How to enhance understanding in history

25th April 1997 at 01:00
Christine Counsell's article "Shot by our own generals" (TES, History Extra, April 11) raises many important questions for teachers of history that should not be ignored.

Her experience of multi-disciplinary approaches, such as enhancing pupils' writing through joint Englishhistory projects parallels my own. Pupil performance has been dramatically improved as they benefit from the different perspectives given by each subject. Rather than confuse pupils, the different approaches enhance understanding, making the experience richer for them. This happens across the whole ability range. There is no softening of the discipline from either subject. High standards have to be maintained to get real curriculum enhancement.

Given the nature of history, it is quite possible for the subject to add enriching dimensions to science, technology or the performing arts, to name a few. But each subject must retain its defining character if we are to get the full benefits of the juxtapositions that enlighten our pupils' understanding.

Sadly, this potential is ignored by many curriculum managers who seem to have forgotten some fundamental principles: that real education is the sum of disparate experience made coherent by unifying concepts. All rigorous subjects offer discriminating approaches to the sum of knowledge, and effective cross-curricular links between subjects begin to create the unifying concepts.

If the relationships between subjects are properly explored and planned for coherence and progression, it could lead to significant educational outcomes. By the nature of their subject, history teachers are likely to sense this unity and its potential more than most. They must, therefore, take the lead and become more vigorous in enhancing and extending the role they play in curriculum development.

PAUL STEPHENS-WOOD John Cabot College Kingswood, Bristol

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