To be used in approved schools with Year 11 students only in 2005. Modern History Senior Syllabus

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5.5 Work program requirements

A work program is the school’s plan of how the course will be delivered and assessed based on the school’s interpretation of the syllabus. It allows for the special characteristics of the individual school and its students.

The school’s work program must meet all syllabus requirements and must demonstrate that there will be sufficient scope and depth of student learning to meet the general objectives and the exit standards.

The requirement for work program approval can be accessed in the QSA’s website ( This information should be consulted before writing a work program. Updates of the requirements for work program approval may occur periodically.

6. Learning experiences

The focus of learning experiences in Modern History is student inquiry. There is an important place for expository teaching and text-based teaching and learning. The main approach, however, should be through student inquiry. Using this approach, students identify historical issues for investigation, develop research questions to investigate issues, and reach conclusions or make judgments about them.

The inquiry process provides opportunities to continue the historical processes and skills that are developed in the Years 1 to 10 Studies of Society and Environment syllabus. The learner-centred approach that is encouraged in the Years 1 to 10 syllabus is further developed in the objectives, learning experiences, criteria and standards of the senior Modern History syllabus.

Learning experiences that are built around student inquiry will achieve the general objectives of the syllabus.

6.1 Structuring student inquiry

Student inquiry involves three major elements:

Planning and using an historical research process

Forming historical knowledge through critical inquiry

Communicating historical knowledge.

The three major elements have been expressed as the general objectives and the criteria of the syllabus. Each of the elements involves significant processes of inquiry. Through the inquiry processes students investigate five major aspects of any inquiry topic:



backgrounds, changes and continuities: motives and causes

effects, interests and arguments

reflections and responses.

These aspects are detailed in section 7, table 1. The table develops the aspects of inquiry by suggesting student focus questions that will guide the inquiry process.

Figure 1 (below) presents a process of inquiry that explores and expands the relationships between the general objectives and exit criteria, the aspects of inquiry, and the processes of historical inquiry that students will experience in their studies of themes and inquiry topics.

Figure 1: Structuring student inquiry

6.2 Information technology in Modern History4

Learning experiences in Modern History provide opportunities for the development of both generic and specialised skills in information technology.

Modern History classrooms can be used to develop information technology skills such as word processing, desktop publishing, graphics production and database development. In addition, information technology is increasingly being used to research data, for example through the use of CD-ROMs and the internet. For students, research skills routinely involve accessing and managing search engines for internet searches.

Important as these generic skills are, Modern History students need to develop information technology skills that assist in the evaluation of sources. The evaluation of primary and secondary source material is an important part of the historical process of inquiry as described in section 6.1, and as elaborated in each of the themes in section 7. The internet is now a significant source of both primary and secondary source material for students of history. Students must bring the same systematic evaluative processes to internet sources that they do to more conventional sources of historical evidence.

Advice for teachers regarding the authentication of prepared tasks and references in student work is provided in section 8.5.1.

6.3 Developing student abilities in historical understandings and processes

Student learnings in Modern History are developmental. Learning experiences should take into account the range of prior experiences and learnings that students bring with them at the beginning of Year 11. They should also be structured so that students are led into increasing levels of sophistication throughout the two-year course. The following hypothetical and anecdotal descriptions are designed to suggest the kinds of learning experiences that will assist students to develop their historical understandings and skills.

Early on — A student describes

I’ve been studying Modern History for seven weeks now. Already, I’m feeling more confident about investigating historical events and situations. I’ve been using various sources — documents, photos, graphs and tables — and answering some good questions about them. Most of the time, our teacher has provided the questions, and has labelled them to help us understand the criteria that will be used in our assessment — comprehension, analysis, interpretation and evaluation. At first, we practised answering these questions together in class, with a collection of sources that the teacher handed out to each of us. Later, we had some lessons in which different groups studied different sources, and then shared our analyses, interpretations and evaluations to eventually build up a shared answer.

I’m realising that there’s a difference between historical “facts” (the details and information that everyone accepts) and “knowledge” (which is based on interpretation, and which can be argued about). Now, when I read books by historians, I can see that they actually offer interpretations, and refer to sources of evidence to back them up. Our teacher has shown us how three different historians wrote quite different accounts of the same event. She explained that these historians could be labelled conservative, liberal and critical respectively.

A major focus of our work has been a research assignment. Our teacher emphasised that we weren’t to just copy sections of library books about the topic. Instead, she provided us with a “key question” that we had to answer in the assignment. As a class, we composed some “focus questions” for the assignment. These are smaller questions that deal with different aspects of the key question. For each key question, we drew up a research page, and wrote notes about primary and secondary sources that we would use to answer the question. Our teacher provided most of the sources (some were photocopies) but we also spent some time in the library, and some of us found some useful documents and illustrations on the internet. Before we started writing the actual assignment, we had to show the teacher our research notes, and then our plan for the assignment. She gave us some lessons on planning, and on how to write good paragraphs with topic sentences. She also showed us how to put direct quotes and indirect references in our paragraphs, and how to list our references in a bibliography. All up, the assignment will be about 800 words.

We’re going to have a class test, out of category 4. There will be some basic facts and information tests (the teacher calls this “recall”), a mapping exercise, some paragraphs to write about causes and effects, and a concept-matching exercise, in which we have to explain the relationships between concepts like nationalism, imperialism and militarism.

Quite often, our teacher takes us for lessons that she says are vital to provide background and context for our study. Sometimes, she takes a lecture, and other times we watch a documentary video. We’re constructing a giant timeline around the room, and we each have a timeline, and a list of key names and concepts in our notebooks. Often, she draws our attention to links between things in the past and things that are in the news today.

She’s also taken some lessons (or bits of lessons) where we’ve discussed the “discipline” of history, which is all about concepts like change, continuity, causation, motive, and about the processes of “doing history” — locating and using sources, making judgments — and about what makes some judgments better than others.

We have a set text, but the teacher says that we must not rely on one book. She says that the set text is good for background information, and for follow-up reading to support our inquiry processes. But she encourages us to remember that the text was written by one person, and to identify the ways in which the text is selective and even value-laden in some of what it says. We’ve learned how important it is to recognise the way writers choose certain words to convey different impressions.

At home, I realise that I now understand better some of the stories on the television news. And I find myself listening critically to the words used by politicians and others, and not just accepting what they say at face value.

Moving right along

I have been studying History for a year now and as I reflect over the year I can now see how much I have developed from Year 10 to the end of Year 11. I have come to understand the importance of primary evidence and the need to have a broader knowledge of the history we are studying.

I have really enjoyed the major assignments in History — we are not just finding the facts, we are reading widely to investigate a problem or issue. We are given some sources but we are encouraged to find some on our own and then we are really critical of them — how representative are they, are they relevant, are they reliable and are there any contradictions among them? This is interesting because we are encouraged to be critical of them but only if we can support what we say with some evidence. At first we just said things like, “Well, I don’t think so-and-so likes so-and-so” but our teacher wouldn’t let us get away with that — we had to explain what was being said, and why. So far, we have had the opportunity to be a particular historian and, in role, answer the critics, who are other members of the class. To be good at this, you really have to understand who the historian was, what his viewpoint was and why he had this viewpoint. We don’t just do this work in preparation for assignments. More and more we do this as normal class activity, either researching individually or in groups. Up to now, our teacher has been the one picking up the holes in some of our arguments, but some of us are also becoming good at it, especially on those topics that we have looked at in more depth.

I love the arguing. Writing an argument is a little more difficult, but I have learnt to develop my responses logically by dealing with each point in my argument one at a time and by using the evidence to support what I am saying. I have learnt not just to “stick in” the evidence but to introduce it so that it flows pretty easily and to show that I understand what it means by explaining how it relates to my argument. I now understand the importance of these primary sources — after all, we couldn’t write any history if evidence from the time had not survived. Our teacher has become a real stickler for what he calls “the conventions of academic responses”. I am not allowed to use “I” (even though I am expressing my opinion) and I have to ensure I write in proper sentences and paragraphs and that I can spell. Unfortunately, the spell checker often throws up the technical terms — so I have to be careful.

Our teacher has provided us with a guide for locating our sources in our research. We have been warned about the unreliability of some of the internet sites, so now, we have to ask ourselves the same questions we ask about primary evidence when we search online — who wrote this, and why? I suppose we should be doing the same thing for the secondary sources in the library. Some of these books in the library are so old, that their authors are probably products of their time and they may not have been able to take into account new evidence and more recent interpretations of history.

Well down the track

I now realise how far I’ve come since I started my senior history studies. In particular, I’m more independent as a student, and have opportunities to use my initiative and my imagination.

I’m just finishing my fourth major assignment in History (the second one in Year 12) — this one is a category 3 task. We’ve been working on it for nine weeks, and it’s proving a real culmination of my development over the past two years. Three of us formed a group, and chose to investigate the effects of globalisation on our local community over the past 30 years. We were responsible for everything — the topic, the research question, the research plan, and the formats in which our research conclusion were expressed. We’ve almost finished our submission — a two-part video program. In the first part we present a narrative account of the local impact of globalisation, using local images interspersed with oral history interviews with local people. In the second part, each of us takes on the persona of one historian — neo-Marxist, feminist or eco-historian — and presents a critique of globalisation’s effects from our chosen standpoint.

Our earlier focus on primary sources has continued, but with some added dimensions. I’m pretty good at evaluating sources for their relevance, reliability and representativeness, but focus also on more complex questions about the reliability of individual sources, and the adequacy of whatever collection of sources I’m using. More and more, I realise that developing an argument in history is more than just amassing lots of primary sources and deciding which case most of them support. I now appreciate the need to decide which sources carry more weight, and the importance of corroboration and conflict among sources.

Our teacher now expects us to take much more responsibility for locating sources for our research. I search the Web a fair bit, although it is a challenge to sift through the online rubbish to find really valuable stuff. I have been to a university library a few times, as well.

For much of this year, we’ve focused on secondary sources more than we did last year. In particular, we’ve studied conflicting and competing interpretations put forward by leading writers in their fields. We’ve explored the reasons for the differences, including the standpoints of the writers, and differences in the ways they’ve supported their claims with evidence. Our teacher organised some sessions with a local historian, where we discussed how she’d written her latest book. That certainly helped us appreciate the complex and personal ways in which historians develop a particular interpretation and argument. Since then, that historian has kept contact through an email discussion group that we set up through the school’s website.

Reading good secondary sources has certainly helped me with my writing. That’s just as well, as we are now writing in a variety of ways — sometimes a formal academic essay, sometimes creatively. Some people in the class have written editorials, or a chapter for a book. Whatever we do, we are expected to develop our arguments, refer to supporting evidence, and reference our work in a proper academic style.

These days, I find myself bringing my history studies to bear on everyday things — news stories, movies, family conversations, even what I see when I walk down the street. As a class, we’ve also looked at the ways history is used by politicians and others to strengthen their cases, and the ways they draw very selectively on particular historians to do that. And I’m appreciating the ways that historical knowledge and critical inquiry skills can be valuable in so many jobs. So, as a future citizen and a future worker, I can see that History has helped me develop “lifeskills” in the broad sense of the term.

Our teacher has announced that, in our final week, we’ll have a free-for-all debate on “That the set text is a waste of space”. He reckons the debate will reveal a lot about what we’ve learnt from the past two years. I really think I know what he means.

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