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Learning to Teach History in the Secondary School



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Developing your subject knowledge

Developing your subject content knowledge

(Remember that there is more to developing your subject knowledge than just acquiring more subject content knowledge)- there is also your knowledge of the curriculum frameworks for history at KS2, KS3, GCSE and A/S, A2, your knowledge of research and inspection evidence about pupils, schools and history, and the depth and breadth of your understanding of history as a form of knowledge. Nonetheless, mentors in our partnership felt that the most urgent imperative in terms of subject knowledge is that if you are going in to teach a class of pupils, you need to have solid subject content knowledge for the lesson you are going to teach if you are to retain the confidence and trust of your pupils.

How can you continue to augment your subject content knowledge when you are on the PGCE course, and have limited time for reading biographies and tomes?

  • As a point of principle, you must aim to know substantially more than is in the text book, although that does not mean that it is not helpful to be acquainted with the approach taken by the text book used by the department.

    Sixth form text books can be a way of acquiring greater depth of subject knowledge for topics which you are teaching lower down the school.

  • The Internet is now a much more refined and well signposted way of develoing greater depth of subject knowledge.
  • There are several history magazines which can provide helpful and eminently readable summaries of contemporary historiographical developments in a range of N/C and GCSE, 'A' level topics; BBC History magazine, History Today, History Review, The Historian, amongst others. It might be an interesting exercise to study each of these journals to consider which has most potential for time-effectively developing subject content knowledge. (I have my own views on this but it would probably be unwise to disclose them).
  • Audiotapes: many trainee teachers spend time travelling in the course of the PGCE year; listen to a history audiotape sometimes instead of music or whatever. (This is not a sad thing to do). This Sceptred Isle and Schama's History of Britain are both options here.
  • Read the reviews in the weekend papers; they are often a very quick way of updating your subject knowledge, and can provide excellent resources for lessons.
  • What better way of relaxing on a Friday evening after a long hard week of teaching practice than switching on to a Timewatch programme? (Just joking, but TV can be a brilliant way of developing subject knowledge).
  • Talk about history with your mentor and colleagues in the department, and with fellow students. Love of subject is one of the nice bits of the job you have to do; don't neglect it.
  • Should have been top of the list really; READ TEACHING HISTORY it is THE journal for people who teach history. It is helpful not just for developing subject content knowledge and pedagogical subject knowledge, but for keeping up to date generally, and for giving you good ideas for things to do in your lessons. It will make your life easier and more fulfilling.

Other aspects of subject knowledge:

History as a form of knowledge

The recent work of Lee, Ashby and Dickinson has been very helpful to those teaching history in terms of clarifying what history is, and how this might influence how we go about teaching history to young people. I thought the following extract was a very clear explanation of the difference between substantive and second order concepts in history, if you are not sure about this, read it.

History as a form of knowledge


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