What is the place ‘archaeological thinking’ in the history classroom?
The context The teaching and learning of history and archaeology in Australian schools is at a crossroads. The Australian Curriculum: History has now been implemented in all Australian schools either via direct adoption, as is the case in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT; or by forming the basis of newly implemented curricula in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. A close reading of the curriculum documents in all jurisdictions outlines student engagement with archaeological skills, concepts and knowledge at all stages of development: in the Primary classroom, in particular years 1 to 4, students learn to interpret artefacts and use them as evidence, and understand why certain archaeological and historical sites are considered significant places; in year 7, students engage explicitly with the archaeological process, learning the methodologies and evidentiary processes of archaeology, and also about the evidence for ancient Australia; and all states and territories now have senior courses that relate to the ancient world.
The immediate result for teachers is that many have now been thrust into scholarly uncertainty. In a considerable number of cases around the country, teachers are teaching content and concepts with which they are unfamiliar and are having to explain a discipline with which they have never directly engaged, nor do they know much about. All of this is taking place in the context of a national curriculum which has a paucity of support resources, and there is little professional learning offered by statutory bodies or professional associations on how to teach archaeological concepts, content or thinking. It is little wonder that many History teachers are feeling somewhat at sea.
Research shows that students have typically emerged from their years of primary and secondary schooling with quite a skewed and narrow understanding of archaeology as a discipline, and the scope of archaeological research being undertaken in Australia. Colley (2000, 2005) has noted in NSW that the vast majority of teaching and learning in archaeology has been more heavily focussed in the later years of secondary schooling and was very Eurocentric in its focus. Similar trends have been noted in Queensland (Nichols, Prangnall & Haslam, 2005) and in Western Australia (Balme & Wilson, 2004). There are a multitude of ways in which the discipline of archaeology can be included in classroom activities: visits to archaeological sites, digital and physical simulations, artefact handling, interviewing archaeologists, and ‘micro’ activities such as making layer cakes, ‘excavating’ the teacher’s handbag and schoolyard surveying (see Smith & Schmardz, 2000 for some excellent examples). Whilst this jump-in-and-jump-out approach can have perfectly sound learning outcomes, it is inherently disjointed and can leave students with quite a piecemeal understanding of the discipline as a whole (Owen & Steele, 2005).
So how can these dots be connected for everyone? Specifically, how can a cohort of skilled, knowledgeable and confident teachers be trained and supported to convey to students a comprehensive and authentic understanding of archaeology, as the syllabi dictate? Firstly, a resource ‘black hole’ about archaeology doesn’t exist. There is a body of literature, including textbooks, which can provide teachers with a reference of the ins and outs of archaeology: key concepts, definitions and explanations (see Zarmati & Cremin, 1998 for a textbook specifically about archaeology; or, more general Ancient History textbooks such as Anderson, Keese & Low, 2014; Frappell, Clyne, Ford, Millar, Cummins & Cashman, 2013; Bradley, 2018; Hurley & Murray 2018). So there are some resources and many of these books are excellent references, but is this enough? Can archaeological concepts and thinking be effectively taught or understood from a book? The answer to this question lies in the very nature of the discipline of archaeology itself: its methodology is scientific, its processes are inherently collaborative and multi-disciplinary, critical and creative thinking are requisite and its practitioners engage with analytical feedback for interpretation that is kinaesthetic, tactile and sensory. The difficulty in teaching archaeology from a book can be likened to trying to teach someone to drive a car via an instructional manual.
Furthermore, how do the processes of archaeology and archaeological thinking fit in to the existing literature and approaches to the teaching of history in the classroom? Archaeology has often been described as the ‘handmaiden of history’ (though not by archaeologists), and in our national curriculum it is seen as being a specific branch of historical inquiry. This mindset needs to be challenged. A comparative analysis of ‘historical thinking’ versus ‘archaeological thinking’ is useful at this point to evaluate the overlap and determine whether or not the approaches are similar enough for teachers to be able to draw on their knowledge and skills in ‘historical thinking’ to support them in thinking and teaching archaeologically. The concept of ‘historical thinking’ embodies the skills needed by students to undertake robust and meaningful investigations about the past. This conceptual model has been adopted by both ACARA and the relevant State bodies to inform syllabi topics and teaching and learning activities. Based primarily on the work of Seixas (2006), but also of Wineberg (2001), Levesque (2008), Van Drie & Van Boxtel (2008), and Cooper (2013) in the primary sphere, the models are comprised of concepts such as significance, continuity and change, causation, perspectives, empathy, argumentation and the use of sources (in particular, primary sources). This last conceptual area of using sources brings about a fundamental divergence in historical and archaeological thinking. The end goal of interpretation remains the same, but the manner in which archaeological sources and historical sources are viewed, analysed and utilised as evidence to inform the other areas of historical thinking are quite different. The very nature of an archaeological source (an artefact or a site) requires haptic and sensory engagement by the archaeologist and draws them into cognitive processes quite different to those when examining more conventional historical sources. The fragmentary nature of the archaeological record renders interpretation quite subjective, with creative thinking and imagination needed to see beyond the immediate and the tangible. Indeed, the broader lens of inquiry in archaeological thinking has a different focus to historical thinking in that archaeologists commonly extrapolate from the view of civilisations and systems to the individual (due to the nature of the evidence and the long time scales in which archaeological research can be embedded), whereas the historical record is far more forthcoming about the individual. The differences are fundamental and stark.
Unfortunately, the concept of ‘archaeological thinking’ is one that has not been explored in any great depth. The term is sometimes used quite casually in the literature when referring to preparing tertiary students for field work, but the concept has not be unpacked at all. The only publication dealing with archaeological thinking in a primary or secondary school context (Wearing, 2011), actually contributes little to the discussion, in as much as it takes the conceptual processes identified in the literature on historical thinking, and gives them an archaeological slant (merely substituting one type of evidence for another, failing to acknowledge the fundamentally different physical and cognitive processes engaged in each thinking approach). It should also be noted that this book was written by a former Science teacher with no background or experience in archaeology.
So what are we left with? A heuristic in ‘archaeological thinking’ that has not been unpacked in an educative context, or really at all, which needs to be adopted by teachers in Australia in order to faithfully deliver syllabus content, in a context which has very little support or guidance on how this can be done. My research project would attempt to bridge this gap for teachers.
Key questions for the study
• What is ‘archaeological thinking’? • What are the physical and cognitive processes involved? • What are the markers of ‘archaeological thinking’ in the classroom for teachers and students? Following on from this: • What professional learning is available for teachers which can support them in the teaching and learning of archaeology? • Does this professional learning adequately convey the concepts and processes of ‘archaeological thinking’? • Specifically, if teachers engaged with authentic archaeological fieldwork as professional learning, ie. immersed themselves in the archaeological process and archaeological thinking in the field, how does this inform or change their approaches to the teaching and learning of archaeological concepts and the use of archaeological sources in the classroom? Culminating with: • What are the most effective models that can be designed for teacher professional learning which engage teachers with ‘archaeological thinking’?
After unpacking the concepts involved with ‘archaeological thinking’, a broad survey of History teacher professional learning will be undertaken to establish a comprehensive picture of the available PL that specifically deals with archaeological content or concepts. It will record the context of the PL (for example, conference, Teachmeet, Un-Conference, etc.), the content of the PL, the delivery method (for example, face-to-face, webinar, etc.) and the intended outcomes for the learning (the ‘take-aways’ for teachers). Teachers will be asked for their specific feedback on the perceived effectiveness of the PL.
Drilling down further, the Dirty Weekend of Archaeology at Willow Court, teacher PL excavations at Kerry Lodge, Tasmania and other authentic archaeological experiences for teachers (such as participation in the Big Dig at the Rocks, Sydney during National Archaeology Week) as case studies will be deconstructed for their content and pedagogical approaches. Participants will be surveyed for the perceived effectiveness of the PL, and the ways in which it has informed classroom practice (if at all) using detailed anecdotal evidence, evidence from programs and lesson plans, and lesson observations.
Finally, a model or models will be proposed to guide teachers in engaging with high quality professional learning which can support teachers in becoming expert practitioners of archaeological thinking in the history classroom.
References Anderson, M. Keese, I. & Low, A. 2014 Retroactive 1; Jacaranda Plus, Milton Balme, J. and M. Wilson 2004 Perceptions of archaeology in Australia amongst educated young Australians. Australian Archaeology 58:19-24. Bradley, P. 2018 The Ancient World Transformed; Cambridge University Press, Melbourne Colley, S. 2000 Archaeology and education in Australia. Antiquity 74:171-177 Colley, S. 2005 ‘Consumer choice’ and public archaeology in and beyond the academy. Australian Archaeology 61:56-63. Cooper, H. 2013 History in the Early Years; Routledge, London Frappell, S. Clyne, J. Ford, R. Millar, D. Cummins, N. Cashman, L. 2013 History 7 for NSW: the Ancient World; Macmillan Education Australia, South Yarra Hurley, T. & Murray, C. 2018 Antiquity 1; Oxford University Press, South Melbourne Levesque, S. 2008 Thinking Historically: Educating Students for the Twenty-first Century; University of Toronto Press, Toronto Nichols, S. Prangnall, J. & Haslam, M. 2005 Hearts and minds: Public archaeology and the Queensland school curriculum. Australian Archaeology 61:71-79 Owen, T., & Steele, J. 2005 Perceptions of archaeology amongst primary school aged children, Adelaide, South Australia. Australian Archaeology, 61, 64-70. Seixas, P. 2006 Benchmarks of Historical Thinking: A Framework for Assessment in Canada, http://historicalthinking.ca/sites/default/files/files/docs/Framework_EN.pdf last accessed 14/11/17 Smardz, K. & Smith, S. 2000 The Archaeology Education Handbook; Altamira Press, Walnut Creek Wearing, J. 2011 Teaching Archaeological Thinking; Critical Thinking Consortium,Vancouver Weinberg, S. 2001 Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts; Temple University Press, Philadelphia Zarmati, L. & Cremin, A. 1998 Experience Archaeology; Cambridge University Press, Melbourne