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Welsh History Review

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Vol. 10, nos. 1-4 1980-81

New history, old problems : studies in history teaching : Book review.

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Lionel Ward and Mary Gauld survey in their respective papers aspects
of mixed-ability teaching. They draw attention to the need for a variety of
teaching strategies to meet the range of preferred modes of learning, which
are by no means exclusively verbal. Two interesting papers emphasise this
conclusion. Donald Moore contributes a cautionary tale for those teachers
who think that words, creating 'linear, sequential thought patterns', pro-
vide the only means of furthering historical study. He draws attention to
the significance of the visual means of communication, in pictures and
artifacts, and suggests that 'history will lose its interest for the majority if
it relies too much on the printed word'. Similarly, the contribution of field
work and the study of history 'on the ground' are identified by Arthur
Peplow as significant avenues to the stimulation of the pupil's interest
and imagination. Resources abound, in the form of photographs, film
and documentary as well as in graphic and three-dimensional material,
whether Stone Age axe-head, Elizabethan mansion or industrial relic,
to provide imaginative and rewarding approaches to the teaching of
history.
Two further papers describe recent research. Brian Scott reports on an
examination of 'concept learning within the enquiry process' among upper
junior school pupils. He concludes that children's skills in historical
thinking could be developed, using problem-solving studies. Martin
Booth, however, in his account of research with a 14-16 age group,
maintains that the primary task of the historian is not to solve problems
and concludes that history teaching should concentrate on the acquisition
of knowledge and concepts, while making ample provision for inductive
activity.
The tension revealed here points towards the general positions adopted
by the supporters of the two schools of history teachers, those who endorse,
respectively, traditional or 'New' objectives and methods, and Gareth
Jones, in the concluding paper, makes a significant attempt to bridge the
gap between them in his contribution, 'Towards a Synthesis'. He casts
doubt upon the relevance of taxonomies of educational objectives for
teachers of history and makes a shrewd analysis of Bruner's thinking as
applied to the history curriculum. He sees the way forward through
schemes in which 'instructional, expressive and experiential objectives
interlock'. Whether consciously or unconsciously, these are the ends to
which good history teachers have always directed their attention.
The volume is a most useful contribution to the current discussion on
the 'New History' and deserves to be widely read by teachers and students
of the subject. When they have made their assessment of the suitability of
skill-based and content-based schemes in their particular situations, most
will still agree, with one of the contributors, that learning about history is
an emotional as well as an intellectual experience. Their task, and their
problem, is to try to ensure that this experience is a rewarding one for every
pupil.
WILLIAM H. JOHN
South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education
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