Primary history teaching
For most primary teachers, there are many attractions to teaching history. Not only is it one of the most popular subjects with pupils, it is also one which is invariably interesting to teach.
Resources are relatively easily available and, superficially at least, there don’t seem too many complex concepts to master. It is a great vehicle for literacy-based activities and everyone likes a good story: all human life is there. And therein lies the problem. If history is relegated to interesting but uncontested stories about the past then we miss the point about why it is on the curriculum.
We need to see history as a discipline, so that pupils know what to do when faced in their own lives with two versions of the same event or two incompatible interpretations of a famous person. Without some grounding in the study of history, pupils are left without any means of explaining why not all newspapers report events in the same way.
For History is so much more than a record of events; it is the -examination of the past which demands critical use of evidence. So, what are the key features of history as a discipline that can be taught to primary-aged pupils?
Firstly, history is the process of enquiry, the search for evidence, and the examination of this evidence by sorting, evaluating and weighing it. This can be a simple explanation of how we know a toy train is old in Y1, through to an analysis of fragments of pot evidence when studying the role of women in Ancient Greece in Y6.
Secondly, historians use this evidence to imaginatively reconstruct the past – to write their history. The problem is that evidence is nearly always incomplete. So, historians use their skills to fill in the gaps and imagine and infer how it might have been. It is like completing a jigsaw when parts are missing and the picture on the lid is incomplete. In the classroom you might show Y1 pupils six photographs of a Victorian schoolroom and ask them to write a paragraph for a museum display in which they note what they all have in common. At the other end of the primary age range, ask Y6 pupils to work out why some government posters in World War Two were rejected and others accepted as effective propaganda.
Pupils also need to know that when historians describe and explain the past, what we get is their construct, and not a fixed and uncontested view of the past. For this reason we need to offer pupils the opportunity to see how and why different versions of the past differ.
To help turn these basic tenets of good primary history into effective learning we might need some further guidance. Here are some key points with an explanation of why they are important.
Primary history resources, curriculum and outstanding lessons
This is the first lesson on an enquiry into Grace Darling: what she did, and why she was famous. The kernel of the lesson is a slow reveal activity which works really well on an Interactive White Board. The key image comes from the...