Interpretations

The fact that both the National Curriculum in England and the national assessment objectives that frame public examinations at GCSE and A-level include a focus on ‘historical interpretations’ (plural) as well as referring separately to students’ own use of evidence – makes it very clear that there is an important distinction between the disciplinary concepts of ‘evidence’ and ‘interpretations’. While the former is concerned with students’ use of sources to develop their own interpretation of events; the latter is concerned with students’ exploration and explanation of how and why interpretations developed by historians differ from one another.  (Both have a critical role to plan in students’ historical learning – and both need to be carefully planned!) Giving students the confidence and the knowledge to handle competing interpretations is undoubtedly challenging, but the materials in this section show how careful planning within and across the key stages (including Key Stage 3) can help students of all ages to engage effectively with interpretations examining the relationship between historians’ accounts (in books and on television) and the particular questions that they have chosen to answer, as well as the sources on which they claim to have drawn.  Read more

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  • The dialogic dimensions of knowing and understanding the Norman legacy in Chester

    Article

    Michael Bird and Thomas Wilson focus their attention directly on the voices of pupils, in dialogue with their teacher and with each other, as they draw inferences from differing sources about the Norman legacy in Chester. By carefully examining dialogue stimulated by these sources, Bird and Wilson demonstrate not only...

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  • Absence and myopia in A-level coursework

    Article

    It is a charge commonly laid at history teachers that we, myopically, teach only the same-old same-old. Steven Driver has taken extreme steps to avoid this by focusing on a particular neglected event – the American occupation of Nicaragua in the early twentieth century – as part of his preparation...

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  • From flight paths to spiders’ webs: developing a progression model for Key Stage 3

    Article

    The disapplication of level descriptions in the 2014 National Curriculum has spurred many history departments to rethink their approach not only to assessment but to their models of progression. In this article Rachael Cook builds on the recent work of history teachers such as Ford (TH157), Hawkey et al (TH161),...

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  • Myths and Monty Python: using the witch-hunts to introduce students to significance

    Article

    In this article Kerry Apps introduces students to the significance of the witch-hunts in the modern era, at the time when they occurred, and in the middle of the eighteenth century. She presents her rationale for choosing the witch-hunts as a focus for the study of significance, and shows how her thinking about her teaching has evolved through her evaluation of her students’...

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  • Reading? What reading?

    Article

    Discussions with sixth-form students about reading led Carolyn Massey and Paul Wiggin to start a sixth-formreading group. They describe here the series of themed sessions that they planned, and the student discussion and reflections that resulted. Listening to their students discuss their reading led Massey and  Wiggin to reflect on what is meant by ‘reading around’ the subject, and its role in students’ intellectual...

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  • ‘This extract is no good, Miss!’

    Article

    Frustrated that her A-level students were being overly dismissive when asked to judge the convincingness of academic historians’ arguments, Paula Worth drew on previous history-teacher research and theories of history for inspiration. After noting that her students would unjustly reject esteemed historians’ accounts for lack of comprehensiveness, Worth explains here...

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  • Polychronicon 170: The Becket Dispute

    Article

    ‘The Becket Dispute’ (or ‘Controversy’) refers to the quarrel between Henry II and Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, which dominated English ecclesiastical politics in the 1160s. It was a conflict with multiple dimensions: a clash of Church and State; a prolonged struggle between two prominent individuals; a close friendship turned...

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  • Right up my street: the knowledge needed to plan a local history enquiry

    Article

    Inspired by the claim that local history can be taught effectively ‘Any time, any place, anywhere’, Katharine Burn and Jason Todd took up the challenge of planning Key Stage 3 enquiries related to an unusual and diverse, but frequently neglected and often despised, corner of Oxford. They sought not merely...

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  • Narrating “Histories of Spain”

    Article

    International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research [IJHLTR], Volume 15, Number 1 – Autumn/Winter 2017 ISSN: 14472-9474 Abstract This study analyses the role of Spanish teacher training students as narrators of what they consider to be the history of Spain. Results of this empirical study are based on a random...

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  • From ‘double vision’ to panorama: exploring interpretations of Nazi popularity

    Article

    Jim Carroll relished the opportunity, in the new A-level specification he was teaching, to find an effective way of teaching his students to analyse interpretations in their coursework essays. Reflecting on the difficulties he had faced as a trainee teacher teaching younger pupils about interpretations, and dissatisfied with examination board...

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  • Mummy, mummy 167: 'Black armband' history

    Article

    Mummy, Mummy, why is everyone wearing black armbands? Not now, dear, Mummy’s busy looking very, very hard at the new GCSE mark schemes to try to see whether there’s anything she’s missed. She’s pretty sure that she knows what the mark schemes say, and that she knows how to make students...

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  • Polychronicon 167: The strange career of Richard Nixon

    Article

    If you know just one thing about the career of the 37th President of the United States, it is likely to be this: Watergate. Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 was caused by his decision to cover up a burglary at the Democratic Party’s campaign headquarters for the 1972 election, which...

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  • The heart of history: practical approaches to teaching about historical interpretations

    Article

    This workshop took place at the HA Annual Conference May 2017 in Manchester. Alex Ford, Leeds Trinity University Historical interpretations are now specified for teaching in Key Stages 3, 4 and 5, but they remain one of the least taught aspects of the history curriculum. Can your students separate Kenez’s...

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  • Myth, mystery, history? building interpretation skills from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4

    Article

    This workshop took place at the HA Annual Conference May 2017 in Manchester. Megan Gooch and Amy Mann, Historic Royal Palaces How do you separate myths, legends, falsehoods and evidencebased history? The requirement at GCSE for students to understand the building of historical narratives makes attainment more challenging, unless interpretation...

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  • ‘If you had told me before that these students were Russians, I would not have believed it’

    Article

    Bjorn Wansink and his co-authors have aligned their teaching of a recent and controversial historical issue – the Cold War – in the light of a contemporary incident. This article demonstrates a means of ensuring that students understand that different cultures’ views of their shared past are nuanced, rather than monolithic – a different concept in philosophy as well as in...

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  • Polychronicon 166: The ‘new’ historiography of the Cold War

    Article

    A great deal of new writing on the Cold War sits at the crossroads of national, transnational and global perspectives. Such studies can be so self-consciously multi-archival and multipolar, methodologically pluralist in approach and often ‘decentring’ in aim, that some scholars now worry that the Cold War risks losing its coherence as a distinct object of...

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  • Putting Catlin in his place?

    Article

    Jess Landy’s desire to introduce her pupils to a more complex narrative of the American West led her to the life story and work of a remarkable individual, George Catlin.  In this article she shows how she used this unusual micro-narrative in order to challenge pupils’ ideas not just about the bigger narrative of which it is a part, but about the...

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  • Polychronicon 165: The 1917 revolutions in 2017: 100 years on

    Article

    The interpretive and empirical frameworks utilised by scholars in their quest to understand the Russian revolutions have evolved and transformed over 100 years. The opening of archives after the collapse of the Soviet Union enabled access to a swathe of new primary sources, some of which have had a transformative...

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  • Cunning Plan 165: Helping lower-attaining students

    Article

    My GCSE students were about to embark on their controlled assessment, which asked them to weigh up conflicting views on the British military’s contribution to the D-Day landings. Students were asked to engage  with a range of historians’ views and textbooks as well as some contemporary source material to assess...

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  • Triumphs Show 164: interpretations at A Level

    Article

    Julia Huber and Katherine Turner found that their A-level students struggled to identify the line of argument in a passage of historical scholarship, an essential prerequisite for answering their coursework question. They devised an activity that helped students to unpick and visually contrast historians’ interpretations of the relative importance of...

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