Learning and Teaching History: A Reflection on Practice


What follows is an attempt to summarise twenty years of teaching in higher education, including some practical suggestions that reflect the approach I developed during that time. I begin with my beliefs about learning. I began this way with every new group I taught because I was going to ask them to do some surprising things and thought it only right to explain why. I am not a scientist but I believe that every teacher must have some idea of the way the human mind works and especially the way it has evolved to meet the challenges of survival over millions of years. Understanding evolution has made me an unrepentant believer in ‘active’ learning, if only because I am easily bored and have always learned most by doing. My attitude to history is essentially that of an artist: too lazy to be a scholar, the past has fed and inspired my imagination ever since I was a small child. Without history my life would have been infinitely poorer. And yet, just because I’ve made such creative use of the lives of past men and women I owe it to them to respect the truth about them and not to exaggerate or accuse. Children love stories but they love facts more because they know their own lives will depend upon them. That is why it is just as important to know how the facts are arrived at as it is to know what they tell us.

The text is arranged in a series of chapters that roughly correspond to the way in which I introduced groups of BEd students to a subject which was not their specialism, although as intending primary school teachers they would have to teach it. It also incorporates approaches that are relevant to the secondary school classroom where I served my apprenticeship in the teaching profession. It reflects my belief that the same methods work at all levels though it is much easier to experiment with learners who want to learn. No one can be forced to learn without their consent, whatever the means by which that consent is obtained.