Learning Zone clip on the effect of the Railway

There’s a great clip here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0151t8r on the effect of the Railways on life and work in Britain during the Industrial Revolution.  Perfect for a starter which really focuses on the issue of change.  The other clips are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qqw0q/clips

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Teaching Something New – read something

6820116676_17e6a8da40_zLooking for reading on a new topic can be really hard – I had some great suggestions from fellow history teachers about school textbooks and history books, and settled on Germany 1871-1945: A Concise History, by Raffael Scheck.  This is a great book – with smashing detail on the motives and negotiating positions of the “big three” at the Versailles conference in 1919.  Scheck pleads for an ‘openness’ towards German history and has an interesting take on the extent to which we can blame Versailles on the Second World War, or the inevitability of the Nazi regime.

However, I was struggling with finding fiction, both historical and contemporary with the Weimar Republic.   Then I remembered my friend, the innovative Bookseller Nic Bottomley @mrbsemporium of www.mrbsemporium.co.uk (the best independent bookshop in Britain, and probably the world), so I asked him.  He asked a great panel of experts – his customers.

As you can see from the replies to the tweets, there were a really interesting set of ideas and I’ve ordered (from Nic, natch) several, which I’ll read over the next few months.    I’ve learned that the best is the enemy of the good, and though I would like to have read these books before teaching this for the first time, it’s better than I read them as I go along, rather than not bother because I can’t get them down before I start teaching.

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Ian Dawson is on Twitter.

Ian Dawson is on twitter, and is also promising a re-vamp of his website. If you’re a history teacher, you’ll want to follow him!

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In Flanders Fields

Tynecot 2011

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By  John McCrae 1872-1918

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Teaching a new topic – some thinking before we start

5875252599_fb66f23735_zI’m teaching a course for an exam board that is new to me, with some new topics next year. As I was thinking about this,  I realised that this was going to happen again next year to all history teachers, when new AS and A2 specs are taught for the first time.  So, I thought I’d record my thinking, partly in the hope that I can hear what others are doing, and partly so I can improve the process for next year, when we all have to do it again.  Inspired by Katharine Burn’s article in Teaching History 154 about approaching the eighteenth century, and by Ian Dawson’s Saturday Night special at SHP2104, I decided to document what I have done to find out about the new topic.

The new topic is Weimar Germany and the rise of Nazi party in Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s.  That’s right, I’ve never taught the Nazis.  I’ve been teaching 10 years, and I’m a “Modern World” GCSE teacher (whatever that means nowadays), and I’ve never really taught about Nazi Germany.  Now, that’s not to say that I know nothing about the period.  I have taught it from an international perspective – explaining the failure of the League of Nations, and appeasement.  I’ve even taught old-style coursework about the Reichstag Fire.  However, as I start this process I’m sorry to say I don’t know very much about Germany’s domestic situation in the 1920s and 1930s.  That said, when I started teaching history I knew very little about the Unification of Italy, and now I’ve written a book about it, so equipped with high expectations of myself and a growth mindset… here we go.

Below is a list of questions that I drafted on the back of an envelope.  They are things that I think I should be finding out about as I prepare to learn.  I will try to answer some of these as I go along, but I may also add to the list as I think of things.  If anyone has any answers / suggestions please do feel free to comment, or drop me a line on twitter – you’ll see my feed on the right.

Examinations and Assessments

How do these topics fit in with school and external exam board req’ts?

KS3 – there may be internal assessments, these will impact on your freedom of movement, but they might also help you structure some your plans.

KS4&5 what are examination requirements, topic and question rubrics?

Are there any schemes of work

Colleagues have any?  Do your friends or twitter-mates have any?  Can you re-use or integrate some schemes you’ve used previously?

Banks of resources

Does the department maintain central banks of resources, physical electronic or both?

Eating the Elephant

What are the key dates, half term, assessment?  How should you split up your teaching time?  When are the dates for internal assessments and communication with parents – what impact will this have on when and how you teach elements of the course.

what are they key cultural artefacts?

Books, novels, film (trailers especially good), television, music.

What history should I read?

Last, and most importantly, are there key historians and any key texts that I should be reading?

 

 

 

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New H.A. Primary Schemes of Work

Keen to support primary colleagues, I thought I’d pass on this link to new schemes of work from the Historical Association:

At the HA we understand the difficult task that primary schools are facing getting ready for curriculum change this autumn. The HA is here to help. We have been busy working on quality schemes of work free for our members and to purchase for non-members. Published this week to join the units on the Anglo-Saxons and Ancient Greeks already published are units on Benin, local history, a fresh look at the Great Fire of London and Ancient Egypt, plus the Stone Age to the Iron Age. There will be more units following over the summer and autumn, so take a break over the summer and let us do the hard work for you. Why not take a look at our units and keep checking for further additions over the coming months.

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Starters on the Schools History Project Website

2391238251_3f724e075f_mI’ve been exploring the Schools History Project website – still fired up from the conference I thought I’d give myself a refresher course into things like starters and plenaries.  I stumbled across Jamie Byrom’s excellent resources from the 2012 conference on starters and plenaries, and thought it was so good that I would pass it on.  Jamie outlines his thinking about what makes good starters and plenaries, but there are also pages of suggested practical activities.

http://www.schoolshistoryproject.org.uk/ResourceBase/ByromStartersPlenaries.htm

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SHP2014

This is a very long blog post.  Executive summary:  I had a great time, learned a lot and I can’t wait to get stuck into my new job!

Just after returning from the 2014 SHP conference I tweeted, a little breathlessly:

A week later, and I feel exactly the same.  The week in between has helped me to reflect on why SHP is so important, and why it made such a big difference to me, the second time I have attended.  I think that SHP re-affirms several things that I know about history teaching, but sometimes forget in the hurly burly of the average day, or in the quiet year off I’ve had doing an MSc.

In what follows I discuss what I learned from the workshops and plenaries I attended.  Unfortunately I didn’t go to them all (though I wish i could have).

1. – History teachers make a fuss.

This was the phrase that many of the presenters used, mainly in connection with their love of the use of language, as we’ll see below.  However, whilst I was thinking about this post I realised that history teachers make a fuss about a lot more things than language.  History teachers like to get things right.  That’s probably why so many of them turn up to events like SHP conferences and HA conferences – they want to make their teaching better and better.

Within the last couple of years we’ve seen history teachers make a very effective fuss about the KS2 and KS3 curricula – they were appalled at the cack-handed back of an envelope thinking that seem to have gone into the draft version. I have heard many other subject teachers talk with awe and envy at the disciplined responses that history teachers brought to bear, and the effective lobbying that the subject association used in order to encourage the DfE to make final requirements much more workable.

This making a fuss doesn’t stop at curricula structures.  Time after time presenters and other teachers made a fuss about their own impact on their students.  This is what it should really mean to be ‘child-centred’.  Instead of allowing this tired cliche to be used as metaphor for the vacuous, weak and trendy teaching imagined by many newspaper commentators, we should trumpet the ‘child-centred’ approach that sees Diana Laffin and David Brown constantly assessing the impact of their lessons and ideas about independent learning, and being honest about those that work and those that don’t.   These commentators should also see the deliberateness with which Dale Banham plans for and then celebrates the improvements he sees in the use of language by his students.  Dale’s talk was typical of the attitude I saw in many teachers.  Cool ideas were everywhere, but each lesson, object, source, worksheet, indeed every activity was presented as a way of helping children learn.    This is child-centred learning – making a fuss about children’s progress.

2. – History teachers reject the labels ‘progressive’ and ‘traditionalist’, but they don’t just do ‘what works’ either.

Donald Cumming’s first talk mentioned the artificial debate in the media about ‘progressive’ v ‘traditional’ teaching, and his description was evidenced  in the sessions that I attended.  There were activities that might be labelled as ‘progressive’, such as card sorts, living timelines, source-work and role-play.  There was co-construction, group work, hot seating and post-it notes galore!  However, all of these activities were aimed squarely at increasing the historical knowledge and capacities of our students.

For instance, A telegraph columnist peering through the door of Neil Bates and Paul Sheridan’s workshop on ‘music and songs as a vehicle for history enquiry’ might have mistaken it for a sing-along.  If they’d opened the door and listened only to the great music they might well have been horrified at the ‘left-wing’ anthem ‘the Ghosts of Cable Street’ being played.  This would have been to miss the point however. We used a timeline, the song and some inspired guidance from Neil to learn how the battle of Cable Street has a reputation that it probably doesn’t deserve as the turning point at which British Fascism was defeated.

Similarly, Diana Laffin and David Brown’s ‘fascist pizza recipes’ are just the sort of thing that would go down well at a political party conference, perhaps as an appetiser for delegates hungry to hear about how the ‘Mr Men’ school of history teaching is holding students back.   In reality these pizzas were constructed as part of A level course which emphasises students reading widely around their topics answering questions to help them to see the important parts of their texts, focusing on solid second order concepts like causation and learning to become great historical writers.  The pizzas are used here as a metaphor which helps students to broaden their concept of how causes work, how factors link and mix together.  I’ve seen others use different metaphors such as weather, or geographical features and events in order to help students acquire the kinds of language that support growing understanding of historical concepts.

Several workshop leaders made reference to our autonomy, in one way or another. Donald Cumming’s history is internationalist in perspective, because that’s the best way to understand events like the Norman conquest of England, and he questions the national approach to history that underlies much of the discussion and construction of school curricula as well as the recent calls by Liz Truss to return to a textbook culture.  Neil Bates and Dale Banham both offered techniques and insights to be applied to our own situations and classes, not to be ‘implemented’ or ‘delivered’ but to be adapted by us.

Andrew Payne and Ben Walsh made this responsibility the most explicit – they suggested approaches to working with video and sources from the National Archive, but also asked us how we wanted to use them and change them in our own classrooms.

3. – History teachers want their students to do history but…

At the heart of the SHP approach is the enquiry question, and the desire that students are active historians – that they are learning history by answering questions about it.   Donald Cumming’s opening plenary urged us to give our students the tools of history, so that they would not become the passive victims of demagogues, spin-doctors or conspiracy theorists.  I wrote about this a long time ago and, looking back at the blog-post in which I pondered this ‘transformative’ power of history, I still think that this is one of the most important reasons to teach history – to equip students with historical skills and the trained healthy scepticism that a historical perspective brings.

4. …they also want them to know it.

However, Michael Fordham urged us, in the context of teaching interpretations, not to rush to the profound too quickly in our lessons. He was keen to set his lessons on Tudor interpretations of medieval history on a firm foundation of narrative knowledge, and to emphasis the importance of dates as well as a broad chronological framework.   Interestingly though, Michael’s activity didn’t do this by presenting students with one narrative.  Michael’s pupils were given a card sort, which they put in chronological order, and which they then selected information from in order to create different narratives.  As far as I understood these cards were used over and over again, and different narratives were constructed from the same facts in different lessons.  

This repetition of narrative helped the students learn the story. However, for me this was not a dry ‘facts first’ approach.  Very cleverly Michael seemed to be asking his students to construct narratives from the very beginning, and in this construction to enrich their understanding of the Wars of the Roses.

Michael’s also emphasised the importance of growing teacher knowledge.  Take this scene of the deposition of Richard II, which Michael had asked students to watch as part of a enquiry into Tudor interpretations of medieval monarchs, as an example.

Michael discovered during the conference, from one of the delegates, that the scene was banned during the reign of Elizabeth I, when even discussion of succession was an illegal act.  A performance that included that scene was commissioned by the Earl of Essex just before his unsuccessful rebellion in 1601.

Ian Dawson’s final Saturday night plenary (next year he’s planning on doing a workshop I think) also focused on the importance of knowledge, and the role of the historian in challenging the dominant interpretations of an event.   What looked at first like a kick-about role play on the topic of the importance of the Battle of Bannockburn morphed into a deeply interesting dissection of the process that Ian went through to go from a small tupperware box which contained everything he knew about the battle, to a large bin full of knowledge.  Ian explained the process, with the help of tabards, by which he went from thinking that Bannockburn effectively ended an English attempt to take over Scotland to a realisation that in the period before Bannockburn relations were far better than they were for a long time afterwards.

 

5 – History teachers like books

Last time I went to the conference I was struck by the way that so many of the great ideas for a history lesson seemed to have been inspired, informed or enriched by a book, and often a history book.   This time I found the same, but this time the scope of these books was wider: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall, Normans and Empire by David Bates, The War that Ended Peace by Margaret Macmillan, The Memory Hole by Fritz Fischer, River of Dark Dreams by Walter Johnson, The Code of the Woosters by P G Wodehouse, Red or Dead by David Peace, Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone, Our Native Englan, by J G Cuckow, Shakespeare’s History Plays Manglish, by Lisa Jane Ashes, Arrangement in Black and White by Dorothy Parker, Love Letters of the Great War by Mandy Kirkby, and An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger.  These were just those whose names I managed to jot down, countless others were mentioned.

6 – History teachers love language, and

Christine Counsel’s clarion call to ‘make a fuss of language’ reverberated around the conference, and echoed in all of the workshops that I attended, but the focus was not just on praising and encouraging the use of inventive, descriptive, precise, historical terminology and phrases.  The attending teachers were full of designs, of devious ways of supporting and developing their students’ use of language.

Philip McTigue’s (not @siggi’s as I first thought) traffic lit vocabulary sheet for encouraging more nuanced words for describing change and continuity (I don’t have a picture, but if anyone else does I’d be very grateful :) ).  

Diana Laffin and David Brown’s strategies for encouraging students to read more, and then using their reading to inform the way they described and explained causation.  Dale Banham piled one pragmatic suggestion onto another to help students expand their vocabularies and spot how writers use words to effect.  Christine Counsel herself gave us careless, clumsy, cheerful and reverent pall bearers (in an activity that should be on a Christine Counsel greatest hits album, if there ever is one) to show us how carefully C V Wedgwood chose her words when writing about Charles I’s execution.

7 – History teachers are child-centred-magpie-collector-bricoleur-engineers and jewel-polishing-artisans.

As history teachers we have a uniquely privileged position which also carries a unique responsibility.  We are not guardians of a culture, but we are gateways to all human culture.  I know that sounds pretentious, but bear with me.

We have the responsibility to show our students that human life and thought has been infinitely varied, and to help them appreciate that because something is different from our own experience, that it is not therefore lesser, dumb, primitive or stupid.  

We have to make the distant past more approachable, more understandable. I learned long ago that I cannot just present something interesting to students and know that they will pick it up, read to it or listen to it and engage with it as I do.  History teachers have an amazing skill of turning a source into an interesting point of departure, or seeing a link to their students’ ideas, experiences and perceptions that will help them begin to understand why people lived or thought in the way they did in the past. 

Our subject transcends all others.  We share with English and Language teachers the written and spoken word, with music teachers the emotive power of song and music, with art teachers the extraordinary potential of shape, colour and form to connect, move and inspire.  We have the whole of human culture past and present as a resource, and amazing colleagues that can help us do just that.

However, as Christine Counsel and Donald Cumming urged us, we also have a tradition to pass on.  This tradition is not a great narrative of history, an Island Story.  Instead it is a commitment to the best-possible explanation given the evidence available, it is knowledge that enables students to understand how the past is constructed and used by themselves and by others and a culture of curiosity and exploration that sees every story open to re-examination and every position worthy of historical, analytical consideration.

I was just reading a journal article that described teachers as ‘devious’ ‘bricoleurs’.  These are sub-craftsmen forced by circumstances – by pressure from above and lack of resources – to cast around and take what’s at hand to fashion materials that we can use merely to defend our positions, to make our lives bearable.   You’ll gather that I disagree.  The article contrasts bricoleurs, who have basic knowledge of a many techniques, with engineers who have precise uses for a small number of techniques.

What I learned at #shp2014 was that we are expert-magpies, devious engineers, adept at spotting opportunities and connections and precisely turning these to the advantage of our students.

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1913: The Year Before on Radio 4.

I missed almost all of this, but caught the conclusion.  Portillo’s point seems to be that the Great War eclipses the social and political upheaval that was happening in the years before, and in some cases the War inhibited change.  This is in direct contradiction with one of the popular views of this war, that 1914 was a watershed between an idyllic Edwardian past, and brutal future.  I really like Portillo on TV and Radio, wish he’d decided on that career when he left university!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b030l0kg/episodes/guide

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New GCSE History – what do the boards have to offer?

Hope you don’t think I’m flogging a dead horse here, but I’ve been puzzling again over the GCSE requirements published last week, and in trying to understand them I drew a few diagrams. (Don’t worry I’m not about to out myself as a visual-learner).

There there are now three types of study – Depth, Period and Thematic.

studytypesOne important change here is that there must be two depth studies.  One of the depth studies may overlap in the period covered with the Period Study.  Thematic studies look like development over time studies to me and to other people too.

We’re also informed that the GCSE should have history from all three of the ‘era’s defined in the guidance.

Eras

Finally, there are rules about the ‘location’ of the material presented.  Each specification must cover localities, British and ‘Wider World’ histories.

locale

 

There’s no coursework and no controlled assessment permitted by the guidance.  Which leads me to think that the exam boards have been set quite a complicated task in making all this work.  Obviously we won’t know until we have sight of draft specifications, and I have no inside information on this at all.  I wonder if we can make some speculations about the construction of the new specs.

  • Three papers overall? Would be difficult to see how students could sit four papers for a GCSE history; which means that one of the depth studies will perhaps be examined with the period study?  You know, the way it is with Modern World papers.
  • This infers a specificiation that is focused on one era, through the period study and related depth study, with the others being bolted on.
  • In turn this could infer two different approaches to the relation between a period and depth study:  ‘British Paper’ in which the depth and period studies overlap is the most obvious as it gives the board a clear way of reaching the 40% minimum requirement for British history, or will there be a European / wider world paper with period and depth studies, with a separate British depth paper?
  • If the second is preferred then will there have to be a substantial element on British history in the Thematic studies to help edge British content up to 40%
  • Thematic papers will be one way in which the other eras of the course get studied – if the Period and Depth studies overlap, and if the ‘other’ depth study is from a second period, the thematic paper will be the way to catch the other era.
  • I bet Medieval history will get covered in thematic papers, and that it will be unusual to find a medieval depth study.
  • Localities?!  Where do these fit in?  I would guess that this will be in the British depth study.

 

 

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