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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  • Active remembrance

    Article

    A year after the end of the First World War, George V stated: "I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of the Great Deliverance and those who laid down their lives to achieve it." From that moment, the idea of large-scale remembrance...

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  • Anything but brief: Year 8 students encounter the longue durée

    Article

    Inspired by The History Manifesto, Suzanne Powell describes in this article her rationale for expanding her students’ horizons by asking them to think about change, similarity and difference on a grand scale. She sets ‘big history’ into its curricular context, and shows the way in which her students could, and...

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  • Berlin and the Holocaust: a sense of place?

    Article

    As more and more schools take students on visits to locations associated with the history of the Holocaust, history teachers have to find ways to make these places historically meaningful for their students. David Waters shows here how he introduced his students to the multiple narratives associated with the history...

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  • Building meaningful models of progression

    Article

    Setting us free? Building meaningful models of progression for a ‘post-levels' world Alex Ford was thrilled by the prospect of freedom offered to history departments in England by the abolition of level descriptions within the National Curriculum. After analysing the range of competing purposes that the level  descriptions were previously...

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  • Creating controversy in the classroom: making progress with historical significance

    Article

    No longer is historical significance the ‘forgotten key element.’ Indeed, it is now being remembered at last – by politicians, telly-dons and the media in any case. Matthew Bradshaw suggests that the popular emphasis on significant events is wrong. Instead, we should be enabling our pupils to make their own...

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  • Cunning Plan 155: interpreting WW1 events

    Article

    Enquiry Question: What's worth knowing about the First World War? At the end of our scheme of work on the First World War, I asked myself how I might encourage my Year 9 pupils to reflect on the historical significance of the events we had studied. I was particularly interested...

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  • Cunning Plan 161: Magna Carta's legacy

    Article

    Both Dawson and Hayes have recently written Cunning Plans that show how exciting Magna Carta is. So why not stop there? Bring the barons to life with a flare of Dawson and send Magna Carta flying across the continent with just a hint of Hayes. Hey, from the same edition,...

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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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  • Investigating students' prior understandings of the Holocaust

    Article

    The edge of knowing: investigating students' prior understandings of the HolocaustStudents make sense of new learning on the basis of their prior understandings: we cannot move our students' thinking on unless we understand what they already know. In this article, Edwards and O'Dowd report how they set out to scope...

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  • Key Concepts at Key Stage 3

    Multipage Article

    The key concepts can be divided into three types:  change and continuity; cause and consequence; diversity; and significance, which inform the types of questions historians ask about past events, people and situations, and which are sometimes called second-order concepts; chronological understanding, which provides a framework for comprehending the past; interpretations...

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • New, Novice or Nervous? 163: Historical significance

    Article

    Historical significance first appeared in England’s National Curriculum for history in 1995. It entered the assessment framework (Level Descriptions) in 2008. In 2014, it became part of the History NC ‘Aims’. One thing never changes, however: it is hard. But history teachers have written a great deal about historical significance...

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  • Nutshell

    Article

    What’s this ‘historical significance’ in the new Key Stage 3 Programme of Study? The damn thing has even crept into the Attainment Target. Does this mean I’ve actually got to teach it? Ah! It’s caught up with you at last. Or, rather, the 2008 National Curriculum has caught up with...

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  • Of the many significant things that have ever happened, what should we teach?

    Article

    There are three basic strands to our lessons. How should we teach? What skills should we enable our students to build? What content should we use to deliver those skills? In this article Tony McConnell, who has been re-designing the curriculum in his school in response to a changed examination regimen, considers the issue of subject...

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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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  • Significance

    Article

    This selection of Teaching History articles on 'Significance' are highly recommended reading to anyone who wants to get to grips with this key concept. All Teaching History articles are free to HA Secondary Members 1. Kate Hammond: From horror to history: teaching pupils to reflect on significance. Teaching History 104In this detailed account of...

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  • Triumphs Show 141: using family photos to bring the diversity of Jewish lives to life

    Article

    Headteachers, Hungarians and hats: using family photos to bring the diversity of Jewish lives to life It is 9.35am on a wet Tuesday. As the rain falls outside, fingers twitch in a Y ear 9 history classroom. The instruction is given and 28 pairs of hands spring into action, rifling...

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  • Triumphs Show 144: Active learning to engage ‘challenging students'

    Article

    Active learning to engage and challenge ‘challenging students' Historical significance may have been the ‘forgotten element' in 2002 when Rob Phillips first offered us the acronym ‘GREAT', but it has been seized upon with enthusiasm by the history education community. Christine Counsell's now famous five ‘R's (remarkable, remembered, resonant, resulting...

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