It’s History Week in NSW: 1-9 September 2018. Formal activities include: NSW Premier’s History Awards, which start a little earlier on 31 August, and the Annual History Lecture and Awards on 4 September. There are almost 100 events being staged throughout NSW in History Week. Check this link: https://historycouncilnsw.org.au/history-week/
This is the perfect opportunity to pull together some of our understandings about literacy and teaching and learning within a subject.
The importance of literacy to all learning is described in the Australian Curriculum:
Success in any learning area depends on being able to use the significant, identifiable and distinctive literacy that is important for learning and representative of the content of that learning area (ACARA 2016).
As we have already noted, we have to support our students to become effective learners who are confident and motivated to use their literacy skills broadly, addressing the outcomes, skills and understandings in all subjects, and being able to use them in real life.
The study of history provides numerous opportunities for motivating students to develop and apply their literacy skills broadly. Many of the literacy understandings and skills in the study of history are widely applicable in other subjects, and in everyday life.
History encourages students to develop an understanding of significant historical concepts such as cause and effect, change and continuity, significance, empathy and contestability.
NSW History syllabus K-10 p.10
History encourages investigation and research, it involves problem-solving and finding answers to anomalies and questions, and provides a focus for curiosity and engagement in the perennial questions of who we are and where we have come from. The study of history is embedded in our personal and family lives, and the ways our lives are, and have been, impacted upon by the rest of the world.
The Australian Curriculum describes teaching history and other elements of the Humanities and Social Sciences content as important for students to understand both the past and present of their world, and to develop a capacity to respond to challenges, now and in the future, in innovative, informed, personal and collective ways. (Australian Curriculum: HASS Rationale)
The importance of these studies in building an understanding of the growth of our country as a parliamentary democracy cannot be underestimated. Our democracy, and its principles, have taken a bit of a beating over the past few years, particularly in the last couple of weeks. As well, there are ongoing issues that must be confronted and dealt with.
There is a great responsibility on us all to be active, engaged and critical citizens. Our history is now, and it the children in our care who will be part of that continuing debate as to who we are, and what we represent. A strong acquaintance with the literacy of history will ensure our students are able to engage in this debate effectively.
Literacy skills in history
The content for both the Australian and NSW History curriculum begins its focus with the personal – the self in the family and its heritage. This extends through to the broader context – the local environment, and on to the development of Australia from ancient times to the present.
Ideas to address some of the activities that historians undertake:
- Sequencing events chronologically. The language to describe time and its passage can refer to:
- a point in time (My father was born on 26 March 1980 in Castlemaine, Victoria.)
- the duration of events (People have lived by the river for over 10,000 years.)
- the frequency of events (Aboriginal people converged on the area every year to feast on the Bogong moths.)
More detail is included in ‘Time and time again’, in the resources for teachers on this site.
- Comparing and contrasting. Artefacts can be physically compared, and events revisited – different family members will often relate very different versions. Your own old ‘stuff’ can become useful. Use Venn diagrams, and look at the language of comparison. Students will need comparative and superlative adjectives, among other structures. Michael Swan’s ‘Practical English Usage’ is very useful.
- Describing. Students are required to construct descriptions from the local to the wider context. They will need to be able to create cohesive texts, using a variety of noun groups and with an emphasis on adverbials. Use Derewianka’s ‘A New Grammar Companion.’
- Narratives. There are numerous excellent narratives based on historical events. Authors such as Jackie French write great stories that are informed by sound research. Useful websites are included at the end of this blog.
- Examining and describing Images of people and places, clothing, transport, buildings, events and celebrations all provide information for students to examine and describe. Local historical societies and museums are an excellent source of information. Use the ‘Floorstorming’ strategy, among many others described in Rossbridge & Rushton’s ‘Conversations about Text 2’.
Our future is in the hands of the children we are teaching. Critical and creative thinking and effective communication skills are becoming even more important as the avenues and resources in social media allow for such easy access. Attacks on mainstream media and the cuts made to authentic information sources demand that we prepare our students to be able to discriminate between opinion and evidence-based information, and to have the skills to be able to challenge those with the loudest voices.
We have come far as a nation, and still have far to go. The study of history will help our students as they develop into the citizens of the future, and assist us to better ensure that the lessons of history are learnt.
As we enjoy this week with a particular focus on history, it is timely to contemplate the following, from the aims of the Australian Curriculum – isn’t this what we would hope for all our students?
The F–6/7 Australian Curriculum for Humanities and Social Sciences aims to ensure that students develop:
a sense of wonder, curiosity and respect about places, people, cultures and systems throughout the world, past and present, and an interest in and enjoyment of the study of these phenomena.
Resources for teaching history
- The NSW Department of Education provides a wealth of materials to assist teachers to guide students in their investigations. The following site includes a section titled ‘Guide to using picture books’ with structures for possible lessons:
- NESA has materials to support implementation of the 2012 NSW History K-10 syllabus:
- The History Teachers’ Association of Australia’s Australian curriculum History Units:
- The State Library of NSW:
- National Family History month held in August each year, resources still available:
- The National Library of Australia:
- See also Resources on this website
Derewianka, B. (2011) A New Grammar Companion Sydney: PETAA
NSW Board of Studies (now NESA) (2012) History K-10 Syllabus; NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum Sydney: NSW BOS
Rossbridge, J. & Rushton, K. (2011) Conversations about Text 2 – Teaching Grammar Using Factual Texts Sydney: PETAA.
Swan, M. (2005) Practical English Usage 3rd Edition UK: OUP
Wheatley, N. & Rawlins, D. (1987) My Place Melbourne: Collins Dove