Historical enquiry is one of the five key areas in the history curriculum, and is essential in helping children to gain a greater understanding of historical concepts. Teachers, therefore, need to understand how to introduce and develop the process of enquiry effectively across the Key Stages. The enquiry process is vital in helping the learner find out more about the past through questioning and investigating a range of different sources. This is conducted at a simple level at Key Stage 1 with a limited range of sources of information as they begin ‘to ask and answer questions about the past.
The aim of Key Stage 2 is to build upon what they have already learned and develop these skills so that pupils become more independent; they will know how ‘to find out about events, people and changes from a range of sources and be able to select and record relevant information’ from their own search. (DfEE, 1999, p104-105) Teachers should ensure that enquiries involve activities that appeal to children with different learning styles including visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning.
The history curriculum encourages using a variety of sources e. g. rtefacts, photographs, role-play, eyewitness accounts and trips to museums thereby following the constructivist approach which stresses the inclusion of practical activity, allowing pupils to be challenged through hands on experience. (Arthur et al. 2006) Introducing objects into history lessons is a fantastic way of allowing pupils to ask questions and start an enquiry through a ‘hands on’ approach. Cooper (2006) recommends sources should be introduced from the beginning of Key Stage 1 in order to start developing the basic skill of enquiry, which gradually becomes more intense and specific as pupils’ progress through primary school.
Piaget’s research showed that by doing this children are able to assimilate knowledge, re-evaluate their existing ideas and form new opinions and as children get older they are able to consider increasing amounts of information and explore more complex theories. (Arthur et al. 2006) Visual aids such as photographs and picture books are a ‘potent source of learning about the past’ particularly for the younger children or less able. (Blyth, 1994, p. )
The teacher needs to begin the enquiry process with young children by asking questions about what is happening in the picture and asking for events to be sequenced so that the children develop the skills of close observation. In Year 1 this could be accomplished by asking pupils to bring in photographs of themselves and sequencing events in their life into chronological order. However, in Year 4 children would be expected to go beyond simple and more obvious observation. They could compare and contrast old and new photographs of a local street to understand how things have changed over time and suggesting reasons for it.
They would also have to take notice of additional clues such as evidence on the back of photos e. g. names, dates or messages. Stories appeal to audio learners and help to put people and events into context in an enjoyable and digestable way, particularly for the younger children. In the lower key stage children could listen to stories about the past which would provide a framework to help sequence events, and questions such as ‘who’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ can be introduced through the use of real or fictional characters or setting.
Information such as clothing, transport, food and society can be made accessible through storytelling. For the older children it provides the chance to study change and continuity over time and learn about similarities and differences between people. At the end of a topic a Year 6 class can use what they have learned to write their own stories based on the evidence they have researched. Visits to museums or historical buildings arouse interest and enthusiasm in the majority of pupils and make the process of historical enquiry more exciting as they become involved in their own learning through first hand experiences.
Teachers will need to have discussed the trip prior to the day in order to allow children to discuss and prepare questions that they want to find the answers to. Taking part in Victorian reconstructions is very popular in primary schools as children can experience ‘a day in the life of’ by dressing up and taking part in what it would have been like both at school and at home for the rich and poor children. All pupils gain a greater understanding of what life was like and are able to compare to their own lives.
In Year 2 children may consider comparing clothes from then and now, what objects may have been used for, was it a rich or poor persons house? In Year 6 a greater level of enquiry would be expected; children should be able to spot the more subtle similarities and differences and consider how and why things have changed over time. They need to be given opportunities for reflection, and with the help of probing questions from the teacher make deductions to infer how the people of that time may have felt.
Unfortunately due to limited time and money trips are not always possible, however, artefacts provide an effective alternative of introducing children to the process of enquiry and appeal to visual and kinaesthetic learners as they can see, touch and smell them. This helps to stimulate questions and aids a child’s development as discussed in Piaget’s model of cognitive development; in particular the ‘concrete operations stage’ in which young children develop logic using the stimulus of concrete apparatus. (Arthur et al. 2006) In Year 2 tasks may include comparing toys made in different periods and sorting them into old and new.
This requires children to begin at the most basic level of enquiry by handling them, making simple observations, asking questions and forming opinions. Children are naturally inquisitive and from personal experience will begin to ask questions without any prompts such as ‘how old is it’, ‘where has it come from’, ‘who did it belong to? ‘ It is the teacher’s responsibility to oversee that such questions are asked and the children begin to discuss possible answers. Even at this early stage in their education with limited historical knowledge it is surprising at the complex answers children give and their reasoning for it.
On placement I heard a Year 1 pupil remark ‘ my children will have toys to play with and they’ll look at mine like they were things of the past. ‘ This conveys a real understanding of changing attitudes and perspectives over time. The ability to observe, ask questions and make deductions is a vital skill of enquiry, which needs to be encouraged and developed into Key Stage 2. It is at this point when pupils should be moving away from simply describing artefacts to considering methods of manufacture, who might have used it and why and how important the object would have been when it was made compared to now etc.
Magnifying glasses could be provided to encourage close scrutiny of objects to find hidden clues. This would also require a series of structured questioning from the teacher so pupils answers are focused and well thought out rather than wild guesses. (O’Hara and O’Hara, 2001) One of the main progressions from Key Stage 1 to 2 is the increasing amount of information and sources children are presented with. In the lower years sources are somewhat limited but by the time they have reached Key Stage 2 pupils have learned that a decision cannot be reached about the past by using solely one type of source.
They are given access to an increased amount of resources, which are more demanding in order to understand the topic thoroughly and make a balanced judgement. This means that by Year 6 pupils should be adept in reading and studying the sources to extract relevant material to their search. They use their enquiry skills to ‘attempt to infer the behaviour, thoughts and feelings of people in the past and distinguish the difference between interpreting evidence and interpreting thoughts. ‘ (Cooper, 2000, p. 7). Drama or role-play provides the ideal opportunity for older children to show their empathy for people in the past.
They can draw upon and apply what they have learned from resources such as ICT, artefacts, literature and school trips. Their level of questioning and critical evaluation is more intense at this age and pupils also take into account validity of the sources as well as additional factors such, economic, political, social and emotional to gain a broader understanding of the topic and explain cause and effect. Pupils’ work therefore becomes more structured than that of the lower years as reference is made to specific dates and events.
The teacher plays a vital role in aiding children’s progress in historical enquiry. The teacher in the lower key stages should model examples of enquiry questions in whole class lessons and have a greater input in the child’s enquiry. This helps develop social interaction as pupils listen to others, share their thoughts and as discuss new ideas. As children get older they should be familiar with the type of critical and evaluative questions that historians ask and be able to work more independently; conducting their own research to gain a greater and more balanced understanding of the time they are studying.
By doing this, pupils learn how to carry out an investigation and do not rely so heavily on the thoughts of others; they can work alone to reach their own conclusions through the enquiry skills that were modelled by the teacher from the early days. However, teachers still need to continue to ask pupils questions to ensure they have understood the task and are able to select relevant extracts of information. History provides the ideal opportunity to capitalise on children’s curiosity by providing them with the chance to find out things for themselves.
Enquiry requires children to use their investigative skills to locate, examine and question evidence as well as their imagination and empathy. (O’Hara, 2001) Responsibility for developing pupils’ knowledge and use of historical enquiry relies on several different factors. Pupils should be provided with a range of different and interesting sources that stimulate discussion and enable children to ask questions and form an enquiry from an early age.
Children should begin by using just one type of source and gradually be introduced to a whole range of sources e. g. Internet, photographs, artefacts and historical documents. It is a continual process which should be introduced at a basic level in Key Stage 1 and carefully developed on a regular basis in a specifically taught way each year, so that by Key Stage 2 pupils are confident in selecting, interpreting and combining sources to construct an account of the past. ‘ (DfEE, 1999 p. 104-105).
A lot can be learned about the past from all of these sources of information but only if children are given the opportunity to regularly use them and practise enquiry skills by interpreting and questioning the evidence. This is the responsibility of the teacher who should ensure the enquiry is made purposeful and has an objective. Teachers should be expressive and articulate when covering history topics to motivate and help stimulate children’s interest so they enjoy history and want to find out more.