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Activities to broaden student understanding of Interpretations...


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#1 JohnP

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 12:18 PM

I've looked at older posts on this but I'm looking for any innovative ideas for teaching Interpretations to a group of bright year 9s who are about to start a high-intensity module on The Holocaust/Shoah. The activity does not have to be specific to the module but is intended to give them a broad understanding of why historians may have different interpretations of the same event, period, people, etc.
Many thanks in advance.

#2 JohnP

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 06:54 PM

can I shamelessly bump my own thread, purlease? Just thought some ideas mught be good. I've done the one called "two halves" where half the class have an interpretation and the other half have a counter-argument against that person - JFK, MLK, Malcolm X, Churchill and on...just need some more ideas. Any out there?

#3 DaveStacey

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 10:55 PM

There's an interpretations element in Ian Dawson's reconstruction of the events of 1066 - http://www.thinkingh...entsof1066.html

By having students record the events from the point of view of a particular group as the simulation unfolds you can pick out the ideas about what different groups would say and why.


I suspect there's some good ideas in the new SHP text books if you can get your hands on a copy.

Finally, have a look at this recent articleon the BBC site about debates about rewriting national history -

#4 JohnDClare

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 12:08 AM

This is a really important thread.

I think interpretations is the Cinderella process of History, not least because, I suspect, most History teachers are woefully ignorant of the historiography of the multifarious topics they have to teach (especially recent historiography - i.e. since they graduated).

The National Curriculum is quite explicit that it wants pupils to know how historians have interpreted the various subjects in the past, NOT how we might muse about it personally, or set shallow parodies like: 'Cromwell, hero or villain'.

Thus, like chronology, interpretations is basically an issue of factual knowledge.

Interpretations (historiography plus, for children, more popular interpretations such as films, fiction, cartoons etc.) is just a starting point for the process of historical study. Before you can start developing your own interpretation, you need to be aware of how other historians have approached the subject matter in the past. Only then can you start to develop your own (counter-)theories.

Thus interpretations should come at the beginning of the topic and not/as well as at the end.
Or perhaps, beingmroe precise with my language, historiography at the beginning - content in the middle - personal interpretations/judegements at the end.

#5 Dave Wallbanks

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 07:48 AM

We introduced the lesson on interpretation with a real bang (I'm sure I got the idea from here somewhere) when I arranged for a support assistant to come in at the start of the lesson and start off an argument, shout at me a bit and then throw a table or two over before storming out. Stunned I asked my class what they'd seen and we soon got the students discussing what happened and managed to draw out the point that everyone in the class had seen it differently and some had agreed with the Support Assistant and some with me so we were able to draw out the ideas of people seeing events from different points of view and then move on to look at specific examples of interpretations drawn from sources.
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#6 Tony Fox

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 11:36 AM

Ben Walsh did a good programme for Teachers TV on Interpretations, whilst I try to find it on the new channel, try this : http://www.schoolhis...?showtopic=2169

Had a look, and it does not appear : http://www.tes.co.uk...ary,45917|48439 :angry:

Edited by Tony Fox, 07 June 2011 - 01:27 PM.

"A parent can bring a child into this world, but a child can bring a parent into the world to come." - from the Talmud

"Had Churchill been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgement might well have concluded we were finished. - Anthony Storr

#7 Simon Ross

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 04:55 PM

For a long time I taught interpretations with little distinction between different contemporary views of events and different views from after the events. I think this was a mistake, and confused the concept of diversity and the process of enquiry, with the concept of interpretation. Clearly there are links and parallels, but interpretation is worth addressing separately. In this way, I love Dave's activity and use something similar as a way into account of the Peasants' Revolt. However, I'm not really sure that it does much to develop an understanding of interpretations.

I am currently teaching a unit on interpretations of the Tudors developed by Little Heath School. The continuing focus on interpretations is proving useful in allowing students to develop the language and understanding to discuss them. The unit uses film clips extensively, for which youtube is wonderful! It gets students to consider, for example, which aspects of Henry VII's life would make for a good film, before looking at how Henry VIII is presented in cartoons and 'horrible histories'. It also helps students to understand how historians create interpretations by doing quite close textual analysis on short passages from historians, before using similar techniques to develop their own. As an introduction to the idea of interpretations for Year 7 it is absolutely great - plus all the film trailers, clips, songs and pictures are useful as a motivational 'hook'.

Where I struggle is how to develop the sense of how interpretations change over time, and the extent to which they are shaped by the historical context in which they are written. For this to have much meaning, this requires the students to be able to hold simultaneously a strong and detailed understanding of various periods as well as the period being studied, and to have a great deal of sophistication in understanding the subtle ways that people understand events differently without being dishonest. I have used double image pictures to make the point about how the same events can be seen differently and without deceit, but have struggled to get beyond this engaging starter. The times I have tried, I think the students understood that there had been different interpretations, but my attempts to get them to consider why they were different required me to give so much support that their responses became more akin to answers to comprehension questions!

Some colleagues suggest that it is unrealistic to expect students to be able to do more and I'm fairly sure what Starkey would say! Having taught the OCR A2 Interpretations and Investigations unit, I can also say that the National Curriculum requirement for students to evaluate 'a range of interpretations of the past to assess their validity' is one that many 18 years old struggle with. However, this just makes me think that it is important to try to develop this lower down the school. So add me to the list of people looking for ideas!

Edited by Simon Ross, 07 June 2011 - 05:03 PM.


#8 Simon Ross

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 05:12 PM

Just chatting to a colleague, who has mentioned that Jane Card has written some interesting stuff on interpretations in portraits, especially a Victorian portrait of Lady Jane Grey.

#9 DaveStacey

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 08:31 PM

Where I struggle is how to develop the sense of how interpretations change over time, and the extent to which they are shaped by the historical context in which they are written.


Agree with this completely. The only place I think I get close to this is with Cromwell. We talk about why interpretations of Cromwell would have been negative at the time of the reformation, but more positive during the 19th as Parliament became more powerful.

#10 Jim Belben

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 08:54 AM

Just chatting to a colleague, who has mentioned that Jane Card has written some interesting stuff on interpretations in portraits, especially a Victorian portrait of Lady Jane Grey.

If you are wondering where to find this particular activity it is in History Pictures - a Teachers Book in the History in Practice series that we (Hodder) did with the Historical Association. The link is here.

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#11 Paul Salmons

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Posted 09 June 2011 - 10:41 PM

You mention that you are about to start a new module on the Holocaust. You might be interested in the free CPD that we (the IOE) are offering across the country.

Quite a bit of the CPD covers engaging pupils in interpretations, particularly how and why views of Jewish resistance have changed over time; why there are disagreements over whether the term 'the Holocaust' applies to all victims of the Nazis or specifically to the genocide of European Jewry; and why there are different interpretations about the perpetrators. For each of these workshops, free teaching and learning resources will be made accessible to teachers who attend the CPD.

More info at www.hedp.org.uk

Dates and venues for the new academic year will be offered soon, but for now there are also some resources you can access without attending the CPD.

Hope this is useful.

#12 JohnDClare

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 01:26 AM

how and why views of Jewish resistance have changed over time
why there are different interpretations about the perpetrators.

These seems genuine 'interpretations exercises.

why there are disagreements over whether the term 'the Holocaust' applies to all victims of the Nazis or specifically to the genocide of European Jewry

But are you sure this is an interpretations exercise, or just an historical debate?


The National Curriculum interprets 'interpretations' as:
a Understanding how historians and others form interpretations.
b Understanding why historians and others have interpreted events, people and situations in different ways through a range of media.
c Evaluating a range of interpretations of the past to assess their validity.

#13 Tony Fox

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 08:20 AM

why there are disagreements over whether the term 'the Holocaust' applies to all victims of the Nazis or specifically to the genocide of European Jewry

But are you sure this is an interpretations exercise, or just an historical debate?

I can see how this can be used for an interpretation exercise, surely one cannot have an Historical debate without looking at the interpretations, thus one could use this question to study the use of the term 'Holocaust' an activity Paul has done in the past, or study how different interpretations of the Holocaust have arrisen, this latter is tricky as, for balance one should consider Holocaust denial.

Edited by Tony Fox, 10 June 2011 - 08:23 AM.

"A parent can bring a child into this world, but a child can bring a parent into the world to come." - from the Talmud

"Had Churchill been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgement might well have concluded we were finished. - Anthony Storr

#14 JohnP

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Posted 11 June 2011 - 05:53 AM

Some good replies to this topic but not many exercises. I've found a few which were on the site through the 'Interpretations' seminar conducted in 2003. Three or four of them, at least.I've drawn a number of the relevant points together, along with the exercise from the seminar, into a handy sheet. It is not my work but I've done an editing job on what was already there. It is a starting point to promote discussion.

Attached File  Interpretations of the past.docx   123.87K   734 downloads

I've also noted the discussion and the documents on 'Interpretations' that are covered by the HA website and it should be possible to attach the article by Tony McAleavy ,from 1993, which is an excellent starting point, still.

Thanks Tony, John D Clare, Simon, Jim and the two Dave's for your contributions.Feedback is welcome.
Paul, I've joined the 'Hedp' programme but resources are limited or am I looking in the wrong place?

#15 Tony Fox

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Posted 11 June 2011 - 07:33 AM

Paul, I've joined the 'Hedp' programme but resources are limited or am I looking in the wrong place?

you get full access to the HEDP resources once you complete the two days, also it looks like Paul's SHP conference workshop looks in more detail at the Leon Greenman resources that the HEDP have made available.
There was some good stuff on Teachers TV (Leon Greenman's home & the Timeline activity) from the HEDP but this is difficult to get now.
"A parent can bring a child into this world, but a child can bring a parent into the world to come." - from the Talmud

"Had Churchill been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgement might well have concluded we were finished. - Anthony Storr




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