Learning to 'understand backwards' in time: children's temporal cognition and the primary history curriculum

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O'Sullivan, Eileen
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University College Cork
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This study examines children’s temporal ways of knowing and it highlights the centrality of temporal cognition in the development of children’s historical understanding. It explores how young children conceptualise time and it examines the provision for temporal cognition at the levels of the intended, enacted and received history curriculum in the Irish primary school context. Positioning temporality as a prerequisite second-order concept, the study recognises the essential role of both first-order and additional second-order concepts in historical understanding. While the former can be defined as the basic, substantive content to be taught, the latter refers to a number of additional key concepts that are deemed fundamental to children's capacity to make meaningful sense of history. The study argues for due recognition to be given to temporality, in the belief that both sets of knowledge, the content and skills, are required to develop historical thinking (Lévesque, 2011). The study addresses a number of key research questions, using a mixed methods research design, comprising an analysis of history textbooks, a survey among final year student teachers about their teaching of history, and school-based interviews with primary school children: What opportunities are available for children to develop temporal ways of knowing? How do student teachers experience being apprenticed into the available culture for teaching history and understanding temporality at primary level? What insights do the cognitive-developmental and sociocultural perspectives on learning provide for understanding the dynamics of children’s temporal ways of knowing? The study argues that the skill of developing a deeper understanding of time is a key prerequisite in connecting with, and constructing, understandings and frameworks of the past. The study advances a view of temporality as complex, multi-faceted and developmental. The findings have a potential contribution to make in influencing policy and pedagogy in establishing an elaborated and well-defined curriculum framework for developing temporal cognition at both national and international levels.
Temporal ways of knowing , Temporal cognition , Historical understanding , Primary history curriculum
O'Sullivan, E. 2014. Learning to 'understand backwards' in time: children's temporal cognition and the primary history curriculum. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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