Exploring & Teaching Medieval History

 ETMH Project, Issues  Comments Off on Exploring & Teaching Medieval History
Jan 242017
 

Reaching the age of 65 is a bit of a ‘what now?’ moment for me – charge on as before or stop doing the things I’ve been interested in for the last forty years? Neither extreme seems right, especially as I’m both grateful and relieved to have got here and be in a position to make choices.

To cut a tediously autobiographical story short I am going to focus my ‘history’ time on a project which explores how we teach the Middle Ages and suggest ways to solve some of the problems which have emerged over the last few decades in teaching about this period. It feels potentially a lot more useful than going back to a PhD project on the 15th century shelved around 35 years ago!

So, what is this project about?

As currently conceived it has three elements:

  1. Some pragmatic research into practicalities such as how much time is spent on teaching about the Middle Ages at KS3, the nature of current schemes of work and how students, new teachers, experienced teachers ‘see’ the period and its people, the impact of GCSE changes etc. This is a necessary bedrock for the other two elements.
  2. Working with The Historical Association to publish articles by historians which up-date teachers’ knowledge and understanding of the period. The first phase of this element will appear in late autumn 2017 with the publication Exploring and Teaching Medieval History [ see more details ]. This will be followed by a rolling programme of further articles on the HA website.
  3. The creation of a series of articles, schemes of work and a limited range of resources for KS3 which take into account what’s been learned from elements 1 and 2, for example the varieties of time available at KS3 and responds to GCSE changes and their impact on KS3. It is essential that this phase is a very practical one in providing material that is useable and recognises the limited time teachers have available for teaching and preparation – merely exhorting teachers to make changes or read lots of academic books is pointless.

All of which says ‘this is not a project to be rushed!’ Looking back over the last twenty-five years since we began to be assaulted by regular revisions of the National Curriculum, GCSE and A level there have necessarily been a great many quick-fix changes made. It’s not been possible to stand back and plan strategically over a long-term because everyone’s been too busy solving today’s problems – simply keeping their heads above water. Therefore, I see this project as taking three or four years despite the natural desire to get all the ideas out for use as soon as possible.

One last thought before ending this introductory piece – if there’s one idea I want to get across through the project it’s the importance of respecting the people of the Middle Ages. This is partly about identifying achievements and developments during the period but more importantly it’s about building into teaching an understanding that medieval people thought carefully about choices, had principles and ideals and had good reasons for doing things differently from us. We can only explain people’s actions in the past if we respect them, rather than assuming they had simpler, cruder motivations than people today. Perhaps if students can respect people of a different time then there is more chance of them respecting people from different cultures today rather than instinctively interpreting difference as being inferior or a threat.

So that’s, very roughly, what the Exploring and Teaching Medieval History project is about. I am very grateful to The Historical Association for its support and encouragement and for allowing me to carry out the project under its banner – and for asking me to edit the publication which will arrive free in every secondary school later this year.

For more details on the content of this publication see pages 2 and 3 of the summary document (downloaded above).

And if you have any queries or comments, please get in touch on the comments section or via this website .

Ian

 Posted by at 5:16 pm

Raising Attainment: Feedback, marking and how they can improve learning

 A Level, GCSE, Issues, KS3  Comments Off on Raising Attainment: Feedback, marking and how they can improve learning
Sep 072016
 

In one of the most practical and valuable items we have published here on ThinkingHistory, Dale Banham describes in detail how he has developed a six-fold cycle of feedback which has the development of students’ ability to learn effectively at its heart. This is not just about the mechanics of marking and feedback but about how to help your students improve their understanding of how to study history and therefore raise their attainment.

As Dale argues:

‘Student progress is determined not by the amount of feedback we provide, much more by how we provide feedback. We have tried to address this by placing ‘marking’ within a 6 stage feedback cycle (see below). Our aims are to:

  • reduce teacher workload
  • increase the extent to which pupils take responsibility for their learning
  • improve outcomes by developing effective study habits in history – routines that make sure students review, redraft, respond to feedback and reflect on progress’

The Feedback Cycle

STAGE 1: When the work is set – establish clear success criteria

STAGE 2: When pupils are working on the task – make the most of oral feedback

STAGE 3: Just before pupils hand in their work to be marked – build in self and peer assessment

STAGE 4: When marking the work – aim to save time and maximise impact

STAGE 5: Returning the work – build in opportunities to respond to feedback

STAGE 6: Reflection – create a dialogue about learning

Read the whole article here

Ian

 Posted by at 7:45 am

Key Principles for teaching Thematic Studies at GCSE

 GCSE, Issues  Comments Off on Key Principles for teaching Thematic Studies at GCSE
Aug 112016
 

Not a very new item but we hid its announcement in another post earlier this summer.

So this is to give it a bit more visibility to our article which provides strategies which help students overcome the major problems they have in Thematic studies.

These strategies have developed from lengthy teaching experience and are applicable to the teaching of all Thematic studies.

See the article HERE …

Ian

 

 Posted by at 9:20 am

Raising Attainment: Planning principles for teaching Depth and Period Studies

 A Level, GCSE, Issues  Comments Off on Raising Attainment: Planning principles for teaching Depth and Period Studies
Aug 102016
 

In summary, the eight key points discussed in this article here are:

1. Build courses around overall enquiry questions

2. Don’t be afraid to build in work on concepts other than AOs specified for the course

3. Use individuals’ stories as hooks and to put them at the heart of the enquiry

4. Identify and teach for students’ misconceptions about the period

5. Boost students’ confidence by identifying and building on their existing knowledge

6. Create activities to help students identify and remember Who’s Who

7. Keep activities involving and lively to enhance memory and understanding

8. Help students see the overview in depth studies as well as themes

Read the article here 

Ian

 Posted by at 3:00 pm

Raising Attainment: Visible Learning in History

 A Level, GCSE, Issues, KS3  Comments Off on Raising Attainment: Visible Learning in History
Jul 062016
 

Dale Banham and I have long believed in the importance of making the processes of studying history explicit if students are to improve their knowledge and understanding of the past and to perform better in examinations. This emphasis on making learning visible is itself visible in many of the materials on this site, such as the discussions about ensuring that students really can explain and discuss the enquiry process themselves rather than simply completing pre-packaged tasks set by the teacher where the enquiry question is provided and non-negotiable and the core process of enquiry is left implicit.

This new article looks in more detail at some of the ways of making the processes of studying and writing history visible to students. Some of these ideas will be well-known to some teachers, especially from Dale’s SHP Conference workshops, but it is a pleasure to make this more widely available and to exemplify it with activities from some of the books we have worked on over the last ten years.

Behind this work is the belief that students perform better in examinations if teachers build their course structure around the problems students have year-in, year out. Specifications and content may change but the underlying problems students face when they carry out historical research, construct arguments and communicate their ideas do not. Learning is best conceived as a process and we need to support students through that process by making it visible if we are to fully realise the potential of our students as learners.

You can find this galaxy of material and resources here

Ian

 Posted by at 9:05 am

Raising Attainment: a new series of articles

 A Level, GCSE, Issues, KS3  Comments Off on Raising Attainment: a new series of articles
Jun 162016
 

The articles in this new section of the site explore principles we can use to plan the history curriculum and how we teach students in the classroom.

The articles have been written by Dale Banham and myself and are largely based on Dale’s work with his students in Ipswich. Much of the material will relates to all key stages but on occasion we shall focus on a particular Key Stage when there is an obvious and immediate need. Hence, alongside the introductory article Starting Points, we have begun with ‘Key Principles for teaching Thematic studies at GCSE’.

Without more ado, you can find this material here …

Ian

 Posted by at 1:30 pm
Jan 042015
 

Sam’s Magic Triangle – What’s been so compelling about History teaching?

This is the first in a series of occasional blogs. Having realised I’ve been involved in teaching History for forty years I’ve been musing on what’s changed, what’s improved and what’s still puzzling me. Though it maybe seems a mite self-indulgent, these blogs will explore how aspects of History teaching have developed over those four decades and particularly what still seem to me to be the outstanding issues. Just thinking about this is very humbling – how can we have done all that work and still have all these issues to sort out?

If I have an audience in mind it’s those new to teaching but I hope this will be of interest to others too.  In this first blog I’m going to be selfish and try to sort out just what I’ve found so compelling about History teaching, why it’s been rather more than just a way to pay the mortgage, why … well, if you’ve got this far I suspect you know what I mean.  Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

Why did I become a History teacher? Whatever I may have said in my PGCE interview I had no real idea back in 1973 and it took a year or two to be sure I’d made the right choice. With hindsight I chose History teaching simply because History was the subject that had felt like home since I’d been seven or eight. My sense of History as home has never changed but at some stage I discovered that the world of history teaching had become even more of a home – though I’ve wandered over the years from my original school classroom to teacher-training to degree-teaching to writing textbooks to running CPD courses here, there and pretty much everywhere.

The reasons why History teaching has remained so compelling are many-fold, hence I’m going, as so often, to use a diagram to help explain those reasons, a diagram I’ve christened Sam’s Magic Triangle because I was reading a Magic Key book to young Sam when the idea popped into my head.

Why is it magic? You’ll have to read on!

In the beginning – a Triangle with three unequal points

In the beginning it was the History itself that had pride of place at the top of my triangle. I didn’t know much history at the time or, rather, I knew a lot about very little but hardly any of what I knew figured in what I taught. I started teaching A level with only a nodding acquaintance with 19thC British politics (though I swiftly grew to love the issues, personalities, connections with today) but my mind was empty of 20thC history when I began teaching O level and CSE – we just hadn’t done any at school and I’d avoided it at university – I didn’t even know where events such as the Battle of Britain and Dunkirk fitted into World War Two despite or, more likely, because of them taking place just 10 years before I was born.

Fortunately the enjoyment of discovering new periods, events and people has stayed exciting – and there’s been a great sense of achievement in linking all the new knowledge I acquire into the patterns of knowledge already in my mind. Even more satisfying has been the realisation that what I find most rewarding and that I’m keenest to communicate is not ‘history’ in general terms but the experiences, complexity, humanity of individual people. As so often, Alan Plater summed up what I feel in his novel Oliver’s Travels. Its theme is homage – doing homage to those we love and admire and to all those generations and individuals who went before us. The last lines of the book are simply:

‘It’s all about paying homage,’ said Oliver. ‘Hearing what the ghosts are saying.’

‘What are they saying?’ said Diane.

‘They’re saying … please listen.’

They listened.

Paying homage, helping students listen to the people of the past, became the driving idea behind much of what I’ve done in recent years – not creating resources about history but resources which try to reveal the human situations, choices, joys, the complex humanity of individuals from the past.

So the history was at the top of my triangle in my early classroom years. One of the lesser corners was a desire to communicate the excitement of studying History. Excitement? This may not be the word that comes to mind if you’ve been brought up on NC levels and infuriating decontextualized ‘reliability’ activities but back then, yes, the idea of helping children understand how we study the past was exciting. What drew me to SHP was its focus on helping students understand how we study the past as part of its bigger aim of helping them understand their world – uses of evidence, causation etc. gained in the history classroom could be transferred to the world beyond. To someone whose own school history had consisted of five years of dictated notes, two years of my teachers talking about a set of notes and not a glimpse of anything that might be called a historical source this came as a revelation.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I think the drive to help students understand how history is studied has gone off course. I remain convinced about the importance of introducing students of all ages to the process of studying the past, to the puzzle of how certain we can be about an issue,  but too much attention has been paid to the individual tesserae of that process, with the resulting danger that students can’t see or aren’t aware of the bigger picture. But the fact that that 70s aim has not been achieved makes it all the more intriguing – how can this situation be resolved?
And the third corner of my Magic Triangle? That, I slowly realised, was the most important corner –the one labelled ‘Becoming a teacher’.  At some stage I stopped being a pseudo-historian standing at the front talking about History, asking questions, setting tasks and became a teacher. To do that I had to shed my focus on myself (would I remember the content? could I keep discipline?) and focus on my students. I have to thank C3/IGD for that. I can still tell you who sat in every seat in that class back in 1978, what their personalities seemed to be.

Thanks to C3/IGD and many like them I began to appreciate that much of the value of my work had nothing to do with History at all. I had to have time for individuals when I didn’t really have that time. I had to treat each student with respect, kindness, an awareness of their individuality, treat Y7 with as much respect as the Oxbridge-bound Y13, the cleaner with as much respect as the head-teacher. In essence I had to model for my students how to treat other people properly as human beings – the most important part of teaching of all. I didn’t always succeed – far from it – but this was a huge step forward. I realised that I wanted my students to remember me for that as much, maybe more than, for my enthusiasm for History. Of course, the two are interlinked – if you don’t have those teacherly human qualities then your students won’t listen as much, won’t learn as much, won’t respect you as much as a history teacher.

As I write this I can see a strong link between that last paragraph and how we think and teach about the people of the past – that we should treat people in both past and present with equal respect. I  cannot convey to you how much I hate activities in textbooks or websites which mock or belittle people from the past or make them sound stupid – the past may be fascinating and enjoyable to study but we shouldn’t treat the people as mere entertainment.

Becoming a minstrel : the Magic Triangle becomes a Square

The most striking paragraph I read last summer was in Rosemary Sutcliff’s memoir Blue Remembered Hills (1983). As history teachers, you’ll know, maybe love, Rosemary Sutcliff’s work – The Eagle of the Ninth, The Lantern Bearers and many more. The passage that’s echoed round my head is where she describes how her mother read to her constantly and enthusiastically:

‘… my mother loved … history of any kind, though her view of it was always the minstrel’s rather than the historian’s.’

I suspect that it was the coming together of the historian and the teacher that gave me the ability to become a minstrel when needed. I stopped being earnest and pedantic and listened to my inner minstrel which was telling me that I was allowed to enthuse, to communicate my passion for history, even to seem a bit weird at times because of that passion! I think I can sum up this minstrel quality by repeating one of the nicest things said about my teaching – though it was said to my wife in a somewhat worried tone!

‘When he talks about people in the Wars of the Roses he sounds as if they’re his mates and he met them in the pub last week, not that he’s read about them in books.’

That may not be the most intellectual aspect of being a history teacher but I do wonder if it’s the most precious gift a history teacher can have?

The problems of balance – getting lost in the Magic Triangle

All of which sounds very neat and well-balanced but there was a time when I lost my historical balance completely – when I started to work for SHP in the 80s, in hindsight at far too young an age but how do you turn down what seems the dream job? That was definitely my arid and puritanical phase – I thought that history teaching was all about helping students to understand the process of studying history and to achieve this did my best to break down evidence, causation etc. into ever smaller levels of understanding.

Marooned in the ‘process’ corner of the Magic Triangle I lost sight of the other corners, my inner Minstrel, the History itself and particularly the centrality of being a teacher.

As you might imagine, I hadn’t cut an ear off a single teddy bear at that stage.

In my defence I was young then, the little teaching I was doing at college was chiefly on ‘method’ courses, I was too easily swayed by people who seemed very knowledgeable and authoritative and I was over-reacting against the total domination of ‘knowledge’ I’d experienced as a pupil. I suspect every generation tries to make good what it feels has been deficient in its own education – and therefore undervalues what we have experienced.

Fortunately somewhere in my 30s I re-harnessed my inner minstrel to my internal historian and remembered what being a teacher involved. And that’s when ….

… the Magic Triangle burst forth in all directions!

The creativity of history teaching

Sometime in the 80s I discovered the endless possibilities of what’s sometimes called ‘active learning’, partly because of a somewhat accidental attendance at a Theatre-in-Education session.  I began turning rooms into maps, created tabards galore (if only I’d taken out the patent!), collected and assaulted furry toys, pushed students to ‘think from the inside’ of situations by making decisions in role. All this was to bring out the complexity, depth, light and shade of the history. I remember a lad called Matthew, in role as the earl of Warwick, totally puzzled at which option to choose in 1470 because none of them were good ones – a little prodding led to him choosing the ‘least worst’ option and light bulbs went off in brains all around the room as we discussed his dilemma. It wouldn’t have happened if they’d been sat behind desks talking about a one-dimensional historical name.

So I discovered that history teaching is endlessly creative but the creativity’s not about having fun, it has to be linked to …

The importance of learning

What misconceptions do students have about topics? Why do they stumble over the same aspect of a topic year on year? Why do they struggle with essay structure?

What became fascinating was harnessing that creativity to construct activities that help students overcome learning problems. I realised that teaching history is only partly about the history. It’s about working with the students’ thinking and bringing the two together. In essence teaching is a problem-solving activity – we want x to learn y – how can we construct lessons to enable them to learn, having identified the likely learning problems they’ll have … and that of course means teaching is linked to …

Course-planning

Some of my happiest moments have been spent with a blank sheet of paper, a set of objectives in terms of content and process and a defined number of teaching sessions – how can I make it work? What do I have to allow for? What will they struggle with? How can I make each session enthusing and part of a logical, inter-connected sequence? Do I need to build in time to learn their names? Will there be space to wander down a byway? How can I ensure there’s space for a proper conclusion and debriefing?  Of course the key to most planning is to plan backwards – in KS3 by starting with Y9 [if you have 3 years] and then working backwards – but that’s another blog.

Much of this was based on ideas I’d heard about at conferences, which links to …

Sense of community

Inspiring, refreshing, thought-provoking, exhausting, laughter-inducing – that’s the sense of community, most evident at SHP conferences, HA conferences and other good CPD events. That’s when you realise there’s lots of other history-teaching compulsives out there. I’ve lost count of the number of teachers who’ve commented at their first SHP conference that it’s been so wonderful to discover they’re not alone in their passion and creativity. And increasingly it’s fun and educational to listen in to the history teaching community via their websites, blogs and on twitter – the sharing of ideas via twitter is well-worth plugging into if you don’t do so already.

In conclusion – The Magic 8-sided Triangle

Having said all that, it’s important to maintain perspective. My, our, passion isn’t everyone’s and society will not grind to a halt if there are no history teachers – though it will if we have nobody to empty our bins or unblock our sewers. In 1349 people didn’t pass regulations to bring in more history teachers – but they did clean the streets.  My Dad knew almost no history (he used to tell me he once got 3% in a history exam) but joined up on the first day of World War Two and was in every sense a ‘good man’. My wife knows little history (apart from the history of photography) but spent her professional life as a consultant engineer, work of much greater practical utility, benefitting many more people, than anything I have ever done. You don’t need to know or like history to be an exemplary citizen or person.

That point seems particularly relevant in relation to KS3. That’s when I think the minstrel and teacherly qualities in my Magic Triangle have to dominate because with that age-group it’s enthusiasm that counts most of all, however well-thought out the knowledge and process objectives may be. Maybe we should come up with some ‘assessment levels’ that reward children’s enthusiasm for history and the joy of finding out about the past?

And that’s as good a place to end as any – with an 8-sided triangle that explains why I’ve found history teaching so compelling across four decades.

I told you it was magic. Thanks, Sam.

This Episode 1 has maybe seemed a bit egocentric and backward-looking but it’s felt important to set out the fascinations and personal interpretations of history teaching as a springboard for what will follow. My main purpose will be to use the past to look forward – very SHP!

In future episodes I hope to discuss topics such as teaching about sources, planning at KS3, 2 year KS3 courses, enquiry, writing textbooks, maybe the new GCSEs, thematic/development studies, knowledge and assessment … whatever seems fun and worthwhile to write about!

 Posted by at 5:05 pm

Timelines, Time-stories and Developing Confidence

 A Level, Ideas & Reflection, Issues  Comments Off on Timelines, Time-stories and Developing Confidence
Dec 232014
 

Timelines, Time-stories and developing students’ confidence at A level

Some years back I described living graphs as ‘graphs with attitude’ but another way of thinking of them is as time-stories, a way of combining timelines with the pattern of events, turning points etc – the story of events in other words. This discussion suggests ways of using time-stories to help students develop overviews of A level units [and GCSE come to that], an important part of building their confidence which in turn is important for success.

 

This discussion was originally published on the SHP site and includes comments made by Esther Arnott, Jane Richardson and Richard Kennett.

Read it here

Ian

 Posted by at 12:15 pm

What is History?

 Activities, Issues, KS3  Comments Off on What is History?
Sep 292014
 

Back in the summer I tackled Bannockburn as my Saturday evening plenary at the SHP Conference. Amidst the usual chaos I paused briefly to try to reflect on how we ‘do history’ and what it is that students take away about the process of doing history from KS3. I wasn’t sure that that worked particularly well at the time (too abrupt a change of tone, didn’t get the physical space for demonstration right) but the issue still seems important so I’ve written up my notes into something that is hopefully coherent.

The main theme is the importance of keeping the big picture of the historical process in view amidst all the detail analysis of sources, discussion of significance etc. All that detail may lose its value if students don’t appreciate what it contributes too – instead of seeing History as just a ‘lot of stuff’ in the form of past events they may see it as just a ‘load of concepts’ – so keeping the purpose of using concepts to tackle questions seems vital.

See the discussion here …

Ian

 Posted by at 4:41 pm