New, Novice or Nervous? 170: Building students’ historical argument

Published: 6th April 2018

This page is for those new to the published writings of history teachers. Each problem you wrestle with, other teachers have wrestled with too. Quick fixes don’t exist. But in others’ writing, you’ll soon find something better: conversations in which other history teachers have debated or tackled your problems – conversations any history teacher can join.

This edition’s NNN problem is: Building students’ historical argument.

The beginnings of lessons explicitly devoted to historical argument can be most disappointing to members of Year 7, although they do at least, the third or fourth time, realise that you’re not talking about them simply shouting at one another. The problem with teaching students to argue is that it is both a core historical skill (what we, and the 1991 National Curriculum, would once have called a ‘Key Element’) and, often, the enabler for an outcome activity – the essay, whether written or not. Historical argument is, like all argument, persuasive. It is designed to convince the reader of something which is not obvious, and it comes to the consistent and supported conclusion of an historically valid question. How best can we help our students in this?

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