In the beginning.... Where to start in history teaching?

20 February 2012

This paper originates in two separate professional experiences I had last year. The first occurred while I was presenting workshops to curriculum advisers and teachers on the Turning Points in History series of booklets and CD. It was that, on more than one occasion, I was confronted by strident disagreement when I said that one had to begin with the content ("Content and contexts for the attainment of the Assessment Standards"), not the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Standards when planning to teach history. The second took place when I disagreed with the majority of the members of a committee about the way in which unit standard qualifications should be constructed in history. I maintained that when one studied history, the historical content had to be foregrounded, rather than the method, "skill" or purpose of studying the history. In both cases I argued that planning that began with the outcomes and assessment standards/criteria was antithetical to history – that if one began with them one ended with something that was not history. As I explained in e-mails I wrote at the time, "it's never the skills that make the history, it's the history that is explored, developed etc. by means of skills", and "it does not work successfully to write content in the form of outcomes, and it does not work to make the outcomes on their own decide what the content should be" (Siebörger 2005a and b).