University of Sussex
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Teaching history in postmodern times: history teachers' thinking about the nature and purposes of their subject

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:40 authored by Elizabeth M. McCrum
This thesis investigates how secondary school history teachers at the start of their teaching careers view the nature and purposes of their subject and how they think these views impact on their practice. Data were collected through in depth individual qualitative interviews with eleven teachers completing their initial training. These focused on: how these beginning teachers conceived of the nature of their discipline; the rationale they presented for the purposes of their subject in the school curriculum; the origins of their views on the nature and purposes of history; and how they are manifest in what and how they teach. In order to maintain coherence and to represent the richness and complexity of each teacher’s own story these were written, analysed and presented as narrative accounts. A summary is given of each the accounts with three presented in full. The accounts show these beginning history teachers’ views on the nature of history as reflecting the dominant discourse that characterises history as an academic subject, being largely Constructionist and emphasising the objective analysis of historical evidence. The teachers’ rationales for the purpose of history emphasised broader educational, social and moral purposes. More postmodern perspectives are apparent in the emphasis given to the importance of historical interpretations. Family background, lived experiences, literature and the media are significant influences on the teachers’ beliefs about the nature and purposes of history. These beliefs seem to impact on classroom practice and pupil learning in the subject. They influence teaching style, choice of learning activities and the areas of historical understanding emphasised, with, for example, views of the past as an uncontested body of knowledge leading to a pedagogy dominated by the transmission of substantive knowledge; and views which emphasise the more constructed nature of history leading to more pupil centred skills based approaches. Teachers’ views on the nature and purpose of the subject are a significant influence on their mediation of the National Curriculum. The National Curriculum for History has increasingly provided opportunities for interpretations more sympathetic to the postmodern orientation but research and inspection evidence suggest that these opportunities are often poorly realised in schools. One reason for this is proposed as history teachers’ lack of engagement with postmodern perspectives on history. It is important for teachers to engage with such approaches as without further consideration of their implications history teachers are unable to teach aspects of secondary History. Teachers also need to recognise and make explicit different orientations towards history in order to facilitate pupil learning, to engage pupils and to provide them with the skills necessary to be critical consumers of the range of histories presented to them in society. The research has implications for history teaching, pupil learning and the initial training and professional development of teachers. The case is made for further consideration being given to postmodern perspectives on the nature of history in initial and continuing teacher education in order to improve teaching and learning. The initial teacher education of history teachers needs to ensure that those on programmes have the syntactical knowledge necessary to develop effective teaching strategies and approaches, to enable pupil learning, and to develop their own subject knowledge and ability to reflect on their own practice and development. This research also emphasises the need for all those involved in training to critically engage with subject orientations as where beginning teachers’ beliefs conflict with the dominant discourse of history teaching this can lead to problematic experiences of teaching and of teacher training.


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  • eng


University of Sussex

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