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?