Emotional response or objective enquiry? Using shared stories and a sense of place


By Andrew Wrenn, published 21st November 2008

In this article, Andrew Wrenn explores some issues that teachers might consider when supporting 14 and 15 year olds in their study of war memorials as historical interpretations. Tony McAleavy has argued that ‘popular' and ‘personal' interpretations and representations are just as worthy of study at Key Stage 3 as ‘academic', ‘educational' or ‘fictional' interpretations. The extensive and original work that McAleavy and David Aldred carried out for the National Curriculum Council has been of huge practical benefit to teachers of Key Stage 3 history. However, very little published work has since been seen on the role of personal stories and collective emotional responses in work on interpretations with 11 to 16 year olds. Andrew Wrenn now takes the debate further. He argues, first, that these popular and personal reflections are not merely worthy of study and critical reflection in their own right, but that they are invariably present in our initial reactions and responses to interpretations and representations of all types. Complete objectivity is never possible. What matters is that teachers acknowledge and use their own and their pupils' intensely personal (and sometimes deeply emotional) reflections. His second theme is the pedagogical potential of interpretations that are not static. Historic sites such as war memorials change constantly because the guardians of the sites respond to new national or popular priorities and feelings. Well-structured learning activities can help pupils to discern and to reflect upon the cultural and political values of the period that created and altered the memorial site.

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