Time travels in teacher training - Tom Gullberg

1. Aspects of History Teaching and Didactics of History The debate about history teaching in schools is often described as a tension between two traditions:

1) The traditional history teaching with focus on subject competence, i.e. the historical facts ("The great tradition").

2) The alternative history teaching with a focus on historical skills, i.e. the functional competence. It is though quite unfair to describe this debate as a "tension", or a struggle between different traditions. Based on experiences from Finland it is easy to emphasize that both aspects - subject competence and skills - are needed for a successful history teaching. It is important to handle the subject competence in order to be able to use it for different skills. The trend in Finland is a change from a traditional teaching focused on subject competence, to a teaching more focused on historical skills. It has been more and more important to be able to use the subject competence in different situations. This development is easily found by comparing the newest curriculums from 2003/006 with older ones. The first curriculum that focuses on a functional history teaching was completed in 1994, and the new ones from 2003 and 2006 are even more developed from this point of view. The aim of the history teaching is declared to be "the nature of historical thinking", which is defined to be, among other aspects, causality, critical thinking, historical empathy, and a general competence to explain historical phenomenon and to be able to argument historically in different situations. 

2. New History and Finland The development in Finland has followed a quite general trend in the development of history didactics. It is quite easy to find footsteps from the so called British "New History"- tradition, which already in the early 1970s developed a history teaching more focused on skills than on facts. The didactical aspects of New History were related to the long debate on the abstract character of the history subject - at this moment it could be good to remark that time travels are very much else but abstract! Those who claimed that history was too abstract, and "difficult", for being taught for younger people, referred to Jean Piagets theories of abstract thinking. According to the theories of Piaget, historical abstract thinking was sufficiently developed in the ages of 16-17. Those who criticised the piagetian standpoint claimed that historical thinking was possible to train among younger pupils by introducing more practical skills-training activities. One could argue that the anti-piagetian didactical arguments were suitable in the debate of educational policy. Spokesmen for the subject of history raised arguments for a history teaching that was more relevant from an "ordinary life"- perspective. They toned down the facts-oriented history teaching, and pointed out methods and perspectives that could prepare younger pupils for skills that they would need in their everyday-life (i.e. critical thinking).  

3. Present Realities in Finland The functional skills-oriented history teaching is dominating the history teaching in Finland today, at least in a formal sense. We could perhaps speak of a meta-theory, or even of an "official didactical ideology". But - not the least my own classroom studies shows that this picture is often actually more an official ideology than a reality in the everyday-life of teaching. The teaching tends in general to be quite teacher-centered, and with that also very facts-oriented. In the everyday classroom situation it is still quite difficult to find didactical strategies for a more functional way of teaching, and it is also easier to only reproduce the ordinary teaching that most of the teachers have experienced themselves. 

4. Teacher Training and Time Travels When students arrive to the institutes of teacher training, they still have a very stereotyped picture of history as a school subject. History is for them foremost facts and subject competence, and most of the students have big difficulties to imagine how to teach history in another way than focusing on facts. At least my introductory courses in history didactics are therefore very much focused on more skills-oriented competences - we are training causality, critical thinking, historical explaining, and historical empathy. After the first introductory course quite many of the students continues with a course that also contents a time travel here at Stundars. I can see at least two important pedagogical aspects in using time travels in teacher training:  

a) Training historical empathy As I see it, empathy is one of the most important skills that we must train in history teaching. The concept of empathy is one of the most debated concepts of history teaching, but nevertheless, I see good possibilities to develop a more skills-oriented teaching by training historical empathy. One could say that empathy is practiced by every historian when they based on evidences and sources - reconstruct beliefs and values by some specific historical actor. This is important to remember when we are training empathy in the schools with children: We need the facts, the subject competence, to be able to develop historical empathy; without this tight relation between facts and skills it would be impossible to reconstruct other peoples believes, values, goals and feelings, which we claim to do when we are practicing time travels. In our teacher training it has been obvious that the time travels here at Stundars has been a real eye-opener for the students; it would be almost impossible to show the possibilities with empathy training without time travels.

b) Teaching local history cultureDue to the Finnish curriculum local history is an important part of history teaching, at least in primary education. From this perspective time travels suits very well into the training of class teachers. There are of course no rational connection between time travels and local history; time travels could also have global dimensions, but we can all imagine that Stundars is perfect place to teach local history.  

5. To summarize For me as a teacher trainer it is important to have a hands on-perspective in the teaching. It isn´t impossible to make the student teachers aware of the theoretical concept on functional history teaching in other ways than with the help of time travels - I actually have a variety of methods every year - but I haven´t found a better method than time travelling for awakening the interest in history and history teaching among ordinary student teachers. Ph.D Tom Gullberg is senior lecturer of history didactics, Department of Education at Åbo Akademi University in Vasa