Primary history

21st January 2000 at 00:00
NARRATIVE MATTERS: Teaching and Learning History through Story. By Grant Bage. Falmer Press pound;15.99

An infant school head, trying to make sense of national curriculum plans, comments in this book: "I know from assembly how children react to stories. You tell them some facts and only half are listening... You tell them a story and they're all there with you, wanting to know." She is not alone. It is Grant Bage's aim to give stories their rightful place in the classroom, particularly in history lessons.

The book is the story of the author's experiences as a primary teacher and adviser, reflecting on lessons that he has taught and teachers he has known. The background is curriculum change - not just the introduction of the national curriculum itself, but ideas about what teachers "ought" to be doing. It suggests that stories were discredited: primary teachers, faced with programmes of study and attainment targets, reacted by emphasising factual history; secondary history teachers did the same, although some had already moved away from stories into "skills".

By story, Bage des not simply mean fiction. He compiles a huge list of story genres which combine imagination and information, from essays to folklore. "In my teaching," he writes, "I use narrative as bricks and story as design." This observation is from his own journal, just one of the several elements of the book.

The academic text may be problematic for some, but taped extracts from lessons, journal items and, particularly, suggestions for story-based approaches, will lift the spirits of teachers trying to unlock topics for their pupils. And stories are not antithetical to rigorous analysis of evidence, as Bage demonstrates in a lively account of teaching the story of St Edmund.

I was surprised not to see mention of the EACH project (website: www.dorset-cc.gov.ukeducateeach1.htm), which works with story recipes for both primary and secondary pupils.

As the new national curriculum for September 2000 presents teachers with much greater flexibility, this is surely the moment to take on what this book has to say.

Chris Culpin is director of the Schools History Project


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