Wide-ranging reflections

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Mary McCarney considers history as a cross-curricular tool

Using History to Develop Thinking Skills at KS2 Edited by Belle Wallace NACEFulton pound;14

With history, time is the issue - big time. From timelines and Tudor times to Victorian pastimes and times gone by, one lesson a week just isn't enough. And what about literacy, numeracy, science I and SATs? While primary teachers wrestle with timetable juggling acts, this book advocates using history as a cross-curricular tool for extending teaching skills and enhancing learning in all subjects. About time too.

The authors (all experienced teachers) have contributed to a practical resource book which explains how to shift from fact-gathering history to problem-solving history - definitely more "why?" than "how?" or "when?"

By extrapolating and interpreting key elements from the national curriculum programmes of study, they demonstrate how a thinking skills curriculum can be created.

With a strong focus on extending able pupils, the book shows how history can be used to develop strengths across a range of intelligences and learning styles. Fortunately, the potentially heavy psychology section (featuring Vygotsky and Sternberg's triarchic theory of intellectual development) is fairly user-friendly.

Activities are based on a TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) cross-curricular framework. Activities range from drama, puppetry and dance to writing rap songs, debating and brainstorming. A study of the Second World War, for example, could involve cost-of-living comparisons, listening to jazz and learning how to jitterbug.

As well as investigating artefacts, how about using mindmaps, Venn diagrams and flow charts to record historical thinking? Pupils are encouraged to prioritise ideas, weigh up evidence and draw reasoned conclusions. Sample lesson plans are provided with examples of pupils' work covering topics on ancient Egypt, the Romans, Vikings and Tudors, the Second World War and local history.

At the end of chapters, teachers are invited to reflect on current good practice, consider how new skills and cross-curricular links could be introduced, and ponder questions such as: "Do I start a history topic by finding a link to a real-life issue?"

The authors have their feet firmly in the classroom and appreciate the demands of school life. The nitty-gritty bits are presented in quirky dialogue boxes, where teachers' concerns about workload and organisation are raised. There is a reminder of history's part in reflection on the past to improve the future. It's about motive, passion, equality, justiceI all the big issues of life. Thought-provoking stuff.

Mary McCarney teaches in Luton. She is also a freelance writer and contributing author of a new history study guide for CGP Books

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