Most A level and GCSE History papers have some form of question that is based upon Historical interpretations. Quite often, students find these questions much harder to tackle as opposed to primary sources. This is largely because they are asked to justify their viewpoint. Which means of course, they need to have a viewpoint. Yet many A level students for example, lack the academic confidence to formulate one. They want the ‘right’ answers, that we often serve to them (I am guilty too). Due to this, they play peek-a-boo and hide behind historians in their essays. You will often read ‘Some Historians argue’ or ‘Historian X states…’, ‘it can be argued’ or ‘on the other hand’. They describe views rather than dare to advance their own. This year, I will return to that class rule about pausing to allow my students to answer. To not speak for them and to encourage ‘thinking time’.

When it comes to evaluating interpretations, it should be no surprise then that the students find it hard. Our job of course, is to build their confidence, scaffold their understanding and develop those higher order skills. Which we all strive to do! But it doesn’t stop there. The students can also struggle with answering interpretation questions because:

1. Their limited vocabulary is an obstacle to understanding the arguments. Instead, they resort to paraphrasing random quotes that are not really arguments or linked to the question posed. They freeze when they come across a word they do not understand and skip the sentence.

2. They use their own knowledge to tell the examiner what they know on an issue mentioned rather than use it to support or contest a view. This leads to description rather than evaluation.

3. Student confuse evaluation with testing truth.

4. They offer no balance in their evaluation of the views. Instead, the student is convinced by everything or nothing!

5. They don’t link their judgement to the question asked.

The plan

This year, I will be doing lots of work helping students identify fact from opinion in extracts (highlighters at the ready!). We will be rag-rating viewpoints in the extracts. We will have a dictionary corner and a ‘word for the week’ to broaden vocabulary. And not just the usual words we define normally, but secondary words such as ‘stagnant’. My plan is to expose the students to as many examples of historical interpretations as possible. I will also be dipping in to my resources from the T&L booklets to help. All my assessments will be done in class, so that I get to see how they perform under a little pressure. There will be lots of starter and plenary exercises wherein students need to identify arguments or match evidence. There will be no silver bullet of course, but I am keen to try some fresh approaches.

It would be great to hear what others are doing too?