Creating controversy in the classroom: making progress with historical significance


By Matthew Bradshaw, published 1st December 2006

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 judgments about which events and people are and are not historically significant. He uses the mnemonics familiar to Teaching History readers from the work of Rob Phillips (who introduced the idea of the GREAT War) and Christine Counsell, whose 5 Rs of historical significance have been widely used. He follows Counsell’s call, though, to encourage students to form their own ideas about what makes an event historically significant. He suggests that, in fact, the best way for students to have real ideas about which events might have been significant is to have derived the criteria on which they base their judgments themselves. He also suggests an activity and an attitude to teaching which helps to address one of the central problems of the 5 Rs: how do you get away from students being fixated by the idea of the most significant changes being those which resulted in change? Bradshaw shows how individual activities and enquiries can be weaved into teaching across Key Stage 3 in order to ensure progression in the key element which, although no longer forgotten, is certainly elusive.

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