Reflective Teaching Of History 11-18

Author(s) Phillips R.
Publisher Continuum
Published 2004
Price 17.99
ISBN 0826452744
Reviewed by Mr Tony Rea
University of Plymouth-Education
Review published 17 November 2005

The teaching of history in English and Welsh state schools has long been the subject of close popular scrutiny. During the 1970s changes were prompted by the Schools’ Council History Project in response to the declining numbers of young people choosing to continue the study of history beyond the age of 14. The subject moved away from what many considered to be a somewhat ‘dry’ delivery of a body of historical knowledge towards the teaching of empathy, interpretations and evidential examination; the so called ‘skills of the historian’: moving from learning about history, to learning to do history. For some, of course, this was a move too far and criticism of the skills approach became fashionable. The present school curriculum has emerged from serial political interference in the history curriculum (e.g. a number of versions of National Curriculum history and the ‘rationalisation’ of GCSE syllabuses). Potential readers should note that history teaching in Northern Ireland and Scotland has developed along idiosyncratic pathways which are, understandably, not covered in this book.

Throughout this period of change history teachers have been attempting to improve their own practice. Phillips argues that this can be done best by teachers reflecting on practice and engaging with the relationship between research and their teaching of history. This book takes the generic concept of the reflective practitioner (Schön[1], 1990) and develops from this a notion of the reflective history teacher. Phillips argues that a knowledge and understanding of research; research about for example, the philosophy of history teaching, ‘issues’ in history teaching, the politics of history teaching, teaching, learning and assessment in history; is essential in the development of the reflective history teacher.

As the book is aimed at those embarking upon careers as history teachers it is perhaps fully appropriate that Phillips too begins with a short historical overview of developments in the teaching profession, which he sees rooted in Callaghan’s 1976 Ruskin College speech.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the title and stated central theme of the book, namely ‘the relationship between research and history teaching’, this remains a very practical book. There are many examples of usable ideas, such as checklists for lesson planning, questioning taxonomies, ideas for encouraging pupil participation and the use of initial stimulus material (ISM). A brief consideration of the latter gives an idea of how the book works. Two uses of ISMs, one based on a massacre of Christians during the Crusades, and the second on the execution of King Charles I, are related to the work of Vygotsky and Piaget (p. 60). With approaches such as this, Phillips’ writing brings together in a natural way the works of those who research and write about broader educational issues (ranging from Vygotsky to Gardner), those who have investigated and told us about reflective practice (e.g. Schön, Postlethwaite) and others who write about the teaching of history (e.g. Aldrich, Booth, Culpin, Counsell, Unwin). To this extent the book is unique in the literature on the teaching of history. For example, the third chapter, ‘So how do pupils learn history? History teaching, pedagogy and research’, relates research about pedagogy to the learning of history in ways that are accessible to readers who are new to educational research, and stimulating for others who have a grounding in the generic research.

The book has been written as a core text for those beginning the profession of history teacher in England and Wales and is certainly a useful contribution to the education of new history teachers. It ought nonetheless to be of interest and use both to history teacher educators and teachers of history who wish to develop their reflection-on-practice and further their understanding of the research evidence for much of what they do in the classroom.

[1] Schön, D. (1990) Educating the Reflective Practitioner, New York: Jossey-Bass