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Smith, Clare E. “How Do Pre-Service Teachers on Practicum Approach Teaching History with Pupils?” PhD. Diss., University of Calgary, 2007.


This study is primarily interested in exploring the meaning that pre-service teachers attach to their understanding of history teaching both prior to and during the experience of teaching history. It aims to uncover different approaches to teaching and interpreting history by social studies/history pre-service teachers at several points in their initial teacher education course. It also attempts to reveal the ways that beliefs and attitudes, contexts and resources influence the decision-making of history pre-service teachers.

The research illustrated pre-service history teachers’ historical work in two locations: (a) the University of Calgary, Canada, where history was part of the social studies curriculum; and (b) the University of Oxford, England, where history was its own curriculum area. The first phase of research involved a guided focus group session in each location on history teaching designed to explore pre-service beliefs and approaches to teaching history. The second phase of research involved observing and interviewing six pre-service history teachers (three from each location) at three different points in their practicum classrooms. It was hoped that this research would lead to a closer understanding of three elements of teaching practice: the texts at work; the dimensions of time in the classroom setting; and how pre-service teachers experienced a kind of mimetic experience in practice (the understanding of what it means to teach that each pre-service teacher brings into the classroom).

This study found that pre-service teachers of history commonly call on their own personal experiences of human life to understand history, together with historical methodological approaches, to analyze historical texts. This goes somewhat against the idea of history being seen as a discipline where an objective quest for the truth deems personal identity as interference. The study also suggests that pre-service teachers consider history to be at once exciting and dangerous, a subject that needs to be both active and grounded for pupils. In both locations, the study found that participants saw it as their role to make history active (using a constructivist concept of learning) and accessible in the classroom. Participants used a wide variety of resources during their lessons, suggesting a great degree of complex thinking about historical texts. They also expressed nervousness at teaching unfamiliar aspects of history. Finally, participants felt it was their duty to develop critical thinking skills in their students—to equip them with the skills to evaluate any text, historical or otherwise, with a critical eye.

A hermeneutic scaffolding was chosen as an appropriate structure for this study. This allowed the study to explore the symbolic understanding of teaching history as grounded in interactions with social, personal and natural environments; the relationship between theory and agency; the relationship between language and power in research and teaching; and the ways that “concrete rationalities” have shaped contextual understanding rather than a search for “cultural universals.” This study also includes a discussion of the ways that historical thinking has evolved within and outside the curriculum; the relationship between belief and practice; the inheritance of school history; the position of history education in the schools; the connection between history and fiction; and the influence of history education on pre-service teachers.

Limited as it was to two locations and the observation of six pre-service teachers, the scale of this study lends itself to expansion to include comparisons between history education in different provinces or international locations. Future research might also be extended to include: observation of pre-service teachers as they start and continue their careers to chronicle how thinking about history grows during a teacher’s career; an exploration of the nature of dialogue between mentor and pre-service teacher; and the processes of group meaning-making around history (compared to that of individuals) when encountering historical texts.

Mary Chaktsiris