The role of evidence in history lessons
The aims, objectives and units of work in the history curriculum lay a great stress on the extensive use of evidence by pupils at all levels. Opportunities to observe, handle, examine, question, compare, make deductions and draw conclusions from historical evidence are of benefit to the child in a number of important ways:
- finding and examining objects, pictures, buildings and other sources makes the history lesson an activity-based experience, one in which ‘the story of the past’ is clearly not predetermined but to be discovered for oneself
- the examination of an item which has come from a different period (items as simple as a wooden pencil case used by a grandparent, a schoolbag of the 1970s) can help the child to develop a sense of a time different from the present. It can, quite literally, put the child in touch with the past and engender a sense of wonder and curiosity
- the handling of evidence contributes to the development of analytical skills: the ability to observe, discriminate, compare and weigh points of view and make deductions about human actions and decisions. These are essential skills to help the child to become a responsible adult in a democratic society where the media present a flood of evidence every day.
What should using evidence achieve?
The evidence presented to children should
- enable children to examine evidence and make deductions from it in increasingly sophisticated ways
- make children familiar with an extensive range of evidence, reflecting the many aspects of people’s lives in the past and not just those likely to have created a documentary record
- encourage children to view everyday items from their own lives and environments as potential sources of evidence for future generations
- make children aware of the importance of preserving and conserving the evidence of the past.
In the pages which follow, we discuss how different types of evidence might be used within a range of lessons and with pupils in various classes.