CHORAZY, Ewa; KONIECZKA-SLIWINSKA, Danuta; ROSZAK, Stanisław. Edukacja historyczna w szkole: teoria i praktyka. Warsaw 2008 (Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN), 401p. Resenha de: WODJON, Joanna. International Journal of Research on History Didactics, n.31, p.290-294, 2010.
“Edukacja historyczna w szkole: teoria i praktyka” (Historical Education At School. Theory and Practice) by Ewa Chorąży, Danuta Konieczka-Śliwińska and Stanisław Roszak is the first Polish academic textbook in the field of history didactics published by Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN (Warsaw, Poland) in the last fifteen years. Significant changes have taken place in the education system in Poland, in school curricula and in teachers’ professional profile since, the previous work of this kind was written by Czesław Majorek, Jerzy Maternicki and Adam Suchoński in 1993. The two-level system of primary and secondary education (8+4 years) was replaced by the three-level one (6+3+3 years) in 1999, when lower secondary schools (gimnazja) were introduced. External exams are held after each education stage; their results influence future educational chances of young people and are a significant factor in school rankings. Practical skills gained priority over encyclopedic knowledge in the national curriculum. Requirements for entry to the teaching profession grew significantly, as well as those for advancing in teacher’s career.
Graduate status is minimum in all cases, and new students of pedagogical specializations had to acquire competences to teach at least two subjects (of their choice). All teachers are encouraged to progress proficiency in Information Technology. School, and even a single teacher, has much more autonomy than before in choosing teaching and assessing methods. At the same time, they need to keep more detailed record of their demands and activities. The material basis of historical education at Polish schools has also changed. Much more pedagogical tools and of much better quality are available today than under the communist regime (when e.g., historical maps had been published by only one publishing house, and there was only one set that had to be used by both 10-year olds at primary schools and by university students). On the one hand it helps teachers make their educational process more attractive and better addressed to their pupils’ needs. On the other hand however, making the best choice may be a big problem, especially for beginners in the teaching profession. The authors try to deal with all those questions answering the present and prospective teachers’ needs and interests.
The history didactics in Poland has also developed significantly within those fifteen years. It adopted new trends of modern pedagogy, psychology and general didactics, many of which had already been present in European and American concepts of historical education. International contacts of teachers, academic didacticians, and ministerial officers broadened their experiences and encouraged to introduce foreign solutions into their practice.
“Edukacja historyczna” tries to reflect all those changes and challenges. One of the book’s advantages is its solid theoretical background. Both Polish and foreign pedagogical research has been taken into consideration. Different visions of historical education and of education in general are presented, from classical approach of teaching as transmitting traditional values and standards to teaching how to learn (no matter what). Relations between history teaching and research are discussed and different ways of transposing academic history into school curricula are described emphasizing criteria used in this process (philosophical, political, psychological and other). The objectives of teaching history and the ways of introducing its key concepts (time, change, space) have been thoroughly discussed. The French concept of “places of memory” has been introduced. The authors show their open attitude toward alternative history, toward the problems of myths and stereotypes as well as toward the subjectivity of historical sources and narrations, which is new to Polish history didactics. They present different approaches towards history teaching but promote the one that laid ground to the present school curricula and that gives priority to developing pupils’ skills. The book covers the role of history education in developing key competences formulated in the national curriculum.
A lot of space is devoted to presenting active methods of learning, unfortunately to the detriment of traditional ones, like a lecture or a Socratic method. Of course, those traditional methods have been carefully studied in older literature of the subject, but they are so popular in school practice and so useful in history teaching that they should not be omitted from any textbook. Other things that are missing in “Edukacja historyczna” are the ways of working with pedagogical tools that are commonly used in the classroom, i.e., different types of text, graphic and symbolic materials. As of a history textbook, the authors concentrate on how to choose the most appropriate one. They neglect, however, to show how a teacher can use it.
The possibilities of using music, films and broadly defined historical sources in history teaching are presented by Chorąży et al.
while older literature is often ignored. Information Technology is also introduced much more carefully than ever before, with a special stress put to Webquest as an IT-oriented pupils’ project. A list of useful web pages dealing with history will be helpful to many readers (though, as every Internet-based resource will require updating in future editions of the book).
Using Information Technology is one of the priorities of the present reform of education in Poland. Dealing with pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) is another one. There are more and more children diagnosed with SEN and they become a real challenge to their teachers. The authors of “Edukacja historyczna” recognize the problem and describe different kinds of “special needs” with forms of pedagogical therapy available in Poland. They do not advise, however, how to work with such pupils during regular history lessons, while this is where those kids exercise their teachers’ skills.
How to meet the needs of able pupils is described much better, also in the chapter about extra classes for those passionate about history.
A bit more attention could be paid to different historical contests and “olympics” that are organized for pupils on different levels. Those competitions enjoy considerable popularity as they often open new educational perspectives for participants: Their winners are admitted to a secondary school of their choice or to particular university studies, not to mention material awards.
There are examples from foreign schools in the “practical” parts of the book. A separate chapter is devoted to presenting the British and Polish model of historical education, and readers are invited to try and adapt some British solutions into Polish practice.
“Edukacja historyczna” answers many questions and problems that teachers and students face in their everyday school practice.
There is a step-by-step guide how to formulate teaching objectives, how to write lessons plans, how to choose and adapt syllabi available on the market or how to prepare one. Such advice is very helpful for beginners in the teaching profession, who have to document their lessons in order to progress in their career. Successive levels of the career are described, together with advancement procedures. The book can be helpful in dealing with other types of school documentation, including the one referring to assessment, which becomes more and more complex according to legal requirements.
Finally, the authors present the problem of a teacher’s position in relation to his headmaster and colleagues, but also to pupils and their parents. These are actually no matters of history teaching, but their presence in the book is fully justified as most students are interested and even anxious about these issues. The way in which they are presented can be discussed, however. Legal acts are cited in full extent in the book, although they are easily available both in printed form and on the Internet and appropriate references, plus the authors’ comment would suffice to introduce them. Any revision of those documents will make parts of the book obsolete (and already today new school curricula are being introduced, including those for teaching history, cited on page 66–70 of the book; new standards of external examinations are being prepared as well). Another type of documents presented in full length is an individual example of school and teacher’s documentation. Of course, they can be used as an illustration of how the documents can be prepared, but the citations should not be the only way of presenting this kind of materials.
Unfortunately, there is no discussion about alternative ways of preparing them, no results of comparative analyses of documentation from several schools and/or teachers, almost no comments at all.
Answering the readers’ needs has been successfully achieved, not only in the process of selecting material but also in the way in which it is presented, both in practical and theoretical parts of the book.
The book meets all standards of an academic work, but at the same time the text is clear and easy to understand. The authors take position of student’s and teacher’s assistants and advisers, rather than authorities. They try to present many options to choose from, different points of view to discuss and even if they eventually reveal their own views, they leave readers an opportunity to disagree.
Accompanying the main text with examples of good practice (fragments of lesson plans, school documents and commentaries by other authors) deserves high appreciation. Moreover, they are usually supplemented with questions and/or suggestions for discussion at academic classes – and this is their further advantage. Many of those materials can be easily introduced into the reader’s lesson plans.
“Edukacja historyczna w szkole: teoria i praktyka” is a well-written contemporary academic textbook of the history didactics addressed to students who prepare to teach history, and to active teachers who wish to refresh and enrich their pedagogical competencies.
Introducing new pedagogical trends into the mainstream of the academic history didactics seems to be one of the two most important factors in selecting material presented in the book. The other one is meeting the students’ and teachers’ needs, problems and interests. Rich contents and clear presentation must be appreciated by the readers. The way of combining theory and practice should be a model for other publications of this kind.