The use of frameworks in teaching history
THE USE OF FRAMEWORKS IN TEACHING HISTORY
The use of frameworks in teaching history
Rick Rogers studied History and Education at the University of Leeds and is
currently the Head of History at Benton Park School in Leeds. As a member of the Big History Project (formerly the Frameworks Working Group) he has contributed to research on the use of frameworks through the Magna Carta Projects. He is an examiner, textbook author and has given workshops at the SHP Conference and for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. THE USE OF FRAMEWORKS IN TEACHING HISTORY Frameworks are nothing new as an application in communicating and retaining knowledge. The idea that constructs of knowledge can be used as a means of sorting other knowledge are perhaps as old as knowledge itself. Contextualising knowledge to make it more memorable can similarly be a function of such constructs. The idea that frameworks can be used as a starting point for history teaching is relatively new and though much work remains to be done, recent experiments indicate that speculative claims about their usefulness may have something in them. What is Fragmentation? Fragmentation in the history classroom refers to the difficulties that students face when attempting to utilise substantive knowledge to make a useable big picture of the past. This may be informed at the start of teaching the syllabus by overviews or timelines but the work of constructing the big picture cannot be undertaken until the substantive material has been taught. After all, it cannot be expected that students make a temporal construct without the constituting material. This process is further complicated by the natural difficulties caused by memory. It is unreasonable to expect anybody to be able to hold three years worth of knowledge to such a degree that the processes inherent in big picture formation can be successfully carried out. This is not to say that the kind memory function needed for big picture formation is not possible, simply that it is rare and certainly cannot reasonably form the basis for pedagogical practice. This is not to argue that students hold historical knowledge without form. Indeed, they may hold their historical knowledge in some form of ‘big picture’, though not perhaps a big picture that encourages the kind of historical understanding that teachers may be pursuing. It would make sense, in order to make recall easier, to impose some form of temporal order on the historical knowledge that we hold. We could suppose that historical knowledge is organised along the same lines as other school subjects. Thus, when the student thinks ‘history’, they get history and not science and when they think science, they get science and not history and so on. Within that organisation therefore, there must be further organisational structure to somehow make sense of the information that they hold. When a student wrote an essay on the battle of Waterloo that included references not only to Bonaparte and Wellington but also Oliver Cromwell, George Custer and Julius Caesar, she was not simply ‘getting it wrong’, she was getting it wrong for a reason. She had been taught in previous years that the three interlopers (Cromwell, Custer and Caesar) were generals and she knows that generals fight battles. It is perhaps the case therefore, once the immediate known material concerning Waterloo had been exhausted that 2
The use of frameworks in teaching history she went deeper into her memory. What is interesting is that she came up with characters that had a thematic connection and this, perhaps, betrayed something of the way that the history was organised in her memory. The ‘Mural’ Past It would be fair to conclude therefore, that by holding historical knowledge in their memory, students do indeed hold a ‘big picture’ of the past and that the real issue here is not big picture formation but the nature of the big picture being formed. This big picture, whether arranged by theme or simply a random array of information fulfils the role similar to that of a large painting in an art gallery or a mural adorning a wall. It is a construct with boundaries and some form of spatial organisation. Very often the big picture lacks chronological integrity. Differences in the clarity of memory mean that some of this big picture or ‘mural’ past is obscured or incomplete. Some parts on the other hand are clear and well formed. The substantive knowledge in these areas is accurate and sophisticated and allows links to be made between knowledge in different areas of the mural. It is not; however, the issue concerning the relative accuracy of the knowledge held that is the problem. It is the way that student interacts with this big picture that causes a fundamental misconception about the nature of history and prevents effective historical thinking. Murals are remote from the viewer. It is this position, the detachment of student from the past that leads to misconceptions and difficulties in orientating within the past. With the mural past, the viewer can only judge the past from their own position and thereby is unable to understand the past from any standpoint except their own. The imposition of anachronistic attitudes from the present when judging the past is a major problem for the history teacher and one impossible to remedy while the student is viewing the past as a mural. Moreover, the detachment itself leads to the perception of the past as something separate from the present. The past is dead and gone and therefore why study history when we should be more concerned with what is happening in the present? Teachers cannot hope to communicate a sense of historical consciousness while the past is perceived as a mural and the study of history reduced to an exercise in voyeurism. The Continuum Past Imagine a thin rectangle laid out so that its longest edges are horizontal. For the sake of argument, this is time. The short edge to the right as we look is the beginning of time, perhaps the Big Bang or the start of human history. Its exact point, we cannot know but it is enough to understand that it represents a fixed point in the past. The short side in the right is the present. This line is moving from left to right. The line shows that the present is the cutting edge of the past as it moves into the future. If we believe that ‘history is the mirror of past actuality into which the present peers in order to learn something about its future’1 then all the points relevant to this explanation can be plotted on the continuum quadrilateral. The past-present continuum solves the problems inherent in the view towards a mural past. Perhaps the most important aspect of the continuum past is that it is Rusen, J. ‘Historical Consciousness: Narrative Structure, Moral Function and Ontogenetic Development.’ In Seixas, P (ed.) (2006) Theorizing Historical Consciousness. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p67. 1
The use of frameworks in teaching history chronological. It starts at the beginning and moves from left to right. Everything within it is in order. It has a historical (chronological) structure whereas the structure of the mural past can quite happily be ahistorical (achronological). Historical structure can only aid historical thinking. The problem of detachment is always solved as students can plot their own position in the continuum past. If they draw a solid line from their birth date to the present, mark the present with a dot and put a broken line into the future, they have a representation of their place in the story. This story may have had many twists and turns before they were born but it has also continued to have twists and turns while they have been alive and will continue to change while they are alive in the future. It is a far easier intellectual leap to move their life structure (past-present-future) into the past and use it to focus on a historical character, who at given point in their life also had a past, present and a future. It can also be seen that the present gives them their own context and as we can take any point in the continuum, treat it as a ‘present’ and explore its own context. Thus an avowed aim of John Tosh, that ‘the most valuable aim of history teaching is to enable young people to situate themselves in time, to recognise the centrality of change and development in accounting for the world around them’2 is possible when the past-present-future is seen as a continuum and not as a mural. This may help to combat the ills of presentism3 or, at least, provide a structure with which to do so, whereas with the mural past presentism is unavoidable. In addition to historical orientation, the continuum past can be structured into a temporal framework. This can provide the basic scaffolding for sorting substantive knowledge in such a way that it exemplifies themes from the larger narrative but also enjoys a spatial relationship with the substantive history that surrounds it on terms of its own. Moreover, substantive history may also be used to challenge the assumptions made by the larger narrative and be used to ‘shift the paradigm’4. Thus the substantive is reinforced whilst the student learns to deal with the uncertainty of our reconstructions of the past. Moreover, it would not be possible to explain the above process without developing an understanding of and appreciation for the organising or ‘second-order’ concepts. The Synoptic Framework The synoptic framework used at Benton Park School in Leeds (see Appendix, Figure 1) is based on the outline of such in two pieces of writing by Denis Shemilt; ‘The Caliph’s Coin’5 and ‘Drinking an Ocean’6. Shemilt argues for four separate frameworks based around four main areas of human activity, namely Tosh, J (2008) Why History Matters. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macamillan, p127, quoted in Howson, J. (2009) ‘Potential and Pitfalls in teaching big pictures of the past’ in Teaching History, 136, Shaping the Past edition, p 29. 3 ‘Presentism: an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences’ from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/presentism. 4 See Kuhn, T (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press for the science version of the nature of this kind of progression in understanding. 5 Shemilt, D. (2000) ‘The Caliph’s Coin: The currency of Narrative Frameworks in History Teaching’ in Stearns, P., Seixas, P. et al (eds.) Knowing, teaching and learning history: national and international perspectives. New York: New York University Press. 6 Shemilt, D. (2009) ‘Drinking an Ocean and pissing a cupful’ in Symcox, L. & Wilschut, A. (eds.) National History Standards. The Problem of the Canon and the Future of Teaching History. Charlotte, Carolina: Information Age Publishing. 2
The use of frameworks in teaching history ‘political and social organisations’, ‘modes of production’, ‘culture and praxis’ and ‘the growth and movement of peoples’. The Benton Park model has taken these four areas and constructed key questions in child friendly language. These four strands are divided into five epochs for ease of orientation. These epochs are named after the largest groups that we are organised into. Thus Bands takes us up to the Neolithic Revolution, Tribes until the founding of the first kingdoms around 3,000 B.C., the epoch of Kingdoms ends when Columbus’s discovery starts the process by which certain European powers gained worldwide empires and the era of Multi-National Organisations begins at the end of the Second World War. This framework forms the basis for all the teaching for students between the ages of eleven and fourteen and is continuously referred back to during the teaching. A key to understanding the significance of the synoptic framework is its resolution. If we imagine looking at the whole of history in the way that one views the Earth via Google Earth, we can see how it is possible to zoom in and look at key places in very sharp detail but also it is possible to zoom out and see the whole of the Earth from a distance. At this distance it becomes impossible to see specific detail like cities, rivers or mountains and the viewer can only talk about very large phenomenon like continents and oceans. The historical equivalent of cities and rivers are historical characters and great events whilst the continents and oceans are aspects of what Braudel called the longue duree7. What this means in educational terms is that the students start the study of history with the biggest picture possible. From this they can contextualise any material within that big picture, a process which consolidates learning and places everything in a framework offering an accurate spatial relationship between different topics of study. The Framework itself is taught at the beginning of a programme of study and needs to be internalised as far as possible by the students. To this end, a series of questions are asked about each picture and also a series of questions about each strand. Thus, the key question, ‘How do we get our stuff?’ has six A5 pages, one for each picture and one to bring out the themes of this particular strand of history (see Appendix, Figure 2). At the end of this process, students will be familiar with each of the four strands. Some teaching will be needed to further develop an appreciation of how these strands interact with one another in order to complete a comprehensive understanding of this particular big picture of the past. The synoptic framework can then be developed by the use of other frameworks at a higher resolution. These can be strand based such as the History of Medicine or the History of Technology (see Appendix, Figure 3), topic based such as the one on Magna Carta (see Appendix, Figure 4) and area based such as the one about British history (see Appendix, Figure 5). In Britain, the history of medicine has been a course at GCSE for around thirty years. The key to these strands supporting the synoptic framework is that they are developmental and support the overall notion of the connectivity of past-present-future. Another British exam course, the History of Crime and Punishment is non-developmental and would not provide a useful framework in this context8. The topic based See Braudel, F. (1980) On History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translation by Sarah Matthews of Braudel, F. (1969) Ecrits sur l'Histoire. 8 See Shemilt, D. (2009) Op Cit, p192-193. 7
The use of frameworks in teaching history framework on Magna Carta formed the basis of a two part study by the Frameworks Working Group. The framework mapped the development of the constitutional and legal history of Britain from the Saxon period to the present day. The results of the study were promising9 but are still in need of further verification. The British history framework is in answer to calls for British history to be at the centre of the history curriculum in Britain. It sits within the synoptic framework and places the four areas into a British context. The main strength of the framework approach is that it provides students at the onset of teaching with a useable big picture of the past. It can be used to reference and locate every other piece of history that they may subsequently study which may also help in the process of memorising historical content with its temporal attachment to its own context. Above all, students using the framework approach see the past-present-future as a continuum which allows them to think historically and try to use historical contexts in which to place and understand past events. Issues with the synoptic framework approach Perhaps the greatest danger of the synoptic framework approach is that students may simply regard the framework as an accurate representation of the past. Students who seek certainty and believe that they will find it in the comprehensive and infallible knowledge of their history teacher will regard the framework as showing exactly the way that the past was. Thus the story of the past consists of a series of situations (periods) which are then converted into the next situation by events (turning points). An example of an exercise to reveal the fallacy of this conception is the hat question (see Appendix, Figure 6). After showing the students a ‘medieval’ hat and a ‘renaissance’ hat, the teacher points out that the medieval period ended in 1485. The question then asked is; ‘why was 1486 such a good year for hat makers?’ The logical answer is that everybody threw away their medieval hat and bought a renaissance hat. The historical answer, of course, is that it was not. In order to combat this misconception of the framework as an accurate model of the past, students need to understand the nature of generalisations and their use in helping understanding not just of history but of knowledge in general. The teaching of this involves generic activities designed to illustrate the nature of generalisations in everyday life, along with historical generalisations and generalisations specific to the synoptic framework. Some historical examples that do not fit the framework are worth exploring for the point they make about the ‘general’ truths contained in the framework rather than a prescriptive paradigm of both what happened and what should have happened. It is also worth looking at groups who have not progressed in the same way as European civilisations, such as the Native Americans of the Great Plains, who were still attempting to live a nomadic tribal lifestyle well into the nineteenth century. The question of how far progress is driven by need may address the assumption made by some students that progress is a result of intellectual and cultural superiority. Moreover, being able to place such groups within the story of the development of mankind renders them far less strange to modern eyes.
See Rogers, R. (2008) ‘Raising the bar: developing meaningful historical consciousness at Key Stage 3’ in Teaching History, 133, Simulating History Edition 9
The use of frameworks in teaching history A key difficulty facing the student arises from the perception of the past as rigid construct. Students experience difficulties in accepting that two directly opposite phenomena can exist simultaneously. The Magna Carta teaching revealed the problem that the students had with the idea that change and continuity, whilst semantically and historically opposite, could and indeed have existed side by side throughout history. The specific example that caused such problems was that William the Conqueror who, in 1066 introduced so much change to England in terms of socio political structure could have left some things alone such that there was clear continuity between the Saxon and Norman eras. This could be said to be the high school extension of the childlike notion that characters in history are either ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’. A strength of the synoptic framework and its low resolution is that most of the change lacks a named human agent. This can be used to counter the students often held need to identify human agents in explaining how change came about. In the synoptic framework, farming first appears in the ‘Tribes’ period. The obvious question for some students is; ‘Who invented farming?’ The answer is nobody, it just developed. The same could be said of other civilisation advances like tokens of value (currency) or literacy. Whilst there must have been individuals who thought of or came across aspects of these advances, it cannot be said to have been invented by a single person. Moreover, the details of those involved have been lost in time. This issue and the use of the synoptic framework forces both teacher and student to fully explore the nature of gradual change on a historical, non-personal level which should break the student away from the everyday conceptions of person A did X to person B causing situation Y or the historical notion that things happened in the past because the king wanted them to. Perhaps the most difficult issue for students to grasp is the inevitability, or not, of the past. What happened in the past actually happened and therefore, students surmise, the past has to be the way that it was. When presented with counter-factual possibilities10, students often go to elaborate lengths to explain how history would have ‘righted’ itself because they perceive that the past makes the present as it is or re-construct the present with holes to represent the deficit caused by the counter factual proposition. Both these notions are reflective of a way of thinking about the connection between the past and present, i.e. that the past leads forward and fashions the present. This idea of the past as a ‘one way street’11 is continuum thinking and as such has a historical facet to it. The problem arises, however, when this kind of thinking is extended along the following lines. The teacher asks the question; ‘was the First World War inevitable?’ ‘Oh yes’, comes the answer, ‘the weight of causal factors was overwhelming. There had to be a European war at that time.’ The conversation then proceeds along the lines of taking out some of the causes to see if the weight gets any less. The teacher then asks the question again dwelling on the word ‘inevitable’. Another question arises from the discussion; ‘If the First World War was inevitable does this mean that there was nothing anybody could have done Question: ‘How would the present have been different if the Romans had never come to Britain?’ Answers: ‘It wouldn’t. Somebody else would have come along and invented roads,’ or ‘We wouldn’t have had any clean water, therefore we would all have got ill and died.’ 11 In Denis Shemilt’s six level model of progression for ‘event space’, the one way street comes at Level 4. See Shemilt (2009) Op. Cit., p182 to 187. 10
The use of frameworks in teaching history to prevent it?’ This in turn leads to another question; ‘If nobody could have done anything about the First World War, why are we bothering to do anything about global warming?’ If our past was inevitable then so is out future because our future will be somebody else’s past. Conclusion As yet the synoptic frameworks approach is the only practical solution to offering students a view of the past as a whole. Post hoc thematic based solutions have been tried but research has indicated that there are many problems with them. Whilst research into the use of synoptic frameworks is limited, early results suggest that there is something in the approach worth pursuing12. Certainly students who have been taught with synoptic frameworks can indicate an awareness of the past as a continuum and have shown that they can construct whole past strands from stimuli different to that of the framework13. Moreover, indications of students’ ability to transfer big picture thinking across different content areas holds the promise that further research like that done on the Magna Carta may well be worthwhile. What is important in using the synoptic framework and adopting a framework approach is that it forms the core of the whole programme of study; using it as the basis for a discrete unit runs the very real danger that the synoptic framework becomes nothing more than a section of the mural past rather than a big picture in itself, the continuum past, which then can form the context for all further historical study. Appendix Figure 1
See Howson, J. (2009) ‘Potential and Pitfalls in teaching big pictures of the past’ in Teaching History, 136, Shaping the Past edition. Also Rogers, R. (2008) op cit. 13 Taken from interviews done at Benton Park School in July 2010. 12
The use of frameworks in teaching history
Figure 2 How do we get our stuff? - Bands How did these people get their stuff? When did they not have enough stuff? How much control did they have over their stuff? How did they cooperate to get their stuff? How do we get our stuff? - Tribes How did these people get their stuff? When did they not have enough stuff? How much control did they have over their stuff? How did they cooperate to get their stuff? What specialists might have been in the tribe? How do we get our stuff? - Kingdoms How did these people get their stuff? What stuff is really important? Why are people able to specialise in things other than urgent stuff production? How do ‘tokens of value’ improve the process of getting stuff? Why do we start to see large inequality in the group?
The use of frameworks in teaching history
How do we get our stuff? - Empires Where do people get their stuff from? How important is stuff in convincing developed countries to conquer an empire? How do the ways that stuff is produced improve? Why are some peoples’ ‘tokens of value’ worth more than others? How are there large inequalities between groups? How do we get our stuff? – Multi-national Organisations Who controls the stuff? How is the value of stuff decided? What proportion of people in the developed world take part in stuff production? Is the stuff in the world divided equally and fairly?
The use of frameworks in teaching history
The use of frameworks in teaching history
Rigid Construct – An Example Medieval Hat
•The Medieval Period ended in 1485. The Renaissance started. •Why was 1486 such a good year for hat makers?
Braudel, F. (1980) On History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translation by Sarah Matthews of Braudel, F. (1969) Ecrits sur l'Histoire. Christian, D. (2004) Maps of Time. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Diamond, J. (1997) Guns, Germs and Steel. New York: W.W. Norton. Howson, J. (2009) ‘Potential and Pitfalls in teaching big pictures of the past’ in Teaching History, 136, Shaping the Past edition. Lee, P. (2005) Walking Backwards into Tomorrow: Historical Consciousness and understanding history in International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research, 41 (1). Retrieved from http://www.ex.ac.uk/historyresources/journal7/contents.htm Ofsted (2007) History in the Balance: History in English Schools 2003-07. London: Ofsted. Rogers, R. (2008) ‘Raising the bar: developing meaningful historical consciousness at Key Stage 3’ in Teaching History, 133, Simulating History Edition. Rusen, J. ‘Historical Consciousness: Narrative Structure, Moral Function and Ontogenetic Development.’ In Seixas, P (ed.) (2006) Theorizing Historical Consciousness. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Shemilt, D. (2000) ‘The Caliph’s Coin: The currency of Narrative Frameworks in History Teaching’ in Stearns, P., Seixas, P. et al (eds.) Knowing, teaching and learning history: national and international perspectives. New York: New York University Press.
The use of frameworks in teaching history Shemilt, D. (2009) ‘Drinking an Ocean and pissing a cupful’ in Symcox, L. & Wilschut, A. (eds.) National History Standards. The Problem of the Canon and the Future of Teaching History. Charlotte, Carolina: Information Age Publishing.