‘Miss, what’s the point of sources?’ Helping Year 11 to understand the discipline

Teaching History article

By Clare Bartington, published 7th July 2023

What’s the point of sources?

Clare Bartington noticed that her students’ focus on the specific kinds of question used in examinations appeared to have undermined their understanding of how historians actually use sources. Instead of approaching the traces or ‘leftovers’ of the past as potential sources of evidence in relation to a particular question, her students believed that they could rate their usefulness or reliability as fixed properties. Drawing on research-based progression models to examine such misconceptions, Bartington sought to change her students’ idea of sources from ‘jigsaw pieces’, which can be assembled only in one way, to that of ‘Lego’ bricks capable of playing multiple roles in new constructions of the past.  Inspired by other teachers’ experimentation, Bartington used a collection of sources related to an historical site (Kenilworth Castle) to teach her students that we can use the same source to generate different kinds of evidence in response to different questions...

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