Young children's thinking in history
Theories of cognitive development relevant to children's thinking in history are examined and previous research relating these to history is discussed. No agreed patterns of development in historical thinking which are based on cognitive psychology have so far been found, and the early stages of children's historical thinking have not been adequately examined. An experiment was set up to investigate young children's ability to develop arguments about a variety of historical evidence. Two groups of twenty eight-year-old children were taught four periods of history over two terms, as part of an integrated curriculum, by the researcher who was their class teacher. Teaching strategies were based on experience (visits to sites and museums), and discussion of key evidence using taught concepts. These experimental groups were compared with a control group in another school, taught the same four periods as the experimental groups, by an experienced teacher, using his siwn methods. At the end of each unit, the control and experimental groups were given a written test to assess their ability to make deductions about evidence related to the period but previously unseen. The first experimental group also made tape-recordings of discussions of the evidence, led by the teacher. In the second experimental group discussions, no adult was present. The experimental groups were also tested on their ability to write stories based on their knowledge of this period. Assessment scales based on cognitive psychology and previous research were devised. Findings suggested that children were able to make a range of valid deductions about pictures, artefacts, diagrams, maps and writing, using learned vocabulary, and that they could recognise a distinction between certainty and probability. Discussions were more wide-ranging than written answers, whether an adult was present or not. It was suggested that through learning to make a range of valid suppositions about evidence, children begin to consider the attitudes and ideas of other societies. Teaching strategies are significant in developing children's historical understanding.