Building Key Stage 5 students’ analysis of interpretations

By Samuel Head, published 5th October 2020

‘That’s just the tip of the iceberg’: Building Key Stage 5 students’ analysis of interpretations in the short, medium and long term

Students of A-level history are required to analyse and evaluate historical interpretations. Samuel Head found limitations in his Year 13 students’ understanding of how and why historians arrive at differing interpretations, which impeded their ability to analyse them. He set about tackling this with carefully sequenced planning and a processual model using the visual metaphor of an iceberg. Samuel and his department also developed a long-term curriculum plan to build students’ disciplinary knowledge of interpretations from Year 7 onwards.

‘So, sir, these two historians don’t agree about the success of Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies?’ ‘No’, I replied, ‘and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!’ That historians come to differing conclusions about the past was a revelation to my Year 13 class when I first started teaching them. Six years of history lessons in a department going through a turbulent period had not instilled the disciplinary knowledge necessary to handle interpretations at A-level. While my colleagues and I planned to address this for future cohorts through our curriculum for Key Stages 3 and 4, I also needed to help my current A-level students. To this end, I developed a sequence of interconnected enquiries through which my students would develop their understanding of historical interpretations across eighteen lessons (approximately 8 weeks), in parallel with the early stages of their interpretations-focused coursework. This became a teaching sequence on interpretations of Thatcher’s Britain, which formed part of the students’ preparation for a paper on modern British history. Out of this curriculum planning emerged innovative practical pedagogical strategies for teaching historical interpretations...

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