Had a really great day today, sitting in on the last half hour of the OUDES interns talking about pupil preconceptions and then assisting one of them talking about using the ‘net for teaching and learning. More details here…
This article is the sort of thing I was talking about at a recent PGCE session at the Oxford University Department of Educational Studies.
Blogging with Students
The importance of blogging, and the related idea of users of the web creating their own web is only now becoming clear. I’ve been using the internet since 1992, for learning and leisure, and for teaching since 2002. It is only in the last few months that I’ve realized its power as a collaborative teaching and learning tool.
This year I’ve been creating, along with my class, a record of my year 13 Cold War Course, which started as a way of helping my student’s learning to be less passive. I was concerned that my students could come to lessons, listen to me teaching, attempt some activities and then leave the lesson, without really engaging with the history, and without feeling the need to look at the notes until revision started (if it did at all!).
The Cold War Wiki is now up and running!
This is an experimental wiki – a collaborative encyclopaedia – for my year 13 students. Feel free to take a look around it, although if you want to edit it then you’ll have to email me for a password.
This site is mainly a site for communicating with my students and colleagues.
After a great diploma meeting I feel that I’ve been slightly distracted away from thinking about this from a pupil perspective. In addition to getting at what teachers think about interpretations, perhaps I need to get my head around pupil preconceptions on this topic.
I’ll have a think!
The Cold War class blog is now at
Right – questions sharpened, background explained – post is ready to go.
I’m going to make the following post on the TES history Webboard, the boards at the Education Forum and at www.schoolhistory.co.uk.
I’m researching the impact on the teaching and learning in my year 13 class of my ideas about what “historical interpretations” means.
I’ve got an idea that what I think interpretations means differs greatly from what my students think it means (if they think about it at all!).
I also have an idea that my professional peers have individual conceptions of that term and that I’d learn a lot from you, if you’d be kind enough to share your views with me.
Could you spare a couple of minutes to offer some thoughts on some or all of the following? I’d be forever grateful. I will be using your answers as the basis of some analysis for my PGDip in Teaching and Learning History. I may quote from what you say, but will obviously not reveal identities.
You can reply to this post if you wish, or email me any answers directly at
Edwardpodesta*googelmail.com (put an @ instead of the * to email me)
Thank you very much for your time in reading this post.
What questions do you ask of interpretations?
What are the problems or pitfalls that students seem to have when thinking about interpretations?
Why do we study interpretations?
What types of interpretations do you study with your students? Why do you use those types of interpretation?
Is it important to study different types of interpretations? Why?
How does the study of interpretations change through KS3 to KS5?
How can we secure progression in the study of ‘interpretations’?
If a student asked you “what do you mean by ‘interpretations’”?, what would your reply be?
So, after a brief hiatus in study to allow for OFSTED, marking Fasttrack and generally things getting in the way of the good stuff!
Read the teacher’s research guide to see what I need to do in respect of interviewing
Interviewing: Teachers, with the aim of finding out about how teachers teach interpretations across KS 3, 4 and 5.
Questions for interview:
What questions do we ask of interpretations?
What are the problems or pitfalls that students have when thinking about interpretations?
Why do we study interpretations? Why do we study different types of interpretations?
How does the study of interpretations change? How can we secure progression in the study of interpretations?
Post on the TES website, to ask similar questions
Speak to subject officer to ask these questions.
Vermeulen’s piece is based on two main points – the interplay between skills and knowledge and the rejection of a linear form of progression.
According to Vermeulen, getting better at history is getting better at judgement. Historial judgement is made in the “interplay” between propositional and procedural historical knowledge. Propositional knowledge is the “know that” of history, of the narrative of history “underpinned” by understanding of concepts of historical study. Procedural knowledge is the “know how” of history, which Vermeulen casually lists as “evidence” and “communication skills”.
It is when talking about the “concepts” of history that Vermeulen most clearly rejects linear models of progression. Vermeulen claims that progress here means increasingly complex understanding (reflecting Lee and Shemilt’s “stronger misconceptions”) of historical concepts and claims that progress is made in a spider’s web pattern, presumeably with new information, being secured, forming a node in the increasingly sophisticated pattern of a specific historical concept. Later in the article Vermeulen makes clear a rejection of the discrete skill domains of linear progression models for assessing individual pupils.
Vermeulen relates how research which used deductive thinking methods when assessing the abiility of children to understand the “skills” of history are pessimistic about Children’s abilities, whereas those who used inductive methods of teaching (such as discussion) found that children could be helped to make complex and sophisticaed use of evidence.
Inductive teaching methods for “skills” might link with Vermeulen’s ideas for teaching understanding of historical concepts or “know that”. Vermeulen stresses the need for revisiting similar concepts. A strong link between inductive teaching of skills and re-visiting historical concepts might be be a process of inductive repetative personal exploration rather than a re-visit to secure the level a pupil reached last time. A further link might be found in her emphasis on regularities and similarities of history, through which pupils understanding of concepts acquire “increasing complexity” and the need for “deliberate” creation of patterns of similarity.
Having rejected linear models she says that they can nevertheless be useful in planning, but doesn’t really explain how. In respect of planning she offers two broad strategies – firstly an emphasis on “meta-understading” -“an understanding of how history works” borrowing from Bourdillon. This meta understanding is to be attained by “deconstruction” of narratives and sources to show how history works.
I’m really glad that I read this after reading Lee and Shemilt.
Lee and Shemilt’s arguments that NCAT are flawed because of their lack of relation to how pupils learn, their over reliance on arbitrary “once attained” targets like “evaluate” and connecting certain targets with certain ages are to an extent anticipated by McAlevy.
For example, McAleavy talks of “visiting” and “re-visiting” concepts. Which seems to echo Lee and Shemilt’s ideas of pupils exchanging weak for stronger misconceptions, rather than the once and for all attainment model implicit in the bare words of NCAT. Similarly McAleavy’s “threads” helps prevent the idea that pupils should only look at different types of interps at certain ages, or only begin to consider the “evidence” behind interpretations at another predetermined age.
However much that remains of of his view of interpretations is troublesome. Firstly McAleavy bases his ideas for activites and assessment solely on the targets in the assessment criteria. This shows how important progression models are – they form short and medium term targets that teachers use in their plans for activities. McAleavy still talks of a pupil reaching level 4 in AT2 – which implies that before this a pupil is not able to assess interpretations according to their evidential base, and that afterwards they can. A “once and for all” attainment is what McAleavy expects, in the final analysis.
His emphasis on the “historical validity” of interpretations implies that this is history work in search of the truth. That interpretations are to be quizzed mainly on their relation to the “truth”. I believe this is problematic on a raft of levels. For instance see my post number 67 on the TES website (posting as foodkid). In addition, this implication contains a pitfall, a tragedy and a danger.
This search for “truth” is further implied in the activites suggested in figure 1. Most of the questions posed here and the activities suggested could sit solely in the realm of AT4 or questions of “enquiry” “reliability” or “evidence”. For instance, pupils are asked whether the interpretation is plausible, what was the purpose or intended audience of the interpretation, or how far was the background of the author affecting the interpretation? These questions are all reasonable questions to ask, but risk the “red herring” or formulaic “hunt the liar” pitfall of “sources A-E” type exercises.
More importantly, and tragically, they miss the crucial, exciting and living point of framing an interpretation question, the reason that Counsel calls interpretations “the jewel of key stage 3”; namely that in explaining why the interpretation is a certain way, we can find out just as much about the author’s culture, time, lifestyle, beliefs etc as we can about the period of time that is the subject of his interpretation.
Dangerously, McAleavy frames questions which are seriously misleading as to the nature of interpretations and historical knowldege, such as “which parts of the interpretation are factual and which are points of view”. Pupils are invited to sort statements in accounts of historical events into piles of FACT and OPINION. This is a false dichotomy. I can see no reason why one cannot have an opinion that is largely “factual”. One could have a “fact” that is made up, by a protagonist, a “biast” commentator, or a wicked historian.
One last problem that I have with this article is McAleavy’s assertion that we should introduce pupils to a range of interpretations. He says that there’s no hierarchy of truth to this list, but he doesn’t really make clear why we should so expose our students. Again the implication is that our pupils need practice in searching for veracity in the sources of history that we find around us.
Before reading this I was hoping that I’d come away with the beginning of an idea of the type of questions that we should be asking about interpretations, and I suppose I have found a set of “threads” that McAleavy wishes us to consider when looking at interpretations. He also provides us with a “definition” of sorts and a warning to be aware of the differences between “contemporary” points of view and a “concious reflection on the past”. I could use these threads and the definition as a basis for making a questionnaire, or the start of a discussion with teachers.
I really enjoyed reading the article as I feel like I’m finally starting to piece together the two halves of my enquire – namely that of “progression” and “interpretation”. McAleavy conciously uses the NCAT model of progression (albeit in AT form) to craft his medium term and short term planning of questions and activities in relation to “interpretations”.
However, I also feel that I’m starting to disappear up my own fundament in a post-modern funk. The link between past and present, the lack of distinction between viewer and what is viewed, between history and the interpretation is once again becoming a burden. It would be so “nice” to be able to see the world in terms of “primary” and “secondary”, of “what happened” and “the ways that people have sought to bend the truth”.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to McAleavy?