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Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching

  • Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
  • Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam)


Using the past to orientate on the present and the future can be seen as one of history's main contributions to educating future citizens of democratic societies. Because tools for pursuing this goal are scarce, this study explores three pedagogical approaches that may help teachers and students to make connections between the past, the present and the future: working with longitudinal lines, with enduring human issues and with historical analogies. The efficacy of these approaches was examined in three case studies conducted in two Dutch secondary schools with eighth- to tenthgrade students (N=135) and their teachers (N=4) as participants. Explorations took place within the boundaries of the existing history curriculum and in close collaboration with the teachers who participated because they felt a need to motivate their students by means of a pedagogy to make history more useful. Findings suggest that working with longitudinal lines and enduring human issues in a traditional history curriculum with chronologically ordered topics is more complicated than working with historical analogies. The historical analogy approach appears to have most potential to encourage students to use the past to reflect on present-day affairs. In terms of students' appraisals of the relevance of history, the application of the enduring human issue approach showed positive effects.
PLEASE CITE AS: van Straaten, D., Wilschut, A., & Oostdam, R. (2018). Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the
past, the present and the future in history teaching. Historical Encounters: A journal of historical consciousness, historical
cultures, and history education, 5(1), 46-67.
ISSN 2203 7543 | © Authors | This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
Publication Date: 28 June 2018 | Available Online:
Exploring pedagogical approaches for
connecting the past, the present and the future
in history teaching
Dick van Straaten
University of Amsterdam & Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
Arie Wilschut
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
Ron Oostdam
University of Amsterdam & Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
ABSTRACT: Using the past to orientate on the present and the future can be seen as one of history’s
main contributions to educating future citizens of democratic societies. Because tools for pursuing
this goal are scarce, this study explores three pedagogical approaches that may help teachers and
students to make connections between the past, the present and the future: working with longitudinal
lines, with enduring human issues and with historical analogies. The efficacy of these approaches
was examined in three case studies conducted in two Dutch secondary schools with eighth- to tenth-
grade students (N=135) and their teachers (N=4) as participants. Explorations took place within the
boundaries of the existing history curriculum and in close collaboration with the teachers who
participated because they felt a need to motivate their students by means of a pedagogy to make
history more useful. Findings suggest that working with longitudinal lines and enduring human
issues in a traditional history curriculum with chronologically ordered topics is more complicated
than working with historical analogies. The historical analogy approach appears to have most
potential to encourage students to use the past to reflect on present-day affairs. In terms of students’
appraisals of the relevance of history, the application of the enduring human issue approach showed
positive effects.
KEYWORDS: History Teaching; School Subject Relevance; Curriculum Innovation; Secondary
School Education.
In standards for history teaching, connecting the past to the present and the future is frequently
being regarded as a means to prepare students for their future role as citizens in society
(ACARA, 2015; DFE, 2013; NCHS, 1996; Seixas & Morton, 2013; VGD, 2006; Wilschut,
2015).This rationale for school history is usually translated in broadly defined goals in
preambles of curriculum documents, without further elaborations of the kinds of relationships
between the past, present and future that may be supportive for students’ inclusion as citizens
in society. Content descriptions in these documents focus almost entirely on understanding the
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
past and mastering historical thinking skills as aims in themselves. Standards specify which
historical knowledge students should learn without exemplifying possible relationships with
meaningful contemporary contexts. The compilers of curriculum documents apparently assume
that learning about the past yields insights into the present and future as a matter of course,
taking knowledge transfer beyond subject-specific contexts for granted without any explicit
learning activities directed at achieving this aim.
Such expectations may not be justified. In the wake of philosophical studies about historical
consciousness and the temporal dimension of the human condition, an increasing body of
empirically based knowledge is available about ways in which students (and people in general)
use the past to orient on the present and the future. For example, a survey conducted by
Rosenzweig (2000) showed that although the past had a strong influence on the way people
think, very few people derived meaning from history taught at school. Findings from the project
Usable Historical Pasts, conducted by Foster, Ashby and Lee (2008), revealed that only a small
number of students referred to history while reflecting on contemporary issues. In Germany,
Denmark and the Netherlands, a large proportion of 14-year-olds in the 1990’s thought that
history is ‘dead and gone and has nothing to do with my present life’ (Angvik & Von Borries,
1997, p. B26). Studies in England and North America suggest that students have limited views
on the purposes and benefits of history and have difficulty to articulate why studying the past
matters (Barton & Levstik, 2011; Biddulph & Adey, 2003; Harris & Reynolds, 2014; Haydn &
Harris, 2010; Zhao & Hoge, 2005). In short, there are ample reasons for actively linking the
past to the present and the future to enable students to construct narratives that make sense to
them. ‘Usable historical pasts’ may enhance student motivation as well, as recognising the
utility of classroom tasks in terms of applicability in ‘real life’ is what encourages students to
learn and what they deem important in valuing the usefulness of school subjects (Brophy,1999;
Pintrich, 2003).
Given the fact that students are not inclined to attribute meaning to history of their own
accord and therefore need guidance, the question arises how teachers may help them pursuing
this goal. In earlier work, we have distinguished three pedagogical approaches for making
connections between the past, present and future (Van Straaten, Wilschut, & Oostdam, 2016).
In this study, we explore the efficacy of these approaches in a traditional history curriculum
with chronologically ordered topics and a strong focus on memorising historical data. Our aim
is to find out whether the approaches can be applied effectively in existing educational settings
or whether major curriculum revisions are required. We use three indicators to examine this
issue: (1) the extent to which students apply historical content knowledge while reasoning about
current affairs; (2) teacher’s experiences with the approaches in view of student learning and
meeting curriculum demands; and (3) students’ beliefs and attitudes vis-à-vis the relevance of
Obstacles to connecting the past, present and future
Several factors may explain why students are not inclined to link the past to the present and the
future. First, a lack of readily available knowledge probably plays an important role. Discerning
long-term historical developments that have shaped the present, for example, puts high demands
on the amount of historical knowledge that students have at their disposal.
In their Usable Historical Pasts project, Foster, Ashby and Lee (2008) asked students in Year
10 and 11 to consider the question whether the USA would always be the most powerful
country. Only a small number of students made references to the past while answering the
question, most of whom appeared frustrated by their lack of substantive knowledge. Students
also offered vague or incomplete responses when asked to write the story of British history in
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
the last 2000 years. One student commented: ‘I can’t do this. My knowledge does not stretch
out as far as 2000 years’ (Foster, Ashby, & Lee, 2008, p. 6).
Second, linking the past to the present and future requires thinking in long-term patterns of
continuity and change and the ability to generalize, for example by comparing what people in
the past and people in the present have in common. There is abundant evidence showing that
students’ epistemological beliefs about the past may present an obstacle for this kind of mental
operations (e.g. Barton, 2008; Blow, 2009; Lee, 2005; Maggioni, Alexander & VanSledright,
2004; Sandahl, 2015; Shemilt, 2009; Stoel, Logtenberg, Wansink, Huijgen, Van Boxtel, & Van
Drie 2017). For example, students perceive images of the past as ‘fixed’, i.e., as a closed entity
of given dates and facts about a world ‘out there’ that bears little relation with the ‘real’ world;
it seems difficult for them to grasp the notion that history is the product of constructing
narratives that serve contemporary needs and interests. Their historical thinking is hallmarked
by events following each other in a causal chain without alternatives, not by the interplay of
change and continuity. They look for historical explanations in people’s actions, not in
conditions, developments or changes.
Third, many history curricula are based upon chronologically ordered topics which are
usually separately taught, leaving little room for teaching developmental lines from the past to
the present or comparative, generalizing learning activities that may help students to attribute
meaning to the past (Carroll, 2016). Blow (2009), among others, propagates a radical reshaping
of existing history curricula aiming at teaching large spans of time (‘big pictures’) rather than
single topics offering a mass of details which are inapplicable in multiple contexts and impede
students’ ability to generalise. Useful tools in teaching ‘big pictures’ are, according to Blow
(2009) and Lee (2005), a well-developed vocabulary of second order concepts (e.g., change,
continuity, cause and effect) and the deployment of historical analogies as a means to empower
abstract thinking (Blow, 2009; Lee, 2005).
Pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, present and future
Based on the problem analysis described above and on research literature in the field of history
education, we have identified three pedagogical approaches that may help students and teachers
to use the past to orientate on the present and the future (Van Straaten, Wilschut, & Oostdam,
- Working with enduring human issues (EHI) that have been addressed by people in past
and present times either in similar or different manners, such as social inequality or
issues of crime and punishment.
- Working with longitudinal lines (LL) describing long-term political, socio-economical
or cultural developments, for example, the emergence of national states or the process
of secularization and scientification leading to the ‘disenchantment of the world’
(MacKinnon, 2001).
- Working with historical analogies (HA) between the past and the present, for example,
in the context of European unification, an analogy between the Roman Empire and the
European Union.
These approaches are not new, however, empirical data about their efficacy is scarce, which
was one of the incentives to undertake this study. We will discuss the three approaches in a
summary manner.
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
Enduring human issues
History is about mankind in other times: very different from today, but also similar because
people have always shared fundamental aspects of being human. Dressel (1996) distinguishes
eleven basic human experiences: space and time, religion, family, food, dealing with nature,
the human body, sexuality, labor, conflicts, gender and encounters with strangers. Such issues
are common to all human beings, but the way in which people have dealt with them differs from
time to time. Studying contrasting examples of dealing with the same enduring issue may
expand students’ frames of reference.
There have been several proposals for designing a curriculum based on enduring human
issues. For example, Hunt (2000) put forward a curriculum based on ‘ageless social, moral and
cultural issues’ (p. 39) to be studied with key concepts and key questions, such as why people
obey laws or why governments levy taxes. Barton and Levstik (2011) suggest that history
education may become meaningful if students are confronted with ‘enduring themes and
questions’ (p. 3), such as the interaction between man and his environment, or the development
of cultures and societies. Obenchain, Orr, and Davis (2011) developed teaching about ‘essential
questions’ in cooperation with teachers for example: the question of the grounds on which
freedom may be curtailed. In similar projects, teachers and researchers have designed curricula
based on ‘big ideas’ (Grant & Gradwell, 2010) or ‘persistent issues’ (Brush & Saye, 2014). In
English history teaching it has become increasingly common to build lesson units around
‘enquiry questions’ that can promote the study of problems instead of periods (Carroll, 2016).
What all these examples have in common is the use of the past in reflections on enduring human
Longitudinal lines
Longitudinal lines should not be confused with historical overview knowledge without any
explicit organizing principle or specific question to the past. Overview knowledge without an
explicit narrative structure probably does not serve the purpose of making connections between
past, present and future. Shemilt (2009) proposes synoptically described, millennia-wide lines
of change under themes such as modes of production, or political and social organization. Lee
and Howson (2009) also argue for diachronic narratives about certain themes or topics. They
assume that by using these kinds of frameworks, students will not only be able to extrapolate
long lines of developments into the future, but also reflect upon their own future role as (e.g.)
an office employee compared to a stone age hunter, a medieval farmer, a 16th-century craftsman
or a 19th-century factory worker.
So far there have been only a few empirical studies focusing on the practical applicability of
the framework-approaches suggested by Shemilt, Lee and Howson (e.g. Carroll, 2016; Nuttall,
2013; Rogers, 2008). Nuttall (2013), for example, presented a comprehensive chart of 20th-
century history to 14- and 15-year-old students, structured by six periods on one axis (e.g. 1919–
1938, 1946–1989) and three main questions on the other axis: What is the big story of the 20th
century? What is the story of the empires? Who is the most powerful? In the resulting cross
table, students could compare the six periods from three guiding viewpoints, thus creating
longer lines in 20th-century history. Although Nuttall’s study was small-scale and explorative,
students seemingly were triggered to switch from past to present, as became apparent in their
spontaneous conversations on issues like the emergence of China or civil wars in Africa.
Because they saw the ‘whole picture’ and perceived different lines connecting the past and the
present, they were put in the position to understand that the present could have been different
if developments in the past had taken a different course.
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
While Nuttall’s experiment only encompassed the history of the 20th-century, Carroll (2016)
designed a lesson unit focusing on the topic of slavery from the beginnings of humanity to the
present. Students first took notice of the ‘whole story’ of slavery and then studied the Haitian
Revolution in depth driven by the question whether this revolution should be remembered of
forgotten. This procedure, combining a millennia-wide framework with attributing significance
to a specific historical event, allowed investigations on how students tend to use a pre-taught
framework. It appeared that students were able to construct coherent long-termed narratives of
slavery, although some were distracted by specific topics and details. Relying on their overview
knowledge, students considered the Haitian Revolution significant because in the 5000-year
history of slavery, it was one of the unique occasions in which a slave rebellion succeeded.
Furthermore, they drew lines from the Haitian Revolution to later historical episodes and their
own life, for example by stating that the revolution had paved the way for the 18th century
abolitionist movement or for present-day human rights which they deemed to be of great value.
Historical analogies
Analogic thinking can be described as the ability to identify similar features and connections
between them across cases or examples (Gentner, 2010). Analogic thinking has proven to be a
powerful learning tool and an effective way to facilitate transfer of knowledge to novel
situations (Alfieri, Nokes-Malach, & Schunn, 2013); it may therefore be a useful teaching
strategy for making connections between the past, the present and the future.
If analogies are drawn between something comparatively known and something
comparatively unknown, the first is called ‘source’ or ‘base’ and the second ‘target’ (Holyoak
& Taggart, 1997). Three types of analogies are usually applied in history classes: (1) something
mundane from the present as base and a historical phenomenon as target, for example, a
marriage of interests and the Concordat between Mussolini and the Pope (Laffin & Wilson,
2005); (2) historical events that show similarities, such as the failed attempts of Charles XII of
Sweden, Napoleon and Hitler to conquer Russia (Mugleston, 2000); and (3) something from
the past as base and something from the present as target, for example, Japanese kamikaze pilots
during World War II and the terrorists who committed the attack on New York in 2001
(Robbins, 2004). The limited number of studies available suggests that teachers prefer using
the first two of these types (Ata, 2009; Myson, 2006). The third type seems to be less common
than the other two types, probably because it is more complicated.
If using the past to orientate on the present and future is what history education should
pursue, making analogies of the first two types may be useful if they reveal general features of
phenomena. For example, Boix-Mansilla (2000) made students compare the history of the
Holocaust with the history of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. This comparison induced
students to think about human nature and the circumstances in which atrocities like these can
occur. In their zeal to find an explanation for the genocide in Rwanda, many students
disregarded the differences between the two genocides. Therefore, it should be pointed out that
in making analogies not only the similarities may be illuminating, but also the differences.
Taking differences into account may prevent students from generalizing in a simplistic way.
Although the three pedagogical approaches are presented as three separate categories, they
have something in common because all three focus on the use of historical knowledge in
present-day contexts and all embody some element of comparison. Yet there are good reasons
to keep them apart. Longitudinal lines concentrate on processes of change and development
which are extrapolated into the present and the future, enabling students to orient in time.
Enduring human issues and historical analogies aim for similarities and differences between
past and present phenomena, not so much for patterns of change and development. Enduring
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
human issues entail developing moral opinions, whereas historical analogies foster the
understanding of phenomena.
Study design and research questions
Implementing the three pedagogical approaches may require profound curriculum revisions.
For example, drawing longitudinal lines calls for a diachronically ordered curriculum rather
than a curriculum of separate chronologically ordered topics. Enduring human issues may
require the use of generic concepts instead of learning factual knowledge specifically confined
to topical contexts. For this study, however, we decided not to reshape the curriculum for the
sake of research purposes only. We wanted to stay close to daily teaching practices and took
the extant Dutch history curriculum as a starting point. Teachers have to operate within the
limits of this curriculum and will be interested in research results applicable to existing
educational settings. We applied a design research approach (McKenney & Reeves, 2012)
implying that lesson interventions were constructed in close collaboration with teachers. To be
able to reach a maximum of ecologically realistic exploration, the interventions were conducted
within the boundaries of existing lesson programs with a minimum of changes and adapted to
specific classroom settings after extensive consultations with the teachers. This practice-
orientated approach in which researchers and teachers collaborate in authentic school settings
may contribute to narrowing the gap between educational research and practice (Broekkamp &
Van Hout-Wolters, 2007).
Table 1 specifies the assignment of the pedagogical approaches to the student groups.
Because the groups varied in grade and were taught different topics, explorations of the
approaches took place in different classroom settings. Therefore, contextual conditions being
relevant, the explorations are to be understood as case studies. Analysing data across settings
was not possible in the way it would have been in a multiple case study because of the difference
in classroom settings (Yin, 2014). Taking this into account, we formulated research questions
that were identical for all three case studies:
1. To what extent do students apply knowledge about the past in their orientation on
current affairs?
2. How do teachers experience applying the approach in their daily teaching practice, i.e.,
within a traditional history curriculum organized around chronologically ordered
topics and focusing primarily at memorising historical data?
3. Does application of the approach affects students’ appraisals of the relevance of
These questions serve the main purpose of this study, i.e., to explore whether employing the
three pedagogical approaches within the boundaries of existing programs is feasible without
major curriculum revisions. They can be seen as indicators of effectiveness. If students hardly
refer to historical knowledge while contemplating present-day issues or if teachers notice
serious implementation problems, for example, we assume limited effects and take major
curriculum adaptations into consideration. The third question seems to be less imperative in this
respect. ‘Relevance’ is conceived here as recognising what history has to do with oneself, with
today’s society and with a general understanding of human existence (Van Straaten, Wilschut,
& Oostdam, 2016). Based on educational philosophical and constructive learning theories on
meaningful learning elaborated in earlier work, we assume that through connecting the past to
the present and the future, students might see the relevance of history more clearly (Van
Straaten, Wilschut, & Oostdam, 2016). In other words, students’ appraisals of the relevance of
history are indicative for the effectiveness of the applied approaches.
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
1 Enduring
Human Issues
Studying issues common to
all humans by means of
various historical examples
(e.g., about paying taxes,
crime and punishment,
resolving conflicts).
School A
(N=56; two
One teacher
In the context of history lessons
about the Cold War: focusing on the
extent to which imposing value
systems with a universal validity
claim can be justified.
2 Longitudinal
Lines (LL)
Describing long-term
political, socio-economical
or cultural developments
(e.g., the emergence of
national states).
School B
(N=20, one group)
One teacher
Studying four aspects of the
emergence of citizenship in western
societies from ancient to modern
times: citizen who obey; citizen who
govern; civil rights and freedoms;
civic duties.
3 Historical
Comparing historical
situations or developments
from different periods or the
present to study differences
and similarities.
School B
(N=59; two
Two teachers
Using knowledge of the First and
Second World War to assess
whether the war between the so-
called Islamic State (IS) and the anti-
IS-coalition can be called a world
Table 1. Three case studies on pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, present and future.
Educational context
The case studies were conducted in three tracks of Dutch secondary education. i.e., lower
secondary pre-vocational education (VMBO), middle level general secondary education
(HAVO) and pre-university secondary education (VWO). Pivotal to the Dutch history
curriculum in these tracks is a frame of reference knowledge organized around ten eras,
beginning with the ‘era of hunters and farmers’ and ending with the ‘era of television and
computer’ (Wilschut, 2009, 2015). Each era has its characteristic features, e.g., ‘feudalism’ for
‘the era of monks and knights’ (early Middle Ages), or ‘industrial revolution’ for ‘the era of
citizens and steam engines’ (19th century). This frame of reference knowledge is designed to
enable students to orientate in time and space, i.e., to contextualize historical data. Aspects of
historical thinking, such as causation, empathy and change, are also part of the curriculum.
In daily teaching practice, the eras and their features are usually taught separately without
drawing longitudinal lines, historical analogies or discussing enduring human issues. Teachers
rely on history textbooks which give factual descriptions of the eras and their characteristics.
History tests usually question factual mastery of the reference knowledge frame which is a
requirement in the central examination that finalizes history in secondary education. This
implies that in Dutch history teaching, emphasis lies on memorization and recall of historical
facts and on understanding the past as an aim in itself. In the context of this study it is also
important to note that ‘the use of history’- a substantive component of the Swedish and
Norwegian curriculum (Nordgren, 2016) - does not appear in the Dutch curriculum. Given these
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
educational conditions, this study’s pedagogical approaches for connecting past, present and
future were innovative practices for both students and teachers.
Participants and settings
Because the interventions consisted of additions to the regular curriculum, we only describe the
alterations that were made in the context of this research. Students used their history textbooks
in all three case studies. Additional lesson materials were written by the first author, who also
formulated the statements students had to comment on in order to measure the extent to which
they used historical knowledge (RQ1). All statements are presented in Appendix A.
Case study 1 was conducted in two student groups from a secondary school located in a mid-
sized city in the eastern part of the Netherlands. The participants were 56 ninth-graders from
middle level and pre-university education (18 males, 38 females; mean age 14.20 years, SD =
.45). In this group we explored the enduring human issues approach. In accordance with the era
framework, students studied the history of the Cold War (with standard topics such as the
Truman Doctrine, the Korean War and the nuclear arms race) in eight textbook lessons of 50
minutes each. To this standard programme we added teaching instructions, texts and tasks about
an enduring human issue related to the Cold War, i.e., the extent to which imposing by the
authorities of value systems with a universal validity claim can be justified. After all, the Cold
War can be seen in terms of a clash between two inherently expansionistic value systems
(Gaddis, 2005). The issue of imposing value systems has played a role throughout history and
has lost none of its significance, which makes it an enduring human issue.
In the first six regular lessons about the Cold War subject matter related to the enduring issue
was highlighted, for example, Truman’s motives to announce his ‘doctrine’, McCarthy’s to
prosecute communists or Ulbricht’s to fence East Germany. Prior to these lessons, the issue
was introduced to the students with a brief text (specifically written for this purpose) about
covert CIA-operations during the so-called War on Terror. After reading this text, students were
instructed to execute a writing task that consisted of commenting on statements related to the
enduring issue. After completing the lessons, they had to reconsider their initial comments. To
see whether they would use historical knowledge spontaneously, students were not prompted
to refer to content knowledge. The remaining two lessons addressed the rise of communist
China and the collapse of the Soviet Union. After completing these lessons, students had to
consider the viability of communism in China. They had to write a comment of approximately
250 words on the statement that 10 years from now China would no longer be a communist
state. In preparation for this writing task, they read a text about current socio-economic and
political affairs in China. The students were explicitly instructed to refer to historical content
knowledge to see if that would make any difference.
Case study 2 was conducted in a secondary school located in a suburbanized area in the
western part of the Netherlands. In this study, we examined the application of the longitudinal
lines approach in a group of tenth-grade students from the middle level track (N = 20; 7 males,
13 females; mean age 15.85 years, SD = .81). These students had completed the reference
knowledge frame (from ‘hunters and farmers’ to ‘television and computer’), so working with
longitudinal lines enabled them to review overview knowledge. In 12 lessons of 50 minutes
each, they focused on four aspects of the development of citizenship in western history (Isin &
Turner, 2002): subjects who obey; citizens who govern; civil rights and freedoms; and civic
duties. For example, ‘citizens who govern’ addressed the development of ideas about self-
government from ancient Greece to Western Europe in the 18th and 19th century. ‘Subjects who
obey’ discussed the subjection of people and nations to higher authorities, for example, in
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
Mesopotamian city states, in France during the reign of Louis XIV or in Germany during Nazi
rule. For each of the four aspects, the focus was on long-term developments and patterns of
change and continuity in history. These developments were described for the purpose of this
study in order to enable the teacher to support her lecturing. Students were given worksheets
with chronologically ordered writing spaces (one worksheet for each aspect of citizenship).
During the teacher’s lectures, the worksheets enabled students to arrange their notes in such a
way that it became possible for them to identify long-term developments of citizenship. The
students used the regular textbook as a reference work, for example, to retrieve historical
knowledge needed to understand the lectures. They were given the task to write comments on
general issues related to the four aspects of citizenship. They were explicitly instructed to refer
to historical content knowledge.
Case study 3 was carried out in the same school as the one for case study 2 but with different
teachers and different students. In this study the historical analogy approach was explored in
two groups of eighth-grade students from the lower pre-vocational track (N = 59; 32 males, 27
females; mean age 13.57 years, SD = .68). These students studied the First and Second World
War in regular history classes (eight lessons of 50 minutes each). Under supervision of their
teachers, they drew several analogies between the World Wars and present-day phenomena.
Our data consist of analogies made by students between the World Wars and the war of the US-
led coalition forces against the so-called Islamic State (IS) which began in 2014. Students had
to decide if the war against IS can be considered a world war and if knowledge of the military
ending of the Second World War can be useful for contemplating how the war against IS might
end. In addition to their textbooks, they read a text (specially written for this study) about the
contemporary situation of the Middle East conflict.
Data collection and analysis
We used mixed methods combining quantitative data collected by means of closed format
questionnaires and qualitative data collected from writing tasks and semi-structured and open-
ended interviews (see Table 2).
Writing tasks
Semi-structured interviews
Closed format questionnaire
Open-ended interviews
Closed format questionnaire
Table 2. Research questions and measures.
RQ 1 | In all three case studies, writing tasks were used to measure the extent to which students
employed historical content knowledge while orienting themselves to current affairs. Students
commented on statements related to the topics of these studies (see Appendix A). The writing
tasks of case studies 1 and 2 were used in a pre-test-post-test design. For each session,
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
completion took approximately 20 minutes and was guided by the teacher. In the post-test, the
teacher returned the pre-test writings to the students and asked them whether they wanted to
make any changes to their initial comments. Both students who made changes and students who
stuck to their comments had to explain their choices. These explanations were analysed by
counting the number of students who referred to content knowledge. The same method was
applied in case study 3 in which the writing task was used in a post-test setting only. For
determining whether or not students referred to historical knowledge, we looked for explicit
wordings of content knowledge. For example, in case study 1 only comments which contained
substantive concepts pertaining to the history of the Cold War were counted as historical
knowledge references. Thus, the comment ‘[…] you have to do it without violence otherwise
you will get a Cold War again’ on the statement whether countries have the right to defend their
own way of life was considered as a reference whereas ‘everyone is entitled to their own way
of living and thinking […]’ was not.
A coding scheme was used to analyse the writing task about the viability of communism in
China (see Table 3). Two main categories (‘historical knowledge’ and ‘generic knowledge’)
were divided into subcategories arising from the contents of the writings, which enabled us to
analyse student reasoning in more detail. Two raters, being the first two authors, coded a
randomly selected set of 12 writing tasks. With Cohen’s Kappa varying from .56 to 1, interrater
reliability was between moderate and very strong (Landis & Koch, 1977). Agreement was
reached by deliberation in cases where the assignments of the raters did not correspond.
Finally, 14 randomly selected students participating in case study 1 were interviewed. They
were asked to explain why they had or had not referred to the Cold War in their comments. The
students were interviewed in groups (three groups of four and one group of two) to make them
feel at ease and to encourage engagement and stimulate a richer response (Frechtling & Sharp,
1997). Each interview took approximately 20 minutes. The interviews were recorded,
transcribed verbatim and analysed bearing the key question in mind.
RQ 2 | A closed format questionnaire (see Appendix B) was used to find out what motivated
the teachers to join the research project and whether they thought participation was useful in
view of their daily teaching practice. The questionnaire was implemented anonymously by
means of an online survey tool. All teachers responded. The teachers who participated in case
studies 2 and 3 were interviewed. The teacher involved in case study 1 reported in writing on
her findings with the lesson intervention. The teacher interviewees were asked to respond to the
research findings that were presented to them. We assumed that by explaining these findings,
they would be triggered to talk frankly about students’ performances and motivation during the
intervention lessons. The second part of the interviews addressed teachers’ experiences with
the pedagogical approaches. The guiding question was whether they thought implementing
these approaches in the regular curriculum was desirable and feasible. Each interview lasted 50
minutes. The interviews were recorded and transcripts were analysed, keeping in mind the
above-mentioned topics.
RQ 3 | The Relevance of History Measurement Scale (RHMS) was used to examine possible
effects of the lesson interventions on students’ appraisals of the relevance of history (Van
Straaten, Wilschut, & Oostdam, 2018). The RHMS is a 24-item questionnaire measuring
history relevance perceptions in view of (1) building a personal identity (e.g., developing own
values, opinions and ideals), (2) becoming a citizen (e.g., understanding current social and
political affairs) and (3) understanding the human condition (e.g.: becoming aware of the
temporal dimension of human existence and one’s own historicity). Item examples in the order
of these strands of relevance are: ‘history helps me to get to know myself better’; ‘history is of
little use if you want to understand the news’; ‘history enables you to imagine what will happen
in the future’. The 24 items are to be assessed on a six-point Likert Scale varying from
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
‘completely disagree’ to ‘completely agree’. The RHMS has been validated in a large-scale
study involving 1459 Dutch students (Van Straaten, Wilschut, & Oostdam, 2018).
Code description
Student example
and capitalism
κ = .56
Arguments based on features of
communist and capitalist systems in
theory and practice, e.g., free market
economy versus state controlled
economy; democracy versus party
(Agree) Communism wants a classless society,
but in China, differences between rich and poor
are very large. (…) The rich of China are not
happy with communism. They must give up their
money and possessions for the realisation of that
classless society.’ (V22)
Cold War:
κ = 1
Arguments based on events,
phenomena, developments or persons
that are related to conflicts between
East and West, e.g., containment
policy; Korean War; arms race;
Vietnam War.
(Agree) ‘In 1947, US Secretary of State Marshall
came up with the idea to lend money to Europe.
In this way he persuaded many communists to
switch to capitalism (…). Now if the US trades a
lot with China, probably many communists
change their minds to capitalism.’ (H21)
Soviet Union
κ = .56
Arguments based on events,
phenomena, developments or persons
in the domestic history of the Soviet
Union, e.g., Bolshevik revolution
1917; Stalin; communism under
(Agree) ‘[Gorbachev] did not intend to abolish
communism, but to reform it. However, people in
the Soviet Union were fed up with communism.
They got an inch (reforms), but took an ell
(abolishing communism).. I see the same thing
happening in China.’ (V5)
κ = .83
Arguments based on events,
phenomena, developments or persons
in the domestic history of China, e.g.,
revolution of 1949; Mao; Deng
Xiaoping; student protest in 1989.
(Disagree) ‘All protests will be beaten down,
think of the demonstration in 1989 in Beijing,
where hundreds of protesters were shot and put in
prison.’ (V17)
Code description
Student example
κ = .75
Arguments based on the needs and
wants of the Chinese people, e.g.,
longing for change as a result of lesser
economic growth, environmental
pollution or oppression.
(Agree) ‘Chinese civilians want total freedom.
Already, the one-child-policy is abolished, so they
are in the midst of getting more freedom.‘ (V19)
κ = .75
Arguments based on pressure on the
Chinese regime exerted by foreign
countries, e.g., criticizing the Chinese
government for violating human rights.
(Agree) ‘Other countries will push China to
become capitalist, so they can trade without
government interference.’##(H7)
Table 3. Coding scheme for analysing writing tasks about the viability of communism in China (statement: I
think that within 10 years China will no longer be communist). Cohen’s Kappa’s in the left column (κ).
The RHMS was administered in a pre- and post-test setting in all three case studies. Each
session took approximately 20 minutes and was supervised by the teacher. Cronbach’s alpha
values, calculated with pre-test scores, indicated sufficient internal consistency of the subscales
(.72 for building a personal identity, .85 for becoming a citizen and .73 for human condition).
The overall alpha was .91. Paired-samples t-tests were run to analyse differences between pre-
and post-test outcomes of the RHMS in case study 1 and 2. Because the RHMS was applied
anonymously in case study 3, it was not possible to run a paired-samples t-test. Instead, an
independent-samples t-test was used to measure differences between pre- and post-tests.
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
RQ 1 | Application of historical knowledge by students
Case study 1. In the pre-test comments on statements related to the applied enduring human
issue (imposing value systems with a universal validity claim), many students formulated
general considerations of a moral kind, for example, condemning the use of violence or
upholding personal freedoms. In the post-test, 36 students (n = 54; 67%) stuck to their initial
comments without referring to historical content knowledge in their explications. Sixteen
students (29%) wrote new comments that were not very different from the comments they had
written in the pre-test. They just added a few words or stronger wordings to their initial
comments to confirm what they had been thinking in the first place. Two students (4%) referred
to the Cold War in general terms. For example, one of them said that ‘if you want to impose
things you will easily use violence and then it might go wrong, like with communism and
Table 4 shows the results of the coding procedure of students’ writings (n = 51) about the
viability of communism in China. In total, 163 propositions were identified by means of the
coding scheme. Out of this total, 109 propositions (67%) were ‘historical’, which may not come
as a surprise because students were explicitly asked to use their knowledge of the Cold War. In
spite of this instruction, 54 propositions (33%) were labelled as ‘generic knowledge’. Most of
these (74%) related to political and socio-economic stability as predictors of the viability of
communism in China.
Historical knowledge
Soviet Union
Cold War
Generic knowledge
Chinese population
Foreign pressure
Table 4. Code analysis of students’ writings about the future of communism in China (case study 1).
The students who were interviewed generally failed to give an explanation for not using
historical content knowledge, seemingly because it was the first time they considered the
possibility of using history in this way. One student declared that the Cold War had only
confirmed his criticism on United States policy, and although he had not explained his opinion
on paper, historical content knowledge certainly had influenced his opinions. Because students
hardly commented on specific statements, we asked them more generally whether Cold War
knowledge (in the context of discussing the present enduring human issue) could affect their
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
points of view. Talking about the expansion of communism, one student put forward how the
Cold War had altered his opinions about Russia:
I always think Russia is bad and the United States is good, but that’s not always true. They [United
States] say “yes, all countries must be democratic”. But when communism is democratically elected,
then they forbid it. Regarding the Ukraine it seems clear that Russia is bad, perhaps it is true, but
you can’t take that for granted. The Russians are not always to blame.
Many interviewees thought that history teaches us lessons. For example, four students talked
about Stalin expanding communist rule at the expense of millions of victims. One student
explained that he would be more aware of the risk of violence ‘next time someone tries to
impose an ideology’. Another student put forward that ‘people in politics’ are aware of this
because ‘they look at what happened in the past’. Elaborating on this issue, two students said
history could be useful ‘to make the right decisions to solve problems’ and ‘to know what the
future will look like’.
Case study 2. In spite of instructions to use historical content knowledge in their post-test
writings, seven students (n = 16; 44%) did not make any reference to it and more or less copied
the comments they gave in the first round. Some gave clear reasons for not using historical
content knowledge: ‘I did not learn things that could help me to respond to this question
differently', ‘The lessons do not play a role here’ and ‘Just some lessons will not change my
opinion about this.’ The other nine students (56%) referred to content knowledge in a very
general way. None of them mentioned historical events, persons, phenomena or developments.
For example, regarding statement 2 (‘people cannot handle too much freedom and need
authority: a strong government that tells them what to do’), one student changed from ‘neutral’
to ‘agree’ because ‘you see in history too much freedom, which is not good. Everyone needs a
little leadership so there is structure.’
Case study 3. Out of a total of 57 students, 26 students (46%) agreed and 31 disagreed (54%)
with characterizing the war against so-called IS as a world war. Most students (65%) explained
their choice by referring to the First and Second World Wars. For example, students who agreed
came up with comments such as ‘countries from different continents participate’ and ‘people
from all over the world have joined IS’. Students who did not refer to the First and Second
World Wars (35%) produced less articulate answers like: ‘I think the war against IS is not a
world war because it is never good to wage war’ or ‘I think it is not a world war because there
is no quarrel, they only want IS to stop.’ A majority of students (54%) believed that knowledge
of the military ending of the Second World War was not helpful in predicting how the war
against IS would unfold. Their comments contained expressions like: ‘IS is just a new group’,
‘it is a totally different war’ and ‘it is a very different time’. Students who believed that
historical content knowledge was useful derived general lessons from history, e.g., with
comments like: ‘I agree. Alliances are very important in a war. Usually you cannot succeed if
you are alone. You can also learn things from each other like fighting tactics or exchange
weapons and technology.’ Students who reasoned more straightforwardly came up with
explanations like: ‘I agree, because the US and Great Britain bombed Germany and that is what
they are doing now with IS (bombard the enemy)’.
RQ 2 | Teachers’ experiences
Three teachers considered practice-orientated collaboration between researchers and teachers
‘important’ and one teacher ‘a little important’. All but one teacher stated that students showed
more interest in lessons with a focus on connecting the past, the present and the future. All
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
teachers found participation in this project useful in view of their teaching practice. Three
teachers indicated that because of the project they were better able linking the past to the present
and the future. The project inspired one teacher to continue to make these types of linkages.
The teacher involved in case study 1 was pleased to note that the selected enduring human
issue suited the regular lesson content well. According to her, the students had no difficulty
with the additional texts and tasks, except with commenting on the viability of communism in
China, apparently because they were not used to arguing about possible futures in history
lessons. The teacher noted major differences between her two student groups. Students of the
(higher) pre-university track were more inclined to relate past events to the present while
discussing about the enduring issue than students of the (lower) middle level track, who focused
more on mastering the historical content as an aim in itself. In this group, the teacher
experienced a tension between complying with curriculum demands and her wish to make
meaningful connections between the past, present and future. Furthermore, these students
seemed to have difficulty relating factual historical knowledge to the applied generic issue.
The teacher of case study 2 (longitudinal lines approach) put forward that her students had
difficulty in addressing long-term developments and jumping from event to event over large
spans of time (‘from Egyptian pharaohs to Louis XIV and then to Hitler’). She believed this
was due to a lack of knowledge, which came as a bit of a surprise to her, because students had
just completed a curriculum which had mainly been focussing on overview knowledge. Some
students had difficulty understanding that ‘good’ developments in the course of history (19th
century democratization) can be followed by ‘bad’ developments (20th century totalitarianism).
According to the teacher, these students were struggling with ‘decline’ and ‘setbacks’ in history.
This was a bit disappointing to her, because she considered this kind of fluctuations one of the
most attractive aspects of the longitudinal lines approach. She challenged students to
extrapolate long-term political developments to the present and the future, but without much
success. She surmised that teaching longitudinal lines might have been too abstract and not
inspiring enough to motivate students. They were not used to this type of history teaching:
These students like to have topics which are firmly anchored in a short period of time and organized
in an event-based storyline, one with a beginning and an end. Just a real story in one line. With a
head and a tail, they like it […]. They found it very difficult and were really happy when we started
with a regular theme.
According to the teacher, working with longitudinal developments stretching from ancient to
modern times fitted well with the national curriculum which was after all chronologically
organized around ten eras. However, she had to spend a considerable amount of time on regular
subject matter, because students appeared to have knowledge deficits and had to prepare
themselves for tests. Hence, she noted that curriculum demands affected proper application of
the longitudinal lines approach.
The two teachers involved in case study 3 (historical analogy approach) declared that making
analogies motivated their eighth-grade students. The students were eager to compare past and
present events and to elaborate on meanings of content knowledge. One teacher said:
These students are difficult to motivate, but they just started to work […]. They thought it was really
fun to draw these parallels. Yeah, they really had fun in doing these tasks, it surprised me even a
little bit. I did not expect that they would work so enthusiastically. They worked in silence and
students asked me to do this more often.
Both teachers noticed that the historical analogy approach made students spontaneously discuss
meanings and applications of general concepts (e.g., world war, propaganda). One teacher said:
This came as a surprise, because I found it very interesting what happened. In my class, for example,
there was a debate on concepts. Never thought my students could do this. They pondered what a war
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
actually is and discussed the definition of the concept of war. Debates arose out of drawing analogies
and students referred to what they had learned in other school subjects. I liked this very much.
The teachers did not experience any problems with implementing historical analogies in a
sequence of eight regular lessons. Because of the positive effects on students’ involvement and
motivation in class, they intended to apply this teaching strategy more often but were afraid to
be impeded by tight time schedules. One of them said:
Actually, we focus on current affairs quite often, but these lessons were obviously much better
prepared, I would like to do this more often. The problem is proper planning, that remains difficult.
Even now I was running out of time. These were ready-made analogy tasks, but it takes time to
design tasks suitable for this purpose ourselves. It can be done, but it requires different ways of
planning and teaching.
RQ 3 | Students’ appraisals of the relevance of history
Case study 1 (n=51)
Case study 2 (n=20)
Case study 3 (n=47)
building a
a citizen
the human
Note: Scores in case study 3 based on independent samples t-test calculations.
** p < .01
*** p < .001
Table 5. RHMS-scores for students’ appraisals of the relevance of history, pre- and post-test. Six-point Likert
scale: 1= completely disagree; 2=disagree; 3= a little disagree; 4= a little agree; 5 agree; 6= completely agree.
Table 5 presents the RHMS-scores for the three domains of the relevance of history: building a
personal identity, becoming a citizen and understanding the human condition. In case study 1,
the mean scores in the post-test are higher than the mean scores in the pre-test for all three
domains, meaning that students were more positive about the relevance of history after the
lesson intervention. As the mean scores differences between pre- and post-tests are statistically
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
significant for all three domains, this positive effect may be attributed to the application of the
enduring human issues approach. Apparently, making connections between past, present and
future by considering an enduring issue in the context of the Cold War allowed students to
recognize ways in which history can be relevant. Students in case study 2 hardly changed their
relevance perceptions as a result of working with longitudinal lines pertaining to the historical
development of citizenship. Mean scores differences for all three domains are minimal and
statistically insignificant. In study 3, post-test scores were higher than pre-test scores, implying
that students became more positive about the relevance of history. However, as the mean score
differences are not statistically significant (which may have been due to the impossibility to
apply a paired-sampled t-test), this positive effect cannot be attributed with certainty to the
implementation of the historical analogy approach.
Conclusion and discussion
The extent to which students used historical knowledge in their orientating on current affairs
appeared to be influenced in the first place by whether they were explicitly instructed to do so.
Their spontaneous inclination to apply historical knowledge was negligible, and even when
prompted, not all students did so. However, the picture is mixed. During the interviews, some
students declared that content knowledge had reaffirmed or changed their initial responses to
the statements. When asked directly and after rephrasing the question, students came up with
different examples of ways in which they thought historical knowledge could be useful.
Furthermore, the type of pedagogical approach seems to be influential. Enduring human issues
and longitudinal lines are usually abstract and generic in nature, which probably makes
knowledge transfer more difficult, as is, above all, apparent from our results in case study 2. In
case study 3, on the other hand, 37 out of 57 students (65%) explicitly referred to knowledge
of the World Wars. This may be explained by the less complicated nature of the assignment to
draw an analogy between concrete events.
Teachers’ experiences varied depending on the applied pedagogical approach. While the
longitudinal lines approach appeared to be adaptable to the existing curriculum, content wise,
this approach was rather demanding and not very motivating for the students. The historical
analogy approach, on the other hand, was not only easy to implement but also elicited students’
engagement and enthusiasm, and the teachers were surprised by the competences their students
appeared to have. The approaches helped the teachers make connections among the past,
present and future and as such were useful in view of their daily teaching practice; however,
they noted tension between using the approaches and complying with curriculum demands
within the given time.
The RHMS data of case study 1 show that it is possible to positively influence the
perceptions of students on the relevance of history. Despite the absence of control groups, there
are indications that the lesson intervention (which, it must be emphasized, was aiming at
relating historical content knowledge to present-day realities and not at teaching students about
the relevance of history) influenced this shift of relevance perceptions. First, the analysis
showed the largest mean differences between pre- and post-test scores precisely for the
relevance domain to which the enduring human issue approach applies most (‘understanding
the human condition’). Second, the interviewed students involved in case study 1 reasoned
about the usefulness of history in terms of dealing with societal problems and foreseeing
possible futures, two aspects that were well represented in the applied enduring human issue
approach and writing tasks.
Several limitations of the three case studies should be taken into account. First, they were
explorative, relatively small-scale and confined to particular situations, so we should be careful
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
in generalising conclusions based on their findings. Second, we did not examine the situational
interest of the students. Affection or disaffection with historical topics may have influenced the
results. Third, although the varying quality of students’ writings suggests that ability and
knowledge levels were important variables in students’ performances - which would be in line
with empirical findings on this matter (Blow, 2009; Lee, 2004; Means & Voss, 1996) - we did
not conduct knowledge or ability tests. Last, in order to determine if students used historical
knowledge in their comments on statements, we took exact content knowledge wordings as a
rule of thumb. Because this analysis method pertains to the written assignments, there was no
opportunity to ask students to elaborate their reasoning. Thus, we had to take this rather rough
criterion, realising that students who did not use exact content knowledge wordings may have
had history in mind while reasoning about present-day affairs, although this seemed unlikely
given the general nature of their answers. Being beyond the scope of this explorative study, it
would be worthwhile to further research eventual discrepancies between students’ writings and
thinking, also in order to learn more about the nature and depths of the use of historical
knowledge by students.
One of the main purposes of this study was to examine whether the three approaches fit well
with existing educational settings or whether their implementation demands major curriculum
revisions. Two indicators for considering this question will be discussed here: students’ use of
content knowledge and teacher’s experiences in view of curriculum demands.
As we have seen, students were not inclined to apply historical content knowledge
spontaneously and only showed a rather ephemeral processing of lesson content which is in line
with previous research (Foster, Ashby and Lee, 2008; Mosborg, 2002; Lee 2004; Shreiner,
2014). One of the reasons may be that the lesson content referred to ‘impersonal’ topics such
as politics and citizenship, making it difficult for students to identify and engage. This
observation would comply with studies showing that students: (1) tend to reason with personal
rather than non-personal explanatory factors (Den Heyer, 2003; Halldèn, 1998); tend to relate
the past to the present when they are personally involved (Grant, 2003; Seixas, 1994); and (3)
show interest in topics that involve emotions, morality and personal judgments in circumstances
that are familiar to them (Barton, 2008). This tallies with the findings of case study 3 in which
the topic of the historical analogy was morally laden and students were very engaged. In sum,
to increase the likelihood of students using knowledge of the past in contemporary contexts, the
pedagogical approaches chosen should offer opportunities for identification and engagement.
Further research should take this into account.
The embedding of the pedagogical approaches in an existing curriculum to which only small
alterations were added may also provide an explanation for students’ limited use of historical
knowledge. Some students did not perceive content knowledge as a tool for substantiating their
views on enduring human issues, apparently because it never occurred to them that history
could be used for that purpose. Accustomed to history teaching with an emphasis on
memorising historical knowledge, it seemed that students associated history lesson content
primarily with the past and enduring human issues primarily with the present. These
observations are consistent with educational research on knowledge transfer in general and on
seeking meaning beyond the history content in particular, which indicates that these mental
operations do not easily occur in situations in which knowledge is acquired in an educational
setting predominantly focused on lecturing and replication (Illeris, 2009; Russell & Pellegrino,
2008). Lifting the barriers may also be difficult because enduring human issues and longitudinal
lines are of a generic nature whereas topics in traditional curricula are often shaped as chains
of events with meanings that apply only in particular contexts. To switch between historical
facts and human issues or longitudinal lines, intermediators would be welcome, for example
overarching concepts that students can use for deducing general meanings from descriptive
knowledge (Milligan & Wood, 2010; Thornton & Barton, 2010).
Exploring pedagogical approaches for connecting the past, the present and the future in history teaching
In conclusion, working with historical analogies can be easily implemented within a
traditional curriculum and seems to be a promising approach for encouraging students to use
history beyond school. It remains to be seen, however, whether embedding the longitudinal
lines and enduring human issues approaches in extant curricula will be suitable, even if
requirements like the ones described above are met. Our case studies pointed out that combining
these approaches with a curriculum that serves other purposes (such as strong focus on
memorising topical knowledge) is audacious and puts a strain on the available class time and
teachers’ priorities. As for the enduring human issues approach, instead of working with issues
in given contexts that are difficult to mould, it may be a better idea to take them as an organising
principle around which subject matter is selected. This would require major curriculum
revisions, as becomes clear glancing at ‘good practices’ of conceptually framed history
curricula that study problems instead of periods (Grant & Gradwell, 2010; Obenchain, Orr &
Davis, 2011). It would be worthwhile to further investigate the effects of these types of
curriculum revisions on the efficacy of the three pedagogical approaches for connecting the
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About the Authors
Dick van Straaten is a historian and history teacher educator at the Amsterdam University of
Applied Sciences (AUAS), Faculty of Education. He is also a PhD researcher at the Centre for
Applied Research in Education (CARE) at this university. His main interest in teaching is
historical consciousness, for which he has edited a textbook that is used in many universities in
the Netherlands and Belgium. He is co-author of a handbook on history teaching for student
teachers in the Dutch speaking area. His PhD research focuses on the implementation of
pedagogical tools for making knowledge about the past meaningful to students.
Arie Wilschut is a historian and professor of Social Studies Education at the Centre for Applied
Research in Education (CARE) of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS). He
has played a leading role in the reshaping of the Dutch history curriculum, which is now based
on ten associative eras supporting students’ orientation in historical time. His main research
interests are consciousness of time in teaching history, on which he published the study Images
of Time (2012), the relevance of history for students (with a focus on citizenship) and the role
of language in teaching and learning the social sciences.
Ron Oostdam is professor of Learning and Instruction and research director of the Centre for
Applied Research in Education (CARE) of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
(AUAS). He is also professor of Educational Studies at the Research Institute of Child
Development and Education (RICDE) of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). He is (co)author
of many articles and books - both nationally and internationally – and was manager of several
international research projects. His research topics include differentiation in learning and
instruction, motivation, cognitive processes for (language) learning, (early) literacy
development, child care and development, parental involvement, test anxiety and learning
potential. Many of his research projects include preschool, primary and secondary education.
... This study was conducted in a suburban, average-sized secondary school in the western part of the Netherlands. The history curriculum of this school is chronologically ordered, and mainly aimed at the acquisition of overview knowledge, as is the custom in the Netherlands (Van Straaten et al., 2018). All 29 students of one ninth grade group and their teacher participated. ...
... In prior research, students reported similar thoughts (De Leur et al., 2019;Yeager and Doppen, 2001): when required to write a text, you just copy, when required to make an image, you start wondering. That process of imagination leads, in several cases, to comparing the past with the present, which is also a factor that is considered motivational (Van Straaten et al., 2018). ...
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Imagining what it was like to live in the past may help secondary school students to understand historical developments and situations. In this case study, the opportunities of a drama task are explored by using a mixed-method approach. In small groups, Dutch 14–15-year-old students examined historical sources and produced a short film clip on daily life in the Netherlands during the Cold War. Results indicated that both the students and their teacher perceived the drama task as motivating. The group discussions were rich in on-task utterances, and the students reported that they thought the task was valuable for gaining insight into thoughts and feelings of people in the past. However, the clips were relatively poor in information, and the assessment proved to be a challenge for the teacher.
... Some also consider the relevance of exploring disjunctive epistemological and ontological stances toward the past and scrutinizing the power dynamics in western/white historical knowledge production (King, 2019;Seixas, 2017). Some suggest specific teaching strategies to help students see the relevance of learning history, namely "enduring human issues," "long-term developments" and "historical analogies" (van Straaten et al., 2016;Van Straaten et al., 2018). What these various pedagogical approaches have in common is that they emphasize historical culture that students likely encounter outside the classroom in order to engage them to communicate something about who they are, what they like, what they believe in, the lives they are living, and the world they live in. ...
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The aim of this article is to present a pedagogical approach for history education. This approach is called Meaningful History and it outlines the process by which upper-level secondary history students can cultivate historical consciousness. Based on the notion of learning as meaning making and historical consciousness as a disposition to engage with history so as to make meaning of past human experience for oneself, the author describes a possible learning trajectory. Additionally, to show how this trajectory could apply to the classroom, the author offers three guidelines for educators to design and support such learning. These guidelines are: (1) negotiate the presence of the past, (2) inquire into the past with the help of habits of mind, (3) and build a sense of historical being. The guidelines are illuminated by examples that have been extracted from a design-inspired classroom experiment. In conclusion, the author suggests that future history education research investigate Meaningful History’s relevance and practicality in various settings.
... -To make the newcomers feel that the host country was also related to their personal beliefs in the past. If the identification between the participants and the new country grows, they will feel themselves being part of the host society and they will strength their responsibilities and their participation in the new community [17,18]; -Following the approach of historical analogies [19] between the past and the present, our activities encourage the participants to use the past to reflect on present-day affairs. Because of that reason, the authors selected good examples of peacefully co-living between two religions in the Middle Ages. ...
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The main aim of this research is to analyze the implementation of a teaching unit, based on cultural heritage education, to teach democratic values among a group of migrants and refugees in Spain. An educational experiment was proposed consisting of four activities based on the Islamic heritage of the Region of Murcia. For data collection purposes, the researchers designed a pre-test and post-test instrument with 13 items divided into 3 sections (social values, democratic values, and cultural values). The analytical process was performed using the statistical package SPSS v 24. The post-test results show a higher degree of identification with the host country, shared democratic values between refugees and the host country, a better understanding of democratic participation and, finally, a good degree of knowledge about the cultural past of Spain and the Region of Murcia. In conclusion, refugees and newcomers feel more integrated and identified with the host country when they are aware of the shared past between Islam and Christianity in the south of Spain.
... The second model I will mention before concluding this theme is developed by Van Straaten et al. (2018). For these researchers, there is a disjoint between on one hand curriculum developers' and educators' desire to provide relevant history education and on the other hand the lack of clarity about what learning activities can support students in transferring content knowledge and historical thinking skills beyond the classroom. ...
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In response to the growing need for more relevant school history, the notion of historical consciousness has come to represent a way to help students understand the links between past, present, and future. However, translating the construct into practice in an ongoing puzzle in the field. Recently, efforts have been made to operationalize historical consciousness via a competency-based approach, but this is arguably problematic, because its proponents view historical consciousness as a hermeneutic quest for meaning yet operationalize it as a set path of mental processing. This article explores a different approach based on meaning-making practice. It does so through an extensive review and synthesis of the relevant literature, and based on the results, it suggests operationalizing historical consciousness through negotiating the presence of the past, inquiring about the past with the help of disciplinary and everyday habits of mind, and building a sense of historical being.
... Research indicates that secondary education students do not always feel this discipline is in connection with their interests and daily lives (Angvik & von Borries, 1997;Haydn & Harris, 2010), something that is also sometimes detected in undergraduate students (Berg, 2019). In this regard, adopting specific strategies such as using historical analogies, using a longitudinal approach, or addressing enduring human issues can help students perceive history as something closer to their interests (van Straaten, Wilschut, & Oostdam, 2018). These pedagogical approaches can also be useful in order for students to become aware of aspects related with interpretation in history, an important part of epistemic cognition in this discipline, and especially, to question themselves about the aims of history, something that has also been explored in Spain by focusing on both pre-service educators (González-Valencia, Santisteban-Fernández, & Pagès-Blanch, 2020) and secondary education students (Miguel-Revilla, 2022). ...
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Epistemic beliefs about history can have a profound impact on the way students understand and approach this discipline in the classroom. During the last decades, significant efforts have been made in order to conceptualise different epistemic stances, which can be linked with historical thinking concepts such as the use of evidence. Recent research indicates that epistemic beliefs in history are not only connected to an understanding about the nature of the discipline and the debate about objectivity, but also to the conception of evidence and interpretation in history. This study makes use of a qualitative design in order to examine the conceptions and ideas regarding history of 107 fourth-year secondary education students from three different regions in Spain. Participants were asked to discuss and analyse recent and contrasting interpretations of sources linked to the Spanish transition to democracy (1975-1982), a recent and controversial period. Information was obtained using a structured questionnaire, and responses were transcribed, codified and qualitatively analysed using emerging categories with ATLAS.ti. Results indicate that a majority of students argued that all testimonies can be equally valid in history, even if they show different interpretations or contradictory visions. Only a reduced number of participants focused on the notion of evidence as a determining factor that can indicate whether a testimony is believable, in line with a criterialist epistemic stance. Spontaneous and implicit references to the notions of objectivity and subjectivity in history were also analysed. Results also show diverse conceptions about the aims of history: many secondary education students explicitly indicated that history can be a useful tool to avoid the mistakes of the past, and argued that it should not be imitated. Some participants argued that history can help understand our present, while only a minority of students explicitly argued that each particular historical context should always be taken into account before drawing any lesson from the past. Finally, a discussion is provided about the possibility of examining students’ epistemic beliefs by allowing them to address history first- hand. The study concludes that some of the conceptual shortfalls that were detected in secondary education students could be addressed by fostering historical thinking and understanding, and by allowing students to work with sources and testimonies.
... 31 Although the exam program includes a set of key concepts and indications for historical reasoning, the curriculum can be characterized as a traditional history curriculum with chronologically ordered topics and a strong focus on the appropriation of a European chronological frame of reference. 32 The question of how to balance a shared frame of reference with teaching historical thinking and reasoning is, however, still a subject of debate. ...
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Abstract: Metacognition can enhance student learning in science and life-long learning. This study aimed to develop an innovative teaching kit called the Metacognitive Experience Learning Box (MELB) to explore ninth-grade students’ metacognitive experience (ME) and scientific conceptual understanding in the equilibrium of moments. A case study design was employed in this study. The research participants were twelve ninth-grade students who studied the equilibrium of moments at an educational opportunity expansion school located in Samut Sakorn Province, Thailand. Data were collected with (a) pre- and post-tests of conceptual understanding in the equilibrium of moments, (b) ME observation, and (c) MELB worksheets. The quantitative data pre- and post-tests of conceptual understanding were analyzed for mean and standard deviation and calculated for the relative score gain. The qualitative data from ME observation and the MELB worksheets were analyzed by thematic analysis. The results showed that some students developed metacognitively, as demonstrated in their learning process, while others showed less development in this area. This study showed that students’ prior knowledge and writing skills are two key factors affecting students’ ME and conceptual understanding. In addition, students’ writing skills impeded them in expressing their ME. Other methods or tools should be explored further to capture real MEs. This study suggests that science students also need encouragement and suggestions from their classmates and teachers to develop and utilize their metacognitive awareness and skills. Keywords: Science Learning, Metacognitive Experience Learning Box (MELB), Grade 9, Educational Opportunity Expansion School
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Klassengespräche haben ein großes Lernpotenzial hinsichtlich der Förderung von fachlichen und überfachlichen Kompetenzen im Geschichtsunterricht. Zentrale Qualitätskriterien sind dabei eine dialogische Gesprächsleitung und ein diskussionsanregender Gesprächsanlass. Diese Studie untersucht, wie sich die Gesprächsleitungskompetenz von drei Geschichtsleher*innen im Lauf einer einjährigen Fortbildung zu dialogischer Gesprächsführung veränderte. Es wird dabei aufgezeigt, wie gelingende dialogische Klassengespräche im Geschichtsunterricht gestaltet werden können und wie sich die Qualität der Lernendenaussagen dadurch verändert. Anhand der Untersuchung können Merkmale zur Gestaltung zukünftiger Fortbildungen für Lehrpersonen abgeleitet werden.
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This chapter provides an introduction to research on inquiry learning in history, through a discussion of several central themes within the field. The chapter starts by addressing the question as to how inquiry learning is conceptualized within history education and, in particular, what sets it apart from inquiry learning in other domains. After considering the potential benefits of inquiry learning in history, the chapter then continues with a discussion of instructional approaches that have been shown to be effective in supporting inquiry learning in history. Finally, the chapter also addresses the role of the history teacher in inquiry learning, through an overview of research on history teachers’ adoption of inquiry learning, and teacher training with a focus on inquiry learning in history. Based on the discussion of these themes, the chapter outlines important challenges for future research in the field and the implementation of inquiry learning in history education.
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In 1980, Zimbabwe inherited a Eurocentric education system from the British colony, aimed at the perpetuation of the subordination and silencing of the African child. When the government of Zimbabwe noticed the infestation of the colonial wound, demonstrated by the irrelevance and in-applicability of the inherited education system, it called for its reconstruction on a new curriculum, which was rolled out in 2015. However, Zimbabwean Social Studies teachers reported intractable inconsistencies in curriculum design and implementation between what is taught in the classroom and what is expected in the society, which they linked to lack of Ubuntu values and a decolonization perspective. Using the Social Studies curriculum as a case and the Ubuntu lens as a conceptual framework, this qualitative study investigates the strategies which can be used to reform the curriculum so that it speaks to the dictates of the Zimbabwean community in which it serves. Data were generated through semi-structured interviews and Focus Group Discussion (FGD) from 12 purposefully sampled Social Studies teachers located in different school settings of Zimbabwe namely the rural, urban, growth points and farm areas. Findings indicated that the 'usable past' anchored in Ubuntu values as part of the decolonization agenda, though not given serious consideration in Zimbabwe, is fundamental to curriculum reform and implementation. Considering the findings, the study recommends the revisiting and 2 Pfuurai Chimbunde & Maserole Christina Kgari-Masondo learner to lead an African life in the African continent. The study elucidates the need for a collective psyche in educational change in which curriculum planners practise cordial relations and engage the teachers in curriculum construction to perfect curriculum design and implementation.
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This article explores student meaning making in a Grade 11 US history unit on the Second World War. The 10-lesson unit was designed as an experiment that aimed to apply an instructional model of historical consciousness to a classroom context. Although the notion of historical consciousness has gained significant interest in the field of history education, translating it into educational practice remains a challenge. In this study, it refers to a disposition to make meaning of the past for oneself, which is manifested in three meaning-making abilities and processes (Boix Mansilla and Gardner, 2007; Nordgren and Johansson, 2015; Rüsen, 2004). To study the manifestation of historical consciousness in the learning process during this unit, I employed found poetry on collected classroom transcripts and observations, as well as student work. I turned to this qualitative, arts-informed method when I realised the analytic methods that I had employed so far failed to capture important subtleties of students’ historical consciousness emerging from the data. In this paper, I present and discuss the results of my analysis, offer a rationale for using found poetry in history education research and reflect on the need for relevant and meaningful school history.
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In history didactics the concept of historical consciousness has become an important theoretical framework in developing a meaningful history education. One significant aspect of historical consciousness is to give students a "usable past" to orient to possible futures. Previous research has shown that history is important when students think about the future but that their use of history in meaning-making is simplistic and based on present-day-thinking. Much research has focused on advancing students' ability to use history in orientation to possible futures, but less attention has been focused on contemporary studies and its role in the process of orientation. By introducing a tentative concept, civic consciousness, the issue of students' orientation is explored by studying students' perspectives on democracy in past-present-future. The data consists of 142 narratives and reveals a pattern of normative stances, process orientation and action orientation. These aspects are considered to be important components of civic consciousness and these have implications for how social studies educators should address the challenges of preparing students for the future.
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This article centers on a theoretical discussion of how use of history can be addressed as a distinct concept, analytically and pedagogically. The point of departure is the field of history education research in the Nordic countries where the concept has become a term to denote the space of action between historical consciousness and historical culture. The concept is introduced and the relationship between “history” and “use” is investigated further from a phenomenological perspective. Use of history is conceptualized as how people actively use the historical culture available to them. Through communication, they explain, build, and transform identities and societies. It is also suggested that use of history is a 3rd aim for history education. In addition to supporting students’ content knowledge and abilities to think historically, this article advocates the need to identify and analyze the role and function of history in contemporary life as an aspect of learning history.
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History teaching usually focuses on understanding the past as an aim in itself. Research shows that many students don’t see the point of this and perceive history as not very useful. Yet history plays a major role in the orientation on present and future. If students fail to see this, the question arises whether this is due to a lack of explicit attention in history classes on the application of knowledge about the past to the present and the future. This article explores two questions: (1) If history is to be more relevant to students, what kind of objectives should play a central role in history teaching? (2) What kinds of teaching strategies align with these objectives in history teaching? The rst question is answered by means of historical and educational theory. The second is answered by exploring a number of teaching strategies that have been described in the literature, as well as a small-scale experiment conducted by the authors. This article aims at providing a basis for developing meaningful history curricula as well as for research into educational strategies which can be deployed to teach students how to make connections between past, present and future.
This study explores the psychometric qualities of the Relevance of History Measurement Scale (RHMS), a questionnaire designed to measure students’ beliefs about the relevance of history. Participants were 1459 Dutch secondary school students aged between 12 and 18. Data analysis revealed three reliable factors, compliant with our theoretical framework which defines three strands of relevance of history: relevance for building a personal identity, for citizenship, and for insight into the ‘human condition’. The convergent and known-groups validity of the RHMS was demonstrated. The collected data show that students find history more relevant as they grow older, with most progress taking place between 14 and 16. Out of the three strands of relevance, building a personal identity scores lowest in students’ appraisals. This study shows that the RHMS is psychometrically sound and can be used to evaluate effects of lesson interventions directed at enhancing the relevance of history to students.
History teachers, teacher–researchers, government agencies and history education academics in England often report that students are frequently incapable of producing complex, polythetic or developmental narratives over long time scales. This lack of an overview tends to result in deficiencies in their application of the key concepts of the discipline. Consequently Shemilt has recommended the use of synoptic, millennia-wide ‘frameworks’ of knowledge in order to counteract these issues. With some notable exceptions, however, practising history teachers have appeared sceptical of the benefits of such an approach. I conducted an exploratory case study investigating in what ways a pre-taught framework, in which I had responded to some practitioners’ criticisms, appeared to be manifested in my students’ subsequent thinking regarding historical significance. My goal was to contribute to professional curricular theorising about what constitutes a framework and how it might be expressed as a curricular goal. Themes were derived from pupils’ writing, lesson evaluations, group interviews and observations. Possible curricular goals that were characterised in the students’ work included the pupils producing millennia-wide narratives based on colligatory generalisations and assessments of historical significance incorporating scale-shifting over long time scales.
This study investigates a questionnaire that measures epistemological beliefs in history. Participants were 922 exam students. A basic division between naïve and nuanced ideas underpins the questionnaire. However, results show this division oversimplifies the underlying structure. Exploratory factor analysis extracted 5 factors, separating items connected to nature of knowledge from nature of knowing. Furthermore, EFA problematized the distinction between naïve and nuanced ideas on subjectivity. Experts also reported large variance on subjectivity; therefore, these items were excluded from the questionnaire. The final questionnaire contained 3 factors focusing on the objective nature of (1) historical knowledge and (2) historical knowing, and on (3) methodological criteria. Finally, differences between school tracks and relationships between epistemological beliefs, interest and history grade were explored.
This book is a must have for faculty and students in the field of social studies education, and broadly relevant across the fields of curriculum studies and educational policy.
Background/Context Over the past quarter-century, many historians, politicians, and educators have argued for an increase in the amount of history taught in schools, for a clear separation of history and social studies, and for an emphasis on disciplinary structures and norms as the proper focus for the subject. Unfortunately, discussions of history education too often rest on the problematic belief that the academic discipline can provide direction for the nature of the subject in general education. Description of Prior Research Throughout much of the 20th century, U.S. history educators made common cause with other social educators to promote principled and critical understandings of society. Both groups stood in opposition to calls for more nationalist views of history education. In the mid-1980s, however, this situation began to change, as a coalition of historians, educational researchers, and political pressure groups promoted history as a subject distinct from and independent of the larger realm of the social studies. This new coalition has been unable to avoid conflicts over the selection of content, however, and approaches favored by nationalists often clash with the more critical and inclusive perspectives of historians. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study In this article, we trace the relationship between historians and other social educators during the 20th century and explore how the forces favoring a realignment of history and social studies coalesced in the mid-1980s. We argue that this coalition has led to an unproductive emphasis on history as a “separate subject” and a resulting lack of attention to the goals of history in general education. Research Design This analytic essay draws on curriculum theory, historical sources, and contemporary cognitive research to outline the changing relationships between historians and other social educators and to examine the limitations of a purportedly disciplinary curriculum. Conclusions/Recommendations The academic discipline of history cannot, by itself, provide guidance for content selection because educators face restrictions of time and coverage that are not relevant in the context of academic historical research. In addition, educators must concern themselves with developing students’ conceptual understanding, and this necessarily requires drawing on other social science disciplines. If students are to develop the insights that historians have most often promoted for the subject, historians must return to their place within the conversation of social studies education.