Getting Year 10 to understand the value of precise factual knowledge


By Kate Hammond, published 1st December 2002

Up until the early 1990s, historical knowledge sometimes had rather a bad press. Various developments, in National Curriculum, at GCSE and, importantly, in ordinary teachers’ practice and debate, then led to a much closer integration of what we once called ‘content’ and ‘skills’. Tony McAleavy examined changing perceptions of the role of contextual knowledge in evidential understanding in his important 1998 article. It was also largely thanks to him that we all benefitted from some innovative and practical guidance in the integration of knowledge, conceptual understanding and skill in the 1993 non-statutory guidance produced in the wake of the first National Curriculum. Since then, countless teachers have explored the ways in which, as Heidi LeCocq puts it, knowledge-building and critical thinking can become ‘the same thing’. Dale Banham and Ian Dawson have shown us ways in which the well-positioned interplay of overview and depth – now a fundamental principle in Key Stage 3 planning – can help pupils to assimilate much more knowledge than they would by ploughing through content evenly. And yet despite all that has been written and shared in this area since then, there is still quite a lot of practical and theoretical work to be done. There are even some teachers who still lament ‘content overload’ or view the acquisition of detail as something separate from thinking or skills or source work. Kate Hammond addressed this helpfully in her 1999 article where she showed how Year 7 pupils could be taught to construct causal explanations, not as some separate process of learning skill in writing, but as part and parcel of building their own strong knowledge base. Now 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.

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