional Archive of Gothenburg;

The Regional Archives in Gothenburg comprises the county of Västra Götaland and its archives give detailed information on the practice of State authorities from the 17th century to the second half of the 20th century. You may for example trace your ancestry and follow local decisions in matters of poverty and elementary schools in the church archives, you can follow your ancestor´s way of living in the written proceedings or read their inventories in the archives of the courts, you can get information on the extent and curing of diseases , as of habits of dwelling and customs in the report in the county medical officers. You can look into the hard life at an old county jail, read old journals from a mental hospital or the diary of a midwife. You can see the development of the farming, fishing, forestry and industries in different parts of the county. You can also read the certificates and the written matriculation examination in the archives of the high schools.

The Regional Archives in Gothenburg keep 45 000 shelf-metres of state archives, but also 20 000 shelf-metres of private archives, i.e. archives from separate individuals, associations and enterprises, where we are very much directed towards westswedish "specialties" like seafaring, fishing, trading firms, emigration, history of shipbuilding yards etc.

From the webbpage of the Regional Archive of Gothenburg

As part of this course I teach the students about how to use the archive to find information about individuals in Gothenburg at certain time periods. They will then pick out a certain part of a block (could be a house or two) in two specific areas in Gothenburg (also close to our school) and note all the people that lived there at two/three different years (like 1860 / 1880 / 1900). The task later is to try to evaluate the background of the people that lived at the addresses and see if there was any great changes over time in a wider historical context (the history of the city, the region, the country and on an international level...). They use a few other archives in Gothenburg as well (one with photos of "Old Gothenburg") and later they should evaluate the sources used.

The results of this exercise vary but what is more important - the students have evaluated this exercise as being inspirational and the better part of the course pointing out that they got to approach historical material in a different way from what they had done before. I wrote this part to show of one alternative in approaching source material compared with bringing certain material to the class-room and then just force the students to use what is served. I'm sure that you all have a lot of other samples of this kind of source practice...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This debate is somewhat overwhelming for me. First of all it contains a level of self-awareness that is not so common among the teachers I know. It also contains references to several different types of education systems combined with several terms I am unfamiliar with. So in forming opinions I would have to be making some inaccurate assumptions here.

At the philisophical level I think I am tuned into the aspect of this debate that touches on top level control of curriculum. The idea of a teaching environment where Margaret Thatcher can decide what I am supposed to teach with a group of politicians and someone who owns a castle it frightening to me. In some ways it implies that mediocre teachers will be employed and they need to be given detailed guidance in a command economy model of education.

I feel that our school may soon have the same experience that happened at the American school in Madrid. A curriculum expert? Uggh. Must demonstrate an understanding of the facts of a certain area? This seems to be an example of content based learning at the exclusion of learning skills. But of course the very valid counter point its that an exhaustive unit on Nazi Germany wouldn't be the major project in three consecutive grade levels.

Nico Zijlstra said this.

In the Netherlands the History debate is turning away from the skills approach. A governmental commission has advised the Minister of Education to emphasise on chronology.

This timeline is divided into 10 parts and pupils should be aware of main aspects of that period. Unfortunately the commission has not pointed out what those main facts should be.

This is the most intrusive guidelines I would want a national body to give to history teachers. I actually think this is a great approach. Content should determine what is taught and when, and some vaguely defined targets for learning comprehension are given. In this system a student would not be expected to turn in a performance of returning the political timeline of the Netherlands from the sands of time through the House of Orange to the Present, but to demonstrate an understanding of the significanct aspects of each perion. A hopefully as far as I'm concerned, the commission would never define what the main facts should be and that would be a debate within the hitory profession and open to variation as the field continues to evolve.

Some of the ideas presented for teaching curriculum sound wonderful. A mock trial for General Haig or the Munich Putsch or practicing archeaology and history with the Tollund Man all sound like fantastic creative exercizes that would bring about long term retention.

Similar exercizes I have done in the classroom are role playing exercises about Victorian culture, a classroom debate contesting the values of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, playing an Oregon trial game that highlights the pitfalls of life on the trial and sneeks in historical facts constantly, and this year I will probably be asking for advice on how to contruct an exercise to evaluate the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.

I think that this is a horse and cart question. I think that curriculum should be laid out based on content and content should drive the history curriculum. If learning skills are put out first, then the teacher gets to pick and choose content with which to apply those learning skills and invariably chunks of content will fail to be covered and subsequent teachers will have to assume a balnk slate of knowlegde and give a background of anything they attempt to cover, or assume that content has been covered when it often hasn't been.

So, I think curriculum design for history must first be content designed. And when a K-12 (years 5-18) grid has been laid out for what base of material needs to be presented, then the teachers who walk into the classroom still have the flexibility and opportunity to present this material and work on any learning skills they deem to be in the best interests of the students.

My point here is that laying down content first does not exclude the apllication of learning skills. Working on those long term learning skills is a selling point to students who do not like history. "Okay, you may not like studying about the political history of Great Britain, but you are going to be developing writing, reading comprehension, analytical, interpretation skills that will give you a better ability to solve problems in the future and make a persuasive argument such as why I have earned a raise." In fact I think that history in itself is only a positive good if it is perceived that way by the student. But academically it is another way to create students with better learning skills and that is why it should remain as part of the mandatory core of classwork.

After a school or an administrative district has laid down the basic content to be covered, then it makes sense to come back and look at what skills a student should possess as they walk out the door at different levels. At my school, since I work at the tail end of the academic process, I am trying to place a greater emphasis on developing reading comprehension and writing skills so that I see more students who can argue the significance of historical concepts and connect it to clear and effective examples from course material. And I also hope to someday see students that can create an effective thesis that can control a five to seven page paper or even a five paragraph essay.

To me the pitfall of focusing on learning skills is that nobody along the way then will know what they can assume students know and holes will be created that may be a disservice to the student later on in college as they encounter material for the first time when they should have already encountered twice beofre college. It also allows teacher to focus on the more fun aspects of creating long group projects that make them college level experts on a few topics but the base facts of history are left unaddressed.

So I am a content person. Get the content presented and when possible find ways to make room for deep projects here and there, but making sure that a critical mass of material is being presented and the students are being held accountable for having at least temporarily mastered the building blocks of historical learning skills, the facts of history.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the biggest changes in history teaching in the UK over the past 30 years has been that instead of school history being mainly about the transmission of a body of knowledge about the substantive past, some time has also been given to developing pupils’ understanding of history as a form of knowledge, with its own procedures, conventions etc. Lee and Ashby emphasise that this was not a retreat from the importance of pupils acquiring historical knowledge, ‘instead, “knowledge” was treated seriously, as something that had to be understood and grounded. It is essential that students know something of the kind of claims made by historians and what those different kinds of claim rest on’ (Lee and Ashby, 2001: 200). As Lee and Ashby point out, 'Many stories are told, and they may contradict, compete with or complement one another, but this means that students should be equipped to deal with such relationships, not that any old story will do…. Students who understand sources as information are helpless when confronted by contradictory sources.'

I think that it is essential that pupils do develop some understanding of ‘what history is’- that it is a construct, not ‘how the past happened’. It’s not an ‘either-or’ thing, it is also helpful for them to have a mental framework of the past, and to understand that the deployment of ‘historical perspectives’ can offer insights into current problems and issues. A bit about ‘identity’ is OK but I think that this has been over-emphasised by some commentators (such as, for example, Nick Tate). In terms of what is most essential, I think it is school history’ s potential for helping young people to handle information intelligently. It can also help them to understand issues about power, and the extent to which this can be used for the general good (or not). It should help to develop pupils’ ‘democratic literacy’ (including democratic deficits); an important facet of citizenship education.

Two chapters which I thought were really helpful on this point:

Lee, P. and Ashby, R. (2001) 'Progression in historical understanding 7-14', in Seixas, P. Stearns, P. and Wineburg, S. (eds), Teaching, Knowing and Learning History, New York, New York University Press: 195-220, and Christine Counsell’s chapter in Phillips, R. and Arthur, J. (2000), Issues in history teaching, London, RoutledgeFalmer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What is so good about this debate is that we have representatives from so many different countries.

Since I teach history in Sweden my experience of National Curriculum’s is a bit different then that from my British colleagues. We basically don't have a National Curriculum (or I should say we have several very general points that make it possible to make individual interpretations and since we don't have any National Exams the teacher in the class-room decides what and how to study the topic). In several other places I have argued how hard it is when you don't have an "enforced" National Curriculum. I do realize all the opportunities this gives the individual history teacher, but I have also seen a lot of problems which follows along this lack of indications of what should be taught (and hopefully learned). (Anders MacGregor-Thunell - Sweden)

In the Netherlands the History debate is turning away from the skills approach. A governmental commission has advised the Minister of Education to emphasise on chronology. This timeline is divided into 10 parts and pupils should be aware of main aspects of that period. Unfortunately the commission has not pointed out what those main facts should be. (Nico Zijlstra – Netherlands)

I think that this is a horse and cart question. I think that curriculum should be laid out based on content and content should drive the history curriculum. If learning skills are put out first, then the teacher gets to pick and choose content with which to apply those learning skills and invariably chunks of content will fail to be covered and subsequent teachers will have to assume a blank slate of knowledge and give a background of anything they attempt to cover, or assume that content has been covered when it often hasn't been. So, I think curriculum design for history must first be content designed. And when a K-12 (years 5-18) grid has been laid out for what base of material needs to be presented, then the teachers who walk into the classroom still have the flexibility and opportunity to present this material and work on any learning skills they deem to be in the best interests of the students. (Raymond Blair – USA)

Although I was initially opposed to the idea of a National Curriculum I now believe the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. One of its great strengths is that it produced a debate on what history students should be doing in the classroom. This included a discussion about what topics students should study. There is a lot of history available and teachers have always had to make some tough choices. In pre-National Curriculum days, this resulted in some important topics being ignored. One of the consequences of this was students leaving school with a poor understanding of their past. To a certain extent, the National Curriculum, initially addressed this problem. However, the decision to reduce the amount of history teaching that students received (about 50% of students drop the subject completely at 14 in the UK) has undermined the idea of a content based National Curriculum.

Other reforms have given schools more control over the topics studied. As a result, we are moving back to the situation we faced before the introduction of the National Curriculum. Students are leaving school without studying key aspects of our history. On another forum for history teachers, a teacher recently announced that he was going to suggest to his Head of Department that the school should drop the industrial revolution as a topic taught in history. He justified this decision by pointing out that his students found this topic boring.

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...?showtopic=4045

It is not unusual for history departments to make decisions based on what students find appealing. For example, some schools spend several weeks studying subjects such as Jack the Ripper and Popular Music in the 1960s. This is justified by the claim that this increases the number of students opting to study the subject at key stage 4 (14-16 years). Others argue that as long as the right skills are taught, subject matter is not important. See the following link for the full debate on this topic.

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...?showtopic=2125

As I said earlier:

What kind of influence to we want to have on students studying history in the classroom?. I would suggest the following:

(1) That they leave school with a keen interest in history and with a good understanding of why the subject is important.

(2) That they are aware of how the past influences the present and the future.

(3) That they have the necessary skills to function fully as an adult citizen.

(4) That they have an empathetic understanding of what it is like to be an individual or a member of a group outside their own experience of life.

(5) That they have an understanding of the historical relationship that their country has had with the rest of the world.

(6) That they become life-long learners.

(7) That they can communicate their knowledge and understanding of the past to other people.

I would argue that points 1, 2 and 5 cannot be obtained without studying the industrial revolution. It amazes me that a history teacher could even consider dropping a topic such as the industrial revolution.

I am also highly critical of the idea that as long as the right skills are taught, subject matter is not important. This sort of comment invariably comes from recently trained teachers who seem to be totally unaware of the debate about history skills that went on in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Those pioneering teachers involved in promoting what became known as the “New History” never saw the idea of teaching skills in isolation from subject matter. When I studied history at university I was shocked by the way it was so different from the way I studied the subject at school. It was during this period I came to the conclusion that there was no reason why this “investigative” approach could not be used in the school classroom. When I started my PGCE course in 1977 at Sussex University I discovered that a lot of the other students felt the same way. So did my university tutors and together we formed Tressell Publications.

There were of course political reasons for wanting to teach history in this way. I agree with the points made by Andy Walker and Terry Hadyn:

History offers two great opportunities as educators. Firstly the opportunity for us to teach powerful and thought provoking content, and secondly through our approach and methodology, the opportunity to prepare students to think for themselves. These are of course not mutually exclusive as the "skills versus content" debate often suggests. Actually I would argue it is very difficult to do one with out the other. (Andy Walker - UK)

In terms of what is most essential, I think it is school history’ s potential for helping young people to handle information intelligently. It can also help them to understand issues about power, and the extent to which this can be used for the general good (or not). It should help to develop pupils’ ‘democratic literacy’ (including democratic deficits); an important facet of citizenship education. (Terry Hadyn - UK)

One of the first books we produced was “Contemporary Accounts of the First World War”. The main objective was to show why people like David Lloyd George, Sir Douglas Haig, Vera Brittain and Siegfried Sassoon interpreted the events of the war differently from each other. The did so because their experiences of the war were different. This in turn influenced the way they saw the world. This was the same motivation behind our book “Contemporary Accounts of the Industrial Revolution”. We published these books because we thought it was vitally important to study these topics in this particular way.

A good example of the division of fact from skill can be seen in many, many GCSE textbooks I've seen recently in which accompany the briefest and most superficial account of "what happened" with 6-10 two-three line "sources" for the students to analyze. They just don't have sufficient background or perspective from the inadequate account which accompanies them to react in any very valid way to the "sources" presented. I would in any case challenge the validity of any source which consisted of a couple of lines wrenched from a much longer piece of writing. (Mike Tribe - Spain)

I agree entirely. This problem has arisen because GCSE attempted to incorporate a “skills approach” to its courses. However, it did so without grasping the ideology behind the “New History”. The GCSE boards were only interested in measuring and grading the skills acquired by the students. In doing so, they turned history into a Mickey Mouse subject. The format of the examination papers have of course influenced the production of textbooks (or is it the other way round). A large number of teachers have got the idea that the best way to get good grades at GCSE is to teach the subject via the double page spread. After all, this is basically what they will get in the examination. The narrative in these books is always brief and this is accompanied by a couple of pictures and four or five very brief quotations. Little information is given to the students about the person who has created the source. As Mike has pointed out the students “just don't have sufficient background or perspective from the inadequate account which accompanies them to react in any very valid way to the ‘sources’ presented.”

I am a strong believer in the SHP / active learning philosophy and only the other day my year 10 class re-enacted Hitler's trial after the Munich Putsch and it was a fantastic lesson. Of course the boys needed the 'facts' to be able to complete the activity and the fact that they were able to produce such high quality speeches clearly showed they had a good grasp of the details. I can't believe that they would have got as much out of an essay or even source work about the same topic. It is a lovely fantasy but wouldn't it be great if students could do part of their GCSE / A Level exams with these kind of activities. (Dan Lyndon - UK)

Exactly. Why should this be a fantasy? Surely it is not beyond the capabilities of history teachers to come up with assessments that are based on the best things we have been doing in the classroom?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Like many of you, I think that there has to be a balance between skills and facts. Without the facts the students cannot be expected to learn how to "explore" history's vital themes and narratives. History is not a bunch of facts, it is cause and effect. It is circumstance. In fact, I tell my kids that the names, dates and places that I was taught are not the most important things that they will be learning in my classes. It is the ability to understand why an event happened or why a particular decision was made, or why one country would react as it did that is the most important.

The National Council for History Education, of which I belong, has deemed these skills "History's Habits of Mind." This is a major reason that I belong to this organiztion. The habits of mind are based on six themes of history: (1) Civilization, cultural diffusion,and innovation; (2) Patterns of social and political interaction; (3) Human interaction with the environment; (4) conflict and cooperation; (5) values, beliefs, political ideas, and institutions; (6) comparative history of major developments. Each of these themes is only a focal point and should be overlaped by several of the other themes. For instance, Civilization cannot be fully understood unless geography and technology, balues, ideas and institutions are also covered.

The Habits of Mind are:

1. ...understand the significance of the past to their own lives, both private and public, and to their society.

2. ...Distinguish between the important and the inconsequential, to develoop the "discriminating memory" needed for discerning judgment in public and personal life.

3. ...perceive past events and issues as they were experienced by people at the time, to develop historical empathy as opposed to present-mindedness.

4. ...acquire at one and the same time a comprehension of diverse cultures and of shared humanity.

5. ...understand how things happen and how things change, how human intentions atter, but also how their consequences are shaped by the mens of carrying them out in a tangle between purpose and process.

6. ...comprehend the interplay of change and continuity, and avoid assuming that either is somehow more natural, or more to be expected, than the other.

7. ...prepare to live with uncertainties and exasperating--even perilous--unfinished business, realizing that not all "problems" have solutions.

8. ...grasp the complexity of historical causatioin, respect particularity, and avoid excessively abstract generaizations.

9. ...appreciate the often tentative nature of judgments about the past, and thereby avoid the temptation to sieze upon particular "lessons" of history as cures for present ills.

10. ...recognize the importance of individuals who have made a difference in history, and the significance of persoal character for both good and ill.

11. ...appreciate the force of the nonrational, the irrational, the accidental, in history and human affairs.

12. ...understand the relationship between geography and history as a matrix of time and place, and as context for events.

13. ...read widely and critically in order to recognize the difference between fact and conjecture, betwwen evidence and assertion, and thereby to frrame useful questions.

Because the State and Federal governments have told U.S. educators to guage our students history knowledge by standardized tests, many teachers feel forced to "teach to the test." Meaning to give only the information that students will find on the test. This has two effects. First, it limits the true knowledge that students can possibly gain, while at the same time helping the school look good. In essence if student scores are high it indicates that our teachers are doing a wonderful job (Ha!). Additionaly, Americans tend to place a higher emphasis on math and science as the subjects that really mean something, that will keep on making America great. While I agree that they are very important subjects, I do not hold this view.

One of th many problems that our students face is the fact that in American High Schools many of the teachers are also coaches, and history is seen as the easiest place to put a coach (ie. "Read the chapter and answer the questions and the end."). So our students are hamstrung from the begining. In essence many schools use their history departments as a dumping ground for some of the worst teachers, solely because they place a high emphasis sports. This fram of mind drives me insane.

The "habits of mind" that I listed above are posted in my classroom. I use them as a reminder to both myself and to my students of the process that we should be utilizing to truely understand history. For my purposes I always create a lecture first. Once I have done this, I look at the information and try to figure out a project that my students can create that will get this same information to them without having my "talk at them". My projects encompase skills as well facts. Instead of lecturing to the students about geography and how it affects history and the development of civilization, my students have to create a 3D map and then as a class we discuss how some of the items that they have place on the map could have been obsticals to invading armies or how a particular mountain range may have kept a civilization isolated for many, many years.

Someone earlier had mentioned that they don't like to use primary sourse documents in the high school setting. I could not disagree more. As a history educator it is my job to utilize those documents in a way that the students can understand what life was like during that particular time period, or how people of that time period viewed a certain event. Again, by using the Habits of Mind, my classes are generally able to do such things.

One of my biggest frustrations arises from the fact that we have a very limited amount of time to teach history in. Currently, at the High School level, we cover American History from reconstruction to current times in six months. We do the same with Western Civilization, which we start teaching from the neanderthals. Needless to say Western Civ. rarely makes it past The Great War. The real shame in all of this is the fact that we are not able to go into depth on very many events. The age of the robber barrons is barely touched upon. This is beginging to sound like a rant so I will sign off here and join the discussion later.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nico Zijlstra said this.
In the Netherlands the History debate is turning away from the skills approach. A governmental commission has advised the Minister of Education to emphasise on chronology.

This timeline is divided into 10 parts and pupils should be aware of main aspects of that period. Unfortunately the commission has not pointed out what those main facts should be.

This is the most intrusive guidelines I would want a national body to give to history teachers. I actually think this is a great approach. Content should determine what is taught and when, and some vaguely defined targets for learning comprehension are given. In this system a student would not be expected to turn in a performance of returning the political timeline of the Netherlands from the sands of time through the House of Orange to the Present, but to demonstrate an understanding of the significanct aspects of each perion. A hopefully as far as I'm concerned, the commission would never define what the main facts should be and that would be a debate within the history profession and open to variation as the field continues to evolve.

My first contribution was written against the background of the way we examine History in the Netherlands:

So far we examinie 2 clearly defined subjects in History. Every subject is accompanied by a 'guidebook' (stofomschrijving) Every year there are lengthy discussions between teachers whether certain questions or approaches in the exams were correct. The result of these discussions usually is that we interpret and assess the answers as widely as 'historically' possible.

If we have a system in which we can freely choose subjects and the way we examine pupils I totally agree with you, and wish that in The Netherlands the debate between historians will pick up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We are trying to cope within a system which has gone mad on assessment.  You don’t need me to tell you about the stress this produces, and the obsession with results and League Tables which it produces.  The effect on individual subjects like history are virtually criminal.  I heard recently of one school not far form here where the history department is under pressure to fit the whole the Key Stage 3 Programme of Study into Years 7 and 8.  The obsession with assessment has now penetrated to all levels, from the student who only wanted to learn what was going to be on the exam paper to the sorry state of GCSE, excoriated by Chris Culpin as “doomed”, and ripe for “euthanasia … before it implodes, causing collateral damage to too many students.”  If there is one moment which convinced me that a new curriculum project is needed it came in the coffee break at the Historical Assocation’s “Past Forward” Conference held at the Cherwell School, Oxford, when the history subject officer of an A level Awarding Body drily noted that the examples of excellent classroom practice which Christine Counsell had just delineated in her opening address were all very well, but that they did not fit the assessment criteria. 

I personally believe that the educational system should mainly be concerned with producing students that have the skills necessary to function effectively as adult citizens. It is also hoped that they still retain the desire to learn. I would rather be involved in producing a life-long learner than an apathetic student with a batch of ‘A’ grades.

Of course I accept the school has a role in creating individuals to go into the worlds of work and further education. Assessment has to be part of this. However, this assessment should be based on finding out how much progress the student has made. It should never be about de-moralizing and de-motivating students and teachers. That is what the current system does - and it has to go. Assessment has to be placed into the hands of the teachers. There is evidence that Tomlinson has recognized this fact and the idea of teacher assessment is central to his proposals.

I have personally been assessed by a variety of different methods over the last 50 years. I have only been impressed with one of these methods. That was when I was studying for a research degree. I chose the subject I wanted to study. I was then assigned a tutor who was an expert in the academic area I had chosen. He read my work, chapter by chapter, and at each stage made suggestions on how it could be improved. When it was finished, it was read by another member of the faculty. The thesis was then sent away to an external expert. After he had read it I was cross-examined about my work by the three experts. As anyone else who has gone through this procedure knows, this process guarantees that you have a full understanding of the subject matter.

If this approach is acceptable as a means of assessing a student who has reached the highest level of academic study, why should it not be used with younger students.

Let me give you an idea how it might work. Imagine a Year 9 group studying the industrial revolution. At first students could be given an overview of the topic. Then the students could do an in-depth study of one aspect of the industrial revolution. For example, the use of child labour in the textile factories. Here is an example of simulation on child labour.

Each student is given the name of an individual that was involved in the debate that was taking place at this time. This includes factory owners, factory reformers, child workers, parents, journalists, religious leaders and doctors. The student is then given an instruction sheet with details of what they need to do. This includes writing an account of their character and a speech on the subject of child labour.

Each character had an entry on the web. This provides them with biography and sources that enables the student to discover his or her views on the issue. The website also includes information under headings such as factory pollution, parish apprentices, factory food, punishments, working hours, accidents and physical deformities. There are also web pages available on the machines the children used and the type of work they did in the factory.

The exercise helps to explain the complexity of child labour in the 19th century. The students discover that some factory owners, such as John Fielden and John Wood, were actually leaders of the pressure group trying to bring an end to child labour. At the same time, social reforming journalists like Edward Baines were totally opposed to any attempt by Parliament to regulate the use of labour. Even doctors did not agree that it would damage a child's health to stand for twelve hours a day in a factory where windows were kept closed and the air was thick with the dust from the cotton. What the children discover from their in-depth studies is why the individuals felt the way that they did. In the debate that follows, this is revealed to the rest of the class.

See the following for the actual simulation.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Twork.htm

After this the students are given the opportunity to do an in-depth study of one aspect of the industrial revolution. Ideally the students should be given a wide choice. Each topic would have its own web page. Each topic would have a list of different questions for the student to select from. This page will provide ideas about how to tackle the subject as well as links to other resources. This will include details of relevant books (hopefully these will also be available in the school library).

I believe that this web material should be produced by teachers and paid for by the government (a far better way of spending e-learning credits).

Like with the PhD thesis, the teacher will work closely with the student on the project. This will enable the teacher to assess how much each student is learning. This will of course be very time-consuming, however, time will be saved by a dramatic reduction in classroom lessons. This approach will also encourage the student to become an independent learner (vitally important if you are to fulfil the objective of them becoming a life-long learner).

Finally the student presents the information to the rest of the class. At this stage the student becomes a teacher (the best way for anybody to learn – see below for details of research that backs up this statement). This will involve the student answering questions about their work (again, like the PhD thesis).

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...?showtopic=1118

I see no reason why this approach should not be used right through the school. These various projects will build up towards their overall diploma.

Idealistic? Yes. Expensive? Yes, initially, but no more expensive than other recent experiments. After all, any change in the education system, always costs a lot of money. Unfortunately, in the past, most of it has been wasted.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A few months ago, Germany's ambassador to Britain, Thomas Mattusek, complained that English history teaching focuses excessively on the Nazi period. The history curriculum was "unbalanced". It said little about the successes of post-war Germany, ignored German reunification, and glossed over other crucial chunks of German history. Last week Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer, accused UK teachers of perpetuating a "goose-stepping" image of Germany that was three generations out of date.

Mattusek and Fischer have called for these subjects to be taught in the UK: Charlemagne, Bismarck, Willy Brandt, Germany’s post-war economic miracle and Reunification.

There is an article about this in today’s Guardian. Apparently the German government have just paid for 20 English history teachers to visit Germany to discuss these issues. However, as one of the teachers said (Peter Liddell): "Kids find the Nazi period interesting. A lot of things happen. There is plenty of violence. You have to bear in mind that at 14 kids can drop history altogether… Post-war German history is more sophisticated and convoluted and is therefore harder to teach."

The article ends:

"British children can be bigoted and uninterested. The general impression is that Germans are all Nazis who steal sun loungers," Stephen Daughton, who teaches history at a Newcastle comprehensive and spent teenage holidays in Germany, said. "This is obviously a cartoon-style view. The problem is that if you ask them seriously they have no view of Germany at all."

Other teachers blamed England's prescriptive curriculum, which left huge chunks of history out. "Europe disappears entirely after the Norman invasion and only reappears in the 20th century," Gerald Clarke, a teacher at Torquay Boys Grammar School, said. "I think the problem with the Nazis is that they are sexy. Evil is fascinating."

Yesterday German officials defended their decision to pay for British teachers to come to Germany - and said that Mr Fischer had a point. "We didn't know that he would say what he said. But for sometime we have had the feeling that we have to do something about this misperception," one official said.

"The problem is that on British TV you get endless movies that show goose-stepping SS soldiers. The level of ignorance is stunning. We've even met postgraduates at Oxford who didn't know about [communist] east Germany." The trip cost the German government €52,000 (£36,000) and it might be repeated if the money was well spent, the official said. Last year the education secretary Charles Clarke said he sympathised with German complaints about English history teaching but refused to downgrade the role of Hitler.

"Do I think there is a systematic distortion through the national curriculum of German history designed to misrepresent modern Germany? No, I don't," he said, during a visit to Bonn. Last night one British official said there was an ongoing debate about teaching history in Britain and that no firm conclusions had been reached. "This isn't just confined to Germany. Should children learn about the potato famine in Ireland, the American constitution or about feminism in Victorian England? There is a wide debate in the UK."

Before setting off to Dresden last night, meanwhile, some of the teachers said they were astonished at the lavish hospitality provided by the German government.

"I found myself in the penthouse suite of a five-star hotel," Mr Daughton said, before a German government tour bus whisked him off to the Reichstag. "We discovered later that even the mini-bar was free. We would never have been able to stay anywhere like that normally as teachers."

Had the trip worked? Would he teach Germany differently now? "I'm doubtful," Mr Daughton said.

I think the German government is right to raise this issue. However, if I was the Germans I would be more concerned about the way Nazi Germany and the Second World War are taught. Do history teachers spend enough time on the German resistance to Hitler? Are history teachers guilty of providing material that encourages nationalistic feelings in our young people. Should we be more concerned with developing an internationalist view of the world.

This does not only apply to our teaching of Nazi Germany. Can we expect complaints from Russian diplomats about the way we teach the Cold War? What about the United States? Do they approve of the way we teach the Civil Rights struggle in the 20th century? I know I have had several complaints from American educators about the Civil Rights material on my website. Others have complained about the material on the Vietnam War. The reason they complain is that their students use this material in their studies. This especially upsets those in Texas who keep careful controls over the textbooks that their students use.

I believe the arrival of the web raises a whole range of questions about the way we teach history in the classroom. It is therefore important that the HA and the government take this onboard if they are going to change the way we teach history in the classroom.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was reported in today’s Guardian that the report from the Historical Association commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills due to be published next month, will recommend an overhaul of the way history is taught in secondary schools which it says is excessively narrow with a “heavy concentration on Hitler”.

It also says that the current system leaves pupils with a poor sense of “chronological context” with topics like the development of parliament or the British Empire often neglected. It called for an overhaul of the way history is taught to 14-19-year-olds.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Writing in last week’s TES Sean Lang’s describes the report’s verdict on the quality of GCSE and A level exams as pretty dismal. Apparently, the report calls for analysis from historical sources to be removed from exams because the material used is often “too short for meaningful work”.

The report also stresses the importance of “inquiry work” saying it could fit well with the individual research project suggested by the Tomlinson report. It adds that the “inquiry work could be an individual study of a topic chosen by the pupil or a guided inquiry with the whole class looking at the same thing”.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×