Significance

Equipping students to make well-reasoned judgements about the historical significance of past events is one way of alerting them to the value and purpose of studying the past. But teaching about this disciplinary concept also involves developing young people’s understanding that historical significance is not an enduring or unchanging characteristic of any particular event. It is a contingent quality that depends on the perspective from which that event is subsequently viewed. While judgements of significance are likely to include consideration of the depth and extent of any immediate consequences arising from the event in question, they will also be based on the endurance of those consequences as well as on subsequent developments and on the concerns of those who are making the judgement. The resources in this section explore the range of criteria that students might be encouraged to use in ascribing significance to events and set out a variety of productive strategies that teachers have used to help students work with others’ criteria as well as formulating, justifying and deploying their own.

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  • What they think they know: the impact of pupils' preconceptions on their understanding of historical significance

    Article

    Robin Conway suspected that his students’ concepts of the significance of different aspects of historical periods was affected by the preconceptions that they brought to his lessons. These preconceptions were leading his students into making unhistorical judgments, without any real understanding on their part of what had affected their thinking....

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  • Maybe they haven't decided yet what is right: English and Spanish perspectives on teaching historical significance

    Article

    Historians and history teachers understand well that students, when they ‘answer’ questions, are creating their own interpretation. We take account of this in our teaching too: we do not pretend that, beyond the level of the simplest closed questioning, there is ever a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer approach to history....

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  • Looking through a Josephine-Butler shaped window: focusing pupils' thinking on historical significance

    Article

    Christine Counsell draws upon her recent work in developing definitions and practice concerning pupils' thinking about historical significance. Here she tries out those ideas in relation to the 19th century campaigner against the Contagious Diseases Acts,  Josephine Butler. Counsell explains why she developed her own set of criteria for structuring...

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  • Seeing, hearing and doing the Renaissance (Part 1): Let's have a Renaissance party!

    Article

    In two, linked articles, appearing in this and the next edition, Maria Osowiecki shares an account of a five-lesson enquiry, based on the concept of historical significance (National Curriculum Key Element 2e) for mixed ability Year 8. She wanted to experiment with an array of creative teaching techniques that would...

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  • Historical significance - the forgotten 'Key Element'?

    Article

    How many history departments regularly discuss the quality of their enquiries and teaching processes that relate to historical significance? It would not be unusual, in 2002, for a history department to spend time in a department meeting reflecting upon pupils’ learning about causation or to explore the connection between pupils’...

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