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Approaches to the Humanities − History

History as a discipline | The inquiry process | Resources | Show All

The History domain has two interrelated dimensions:
Historical knowledge and understanding focuses on particular concepts and contexts of history. Concepts include time, chronology, past and present, cause and effect as well as concepts relevant to particular periods of history such as ancient, medieval and revolution.

Historical reasoning and interpretation focuses on the nature of historical thinking including the development of research and inquiry skills, the use and interpretation of a variety of sources, the use of historical language and the communication of understanding.

History as a discipline

A disciplinary based approach to history includes:

(Source: Making History: A Guide for the teaching and Learning of History in Australian Classrooms. Available at: www.hyperhistory.org)

Using historical sources
A primary source is one that is directly linked with an event or series of events in the past.

A secondary source is one that is created at a later date and provides further commentary on the event or person.

Historical sources can come in many forms and include artefacts, letters, artworks, films, photographs, extracts from speeches, newspaper articles, documentaries, official records, statistics, music, poetry, posters, advertising and stories as well as written textbooks.

At the primary level, teachers can begin to teach students about historical evidence through familiar contexts – home, schools and local area. For example use of evidence such as family photographs, drawings and artefacts can be used to develop students’ historical thinking by:

Questioning evidence
Students should be encouraged to ask a range of questions about primary and secondary sources. Initial questioning of historical sources to establish identity and credentials might include the following:

Organised discussion, framed around a taxonomical structure such as Bloom’s, can be useful in the developing of concepts for younger students. Questions like these are useful in developing a student’s historical literacy:

The research/ inquiry process.
Research and inquiry skills are essential skills for young historians. The inquiry process engages students in the issues of historical explanation. It also supports the development of higher order thinking skills, increases student involvement and ownership of learning and caters for mixed abilities and individual differences.

The inquiry process

The basic elements of the inquiry approach are:

Involvement in the inquiry process may be through a classroom activity that takes place in one lesson or occurs over several lessons. The level of scaffolding and teacher direction will depend on the ability level of the students and the difficulty of the task but by Year 10 students should be increasingly independent researchers.

Choosing the topic
A context for inquiry can be created by providing students with stimulus which might be in the form of a story, photographs, a segment from a documentary or a current event such as a newspaper story about refugees or Anzac Day.

Research questions could be generated through brainstorming, ‘Think, pair, share’ strategies, class discussion, viewing a documentary or reading stories.

Good research questions should be researchable and allow for a range of views and perspectives of appropriate depth and challenge.

Teachers need to ensure that students are provided with enough information to provide a context for research and that they understand key terms and concepts they will encounter.

Gathering information
Research methods will be determined by the questions, the extent of the task, the availability of resources and time. In the primary years, teachers might select key resources for students to use and location of resources at both the primary and secondary years might be part of a cooperative exercise.

Research methods might include: Internet searches, excursions to museums, listening to guest speakers, conducting interviews, viewing film and reading literature and specialist texts.

Student research might be accompanied by scaffolding such as data sheets for recording information against key questions and proformas which encourage the collection of correct bibliographic information.

Analysing information
Student researchers should be progressively introduced to a range of resources and critically question key sources.

In the primary years, students should develop skills of understanding sources, asking key questions about them and making judgments about the evidence. Questions such as: Who wrote this? When? Who was the audience? Whose point of view is this? will guide students in this process.

At the secondary years, students will progressively encounter a greater range and sophistication of sources and make judgments about the strengths and limitations of evidence, and evaluate sources for context, information, reliability, completeness, objectivity and bias.

Presenting findings
Presenting the findings requires a clear sense of who the audience is and the purpose of the research. Students will progressively learn the conventions associated with presentation including use of historical language and conventions covering bibliographies. The VELS history learning focus statements provide a range of examples of ways that students might present their understanding in history.


Resources for teaching history
A range of learning and teaching resources for teachers.

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