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Developing Students’ Chronological Knowledge and Understanding

A Final Exploration

‘What is time? I confess I am still ignorant. Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who can even comprehend it in thought or put the answer into words?
Yet we refer to nothing more familiarly or more knowingly.

St Augustine of Hippo, Confessions XI,
Quoted in Matthew Kempshall, ‘Space, time and the world’ in Isabella Lazzarini, The Later Middle Ages (Short Oxford History of Europe), 2021.

I’ve talked and written about chronology many times, from workshops at the first SHP conference in 1989 onwards, but I’ve never felt I’ve got to the bottom of the issues – probably the only thing I have in common with St Augustine of Hippo. One reason is that chronology, whilst pivotal in studying history, has always been in the chorus but never the star of specifications, courses and books, probably because it’s never been a major focus of assessment. And each time I felt close to getting to grips with chronology another project appeared with an urgent deadline – working with Dale Banham on the 2008 NC we made good progress on our ideas about chronology but then came GCSE changes and we had to switch our minds to those. Above all, in this catalogue of excuses, developing chronological knowledge and understanding is really tricky, far more complex and multi-layered than I realised back at that conference in 1989.

This is my final, final go at writing about chronology, prompted by an invitation from Matt Stanford to talk at the 2022 SHP conference for Early Careers Teachers. It took me a while to agree to do the session – I’m 70 and well adrift from classroom experience – but the chance to wrestle with the issues one more time was too intriguing to resist. This article sets out these latest thoughts but is still exploratory, about ideas and possibilities, definitely NOT certainties – but hopefully some of the ideas will help departments with planning and teaching, maybe even moving chronology out of the chorus and into centre stage, up there in the full glare of the footlights!

The article is divided into three sections (the third by far the longest):

1. Defining chronological knowledge and understanding

2. Identifying the ‘takeaways’ about chronology to be aimed for by the end of KS3.

3. Planning and teaching how to students to understand those takeaways

But first two very important introductory thoughts …

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Chronology Section

Developing Students' Chronological Knowledge and Understanding

‘Seeing the Bigger Picture’ (summary notes, updated in article above)

Chronology for KS2

Example Activities

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‘Teaching History’