Key Concepts

By Christine Counsell


Please note: these links were compiled in 2009. For a more recent resource, please see: What's the Wisdom on: Causation. 

These Teaching History Articles on 'Causation' are highly recommended reading to those who would like to get to grips with this key concept:

1. Move Me On 92. Problem page for history mentors. Teaching History 92
Problem: Melville Miles, student history teacher, is in Term 3 of his PGCE year. Melville has taught a number of excellent lessons in which he enabled pupils to reach high levels of historical understanding. His diagnostic assessment of pupils' work is unusually sophisticated for a PGCE student. Melville's two placements have been in contrasting schools where he has taught pupils, aged 11 to 18, across the full ability range. However, Melville is frustrated because he feels that the practice that he has seen in both schools reduces causal understanding to something simplistic and unchallenging.

2. Gary Howells: Being ambitious with the causes of the First World War: interrogating inevitability. Teaching History 92
Gary Howells asks hard questions about typical teaching and assessment of historical causation at Key Stage 3. Popular activities that may be helpful in addressing particular learning areas, or in teaching pupils to use the terminology of causation, are not in themselves evidence of having acquired a ‘skill'. Howells invites us to ‘think big' about the purposes of teaching about causation and the possibility of helping more pupils not only to understand and explain but to think about the very processes of explanation.

3. Peter Lee: ‘A lot of guess work goes on' Children's understanding of historical accounts. Teaching History 92
The ESRC-funded Project Chata has collected evidence of children's ideas about the discipline of history and attempted to see if there is any progression in those ideas. Here, Peter Lee describes how Chata has tried to map children's ideas about historical accounts. History teachers (and tutors and managers of history teachers) who are trying to extend and explore the bases of their professional knowledge will find this clear and lively account an invaluable starting point for considering the role of the Chata project, its methods and findings.

4. Diana Laffin: My essays could go on forever: using Key Stage 3 to improve performance at GCSE. Teaching History 98
Diana Laffin argues for the need to examine in a very detailed way how the work of training pupils to select, classify and organise (Key Element 5) must be linked with their work in framing and analysing different types of historical question (Key Element 4). She offers countless practical activities with learning objectives derived from the link between these two ideas.

5. Vaughan Clark: Illuminating the shadow: making progress happen in casual thinking through speaking and listening. Teaching History 105
Here is another breath of fresh air from the Thomas Tallis history department. In TH 103, Head of Department Tony Hier showed how he developed a rigorous framework for implementing government initiatives and improving departmental professional discourse at the same time. This time, from history teacher Vaughan Clark, we get a detailed, practical account of how he develops pupils' causal reasoning.

6. Kate Hammond: Getting Year 10 to understand the value of precise factual knowledge. Teaching History 109
Kate returns with a piece that addresses a specific and neglected area, persuading GCSE pupils of the value of learning precise facts in order to give them freedom and flexibility in argument.

7. Arthur Chapman: Camels, diamonds and counterfactuals: a model for teaching causal reasoning. Teaching History 112
Arthur Chapman turns his attention to causal reasoning and analysis. Drawing on the work of historians such as Evans and Carr, he develops a sophisticated - but accessible - way of classifying causes that enables post-16 students to get to the heart of what a robust causal analysis might look like.

8. James Woodcock: Does the linguistic release the conceptual? Helping Year 10 to improve their casual reasoning. Teaching History 119
Does new vocabulary help students to express existing ideas for which they do not yet have words or does it actually give them new ideas which they did not previously hold? James Woodcock asks whether offering students new vocabulary can give them new ideas, and whether this can enhance their historical analyses of causation problems.

9. Gary Howells: Interpretations and history teaching: why Ronald Hutton's Debates in Stuart History matters. Teaching History 121
Gary Howells offers us a challenge: are we sure that we are teaching the study of interpretations correctly? It is much criticised at GCSE, but do we really engage our students in the process of writing history, and in understanding how history works, from 11-14? Or do we use reductive techniques which, as at GCSE, result only in our students jumping through hoops?

10. Arthur Chapman and James Woodcock: Mussolini's missing marbles: simulating history at GCSE. Teaching History 124
Arthur Chapman and James Woodcock have collaborated before: Woodcock extended Chapman's familiar casual metaphor of the final straw breaking a poor abused camel's back. Here, they collaborate more explicitly to suggest a means of teaching students to produce adequately nuanced historical explanation.

11. David Martin, Caroline Coffin & Sarah North: What's your claim: Developing pupils' historical argument skills using asynchronous text based computer conferencing. Teaching History 126
The potential that e-conferencing and message boarding have to engage pupils in historical debate and to enhance their ability and inclination to argue is increasingly well understood, as practice reported in these pages recently and the success and expansion of the Historical Association's Centenary Debates initiative both demonstrate.

12. Jennifer Evans and Gemma Pate: Does scaffolding make them fall? Refelcting on strategies for developing causal argument in Years 8 and 11. Teaching History 128
Evans and Pate argue that more often than not, our quickness to seek an outcome or to secure ‘performance' pushes us into an inappropriate or quickfix scaffold, and so diminishes students' independent thinking and enduring learning. Based on an ambitious action research project, this article models an approach to reflection on practice, particularly where writing extended causal argument is concerned.

13. Giles Fullard and Kate Dacey: Holistic assessment through speaking and listening: an experiment with causal reasoning and evidential thinking in Year 8 Teaching History 131
Giles Fullard and Kate Dacey wanted to enrich their department's planning for progression across Key Stage 3 with a strong sequence of activities fostering argument. They wanted an opportunity for students to draw together their prior (Year 7 and early Year 8) learning within causal reasoning and evidential thinking, with some challenging activities that would integrate the two.

14. Dave Martin: What do you think? Using online forums to improve students' historical knowledge and understanding. Teaching History 133
In Teaching History 126, the Open University's Arguing in History project team demonstrated the power that discussion fora can have to develop pupil thinking. In this article, Dave Martin revisits this theme through a discussion of three inter-school discussion fora that took place in 2007/8. This article reinforces the point that discussion fora can have positive impacts on pupils' historical learning. Dave Martin also provides practical advice about setting up and managing online discussion in ways that maximize participation and learning.