Time for chronology? Ideas for developing chronological understanding

Teaching History article

By Ian Dawson, published 1st December 2004

The successful study of history requires many things, but few would contest that an understanding of time is one of them. Quite what we mean by ‘an understanding of time’ needs clarification, however. Chronological understanding is one feature. But it is not simply an ability to place events in order that drives our teaching (although that is a good place to start!). It is also a sense of scale (exactly how long ago was the prehistoric period in relation to the Tudors?), a sense of period (exactly what is conjured up by the expression ‘Restoration England’?) and a sense of what Ian Dawson calls ‘the frameworks of the past’. As history teachers, we all have our own frameworks of the past. We can slot people and events from the past into a kind of mental map that enables us to make connections and draw comparisons across periods. The challenge is to equip our pupils to do the same. As with so much in teaching, the answer largely lies in good planning. In this article, Dawson helps us to tease out what teaching for an understanding of time might look like. In doing so, he offers invaluable advice to those forwardlooking departments that want to think bigger in their Key Stage planning in order to maximise coherence between and across the different units. He argues that ‘frameworks of the past’ do not emerge by accident, but need to be planned for and nurtured.

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