Improving conceptual understanding
We know that ensuring students make progress is a key concern for history teachers, but how do you define genuine progress in history?
An important element is conceptual understanding of history as a discipline and as form of knowledge. Developing solid conceptual understanding empowers students to ask better questions, analyse evidence more rigorously and subtly, understand what interpretations are and why they differ, and respond more flexibly to exam questions.
We’ve been working with Dr Arthur Chapman at the Institute of Education, University College London, to develop a research-based model of how students’ conceptual understanding of history develops in the key strands of Evidence, Interpretations, Cause & Consequence and Change & Continuity. The model shows how these ideas grow into a sophisticated understanding of historical practice through the overcoming of increasingly subtle misconceptions.
Using this model, we’ve worked with practising history teachers to develop engaging activities targeting the misconceptions that GCSE students often struggle with. We’ve called these “Thinking Historically” activities, as they are designed to help move student thinking towards that of professional historians. By helping students understand what good history is, and how historians create it, they gain a better understanding of how to write good history themselves, supporting successful progression to further study.
Key features of our approach:
- The Thinking Historically activities appear regularly throughout our Student Books, so they are easy to integrate into your teaching.
- The activities have been matched to the requirements of the different papers.
- The activities have been rewritten for each topic, so you are always teaching the concepts using historical content from the paper you’re teaching – they are not generic activities, which can seem divorced from the history students are studying.
- The four main strands of Thinking Historically also cover the other second-order concepts of significance, and similarity and difference – for example the Change strand covers assessing the significance of a change.