Category Archives: KS5

The “Writing Lives” project*

*(or why following twitter historians can be as rewarding as following history teachers)

I 11372417_1456795201306836_1653475993_nwas thinking about teaching A level coursework the other day, specifically OCR’s interpretations and investigations coursework. For years the examiner’s reports have emphasised that students should not be taught to label historians as ‘orthodox’ or ‘revisionist’, and that instead they should be focussing on the different approaches and evidence that historians use when addressing the validity of their judgements.

The tendency of some history teaching resources (and perhaps also of some history teachers) to present the interaction of historians as one of conflict is troubling.  Often historiography is shown as an unfolding development of orthodox historians being challenged by revisionists who then find themselves challenged in turn by post-revisionists.  At worst history is presented as a series of battles between antagonistic titans – the example of Hugh Trevor-Roper -v- AJP Taylor springs to mind.

Is this how historians really work?  Is the current generation always to be found stripping the gilding from and digging out the foundations of the previous generation’s work?  Do historians really have professional enemies with whom they engage in Pokémon type battles, aggressively lobbing interpretations tipped with evidential explosives?

Reading about the Writing Lives project being run by Helen Rogers makes me think that this isn’t how historians really work – and that there are lessons we can learn from the project about how we set exams as well as how we teach our students about the discipline.   Students on Helen’s Writing Lives final year module at Liverpool John Moores University have each taken responsibility for blogging about one of the people whose memoirs have been given to the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.  This is a great idea on its own, made more meaningful by the end goal of publishing an ebook which draws on the research the students make as a group, but innovative as it is, this is not why I’m drawn to blog about it.

What I found so interesting (so much that I nearly missed my bus home tonight as I read the ‘about’ page) was the way that Helen explained the context to the project.  The about page explains the historiography of working class memoirs, describing several books that you want to go and read straight away.  It then goes on to explain the way that the field has changed and grown, some of the directions that Helen and others want to take it, and the great opportunity offered by the sample represented in the Burnett archive, which is very different from those used by a previous generation of writers.  This isn’t a dismissal of the previous work, in fact the insights and patterns of that work are presented as jumping off points for future work, not something to be ‘revised’ or explained away.

I’d really like to think about ways that we might get school students, and especially those working at A level on independent study to consider the ways that different historians’  viewpoints can be used to spark enquiries, and to help them see that this needn’t always involve deciding which ‘interpretation’ is better than the others.

Day Two (before lunch) #SHP15 #SHP2015 Conference – Longer Texts

Straight into the workshops on Saturday morning. Breakfast is always a sea of people bending over conference packs and making choices over which workshop to attend. When schools are farsighted enough to send more than one delegate, or where friends have been made, you can often hear groups deciding who will go and report back on which workshop. I had so many I wanted to see and I heard of so many great workshops that I couldn’t get to. I try to see people I’ve not seen before, but even this rule doesn’t always make it easy to take decisions. You know, I think I would be kicking myself over not getting to see @bones_carmel do her workshop on engagement, but for the great sessions that I did get to.

Paul Nightingale and Tim Jenner’s workshop on ‘using extended original texts with less able students’ was very good – and just the right mix of ambition and practical examples. They started from the revelation that they could make reading and understanding a text the aim of the lesson, and that modelling different kinds of enthusiasm for text would help, but would only get students so far. Their take is that students who find history hard are often given less complicated texts, when what they need is to be ‘skilled-up’ and to an extent given the contextual knowledge to understand the more complicated texts. Having listened and taken part in this great session I think what they have really achieved is slowing pupil thinking down, and encouraged engagement with the text whilst at avoiding student anxiety about ‘getting it wrong’. That they have managed to do this creatively and with, wait for it… engagement with the text, is what makes their ideas compelling to try in the classroom.

Three activities really stuck out for me. The first was ‘stage directions‘ – making your students dramatise and present the action that takes place in a document. In small groups we played briefly at being pupils, and highlighted, scrawled and discussed ways in which we could make the meaning of our text come alive. I know I’m a 40 something history geek, and that this is hardly a scientific approach, but I think this great idea merits trying with students. With the right class, and with the right text (we had a Wilfred Owen poem) students might be able to use this technique to get to grips with text in deep and thoughtful ways.

The second was text mapping, which could be done individually, in pairs or in groups. With large copies of the text students are encouraged to highlight key features, key terms, argument, pictures, diagrams, summaries, conclusions, titles, headings, footnotes. In groups initial support for getting into a complex text could be given by asking lower attaining students to do simpler and increasingly complex highlighting. The crucial thing is that this is not the end of the use of the text. The highlighting is not the point of the activity, it is just the first activity – a way of helping students attain familiarity and confidence before moving on to other things.

The third I’m including because at first I internally dismissed it as something I’d seen before.  However, a few subtle details brought me up short.  Wordle has now been around for a while, and I went through a period of using it quite a lot, as a quick way of demonstrating the main theme in some writing.  I have in the past made students create wordles of their coursework or essays, in the hope that it would help them see their main themes (or lack of them).   I had started to think that it was a way of skimming over the details in a text and I worried that it stopped students from really reading a document – they didn’t need to if wordle had already summarized it.

Paul and Tim have taken the idea a little further by asking students to look at the smaller words in a wordle – the words that occur less frequently, but nonetheless are there. They ask ‘what’s the subtext?’, what ideas are being snuck in under the radar? They also suggested using a wordle to predict the content and thrust of a document before using some of their other techniques so that students can then compare their initial prediction with what they really find when they become familiar with its contents.

Overall, what struck me about their approach was the building of knowledge and confidence as students worked continuously on the text, and how this went hand in hand with the text itself. It was however never a crude ‘here’s what you need to know, now lets look at the text’ approach.  Subtle and energising stuff.

Then I was on doing the second outing of my own workshop – which went much better the second time around.  I’ll post the powerpoint soonish, probably after I’ve finished blogging about #SHP15 (who knows when at this rate).

H.A. Northern History Forum: Global Learning

Wednesday’s HA event at Leeds Trinity had a stall manned by Pearson which set out their ‘Global Learning Programme‘.  At the start of the keynote we were told of a CPD event being run by the university (and paid for by it too) deisgned to celebrate work being done by teachers on ‘Global Learning’. Global Learning is clearly ‘a thing’ right now.

The HA website has more details of its take on Global Learning, and I understand that they have been helping Pearson to develop the programme, offered on a website here. It’s hard to argue with the HA’s point that

“much of the history curriculum provides a clear context for the current debate about poverty, globalisation and inter-relationships between the countries of the world, and helps students understand the current debate.”

My mind is also drawn back to Donald Cumming’s talk to the SHP conference in July 2014 in which he rightly pointed out that we cannot really understand the history of any country (and perhaps especially not the one in which I live and teach) unless we understand the history of the countries around it and the wider world. Globalisation and global interdependency are not recent developments, and we’re not really teaching history if we deny this to our students.

Whilst I was reading the key aims of global learning cited by the GLP and the HA, I wondered about the kinds of substantive topics that we could use to help achieve these various aims to

help young people understand their role in a globally interdependent world and explore strategies by which they can make it more just and sustainable,

familiarise pupils with the concepts of interdependence, development, globalisation and sustainability

enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality

stimulate critical thinking about global issues, both at a whole school and pupil level

help schools promote greater awareness of poverty and sustainability

enable schools to explore alternative models of development and sustainability in the classroom.

It seems to me that there are many substantive topics that we could use in trying to reach these aims.   I can also see that thinking about these aims could encourage us to think differently about how we can ask students to think about the past from a global perspective.   Most obviously a comparative ‘long view’ approach of the kind developed by  Shemilt and Rick Rogers offers us a way of brining a historical eye to these aims. By comparing and contrasting different modes of trade, causes of poverty and wealth, and the development of campaigns against injustice over time we can help students understand how people in the past have wrestled with these issues.

If I can, I’d like to go to the conference, if only to see what it means to ‘enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality’.  It is this aspect of ‘global learning’ that causes me most trouble, and has since I started teaching.  When teaching histoy we are, in my opinion, teaching a way of thinking, rather than what to think about a particular event.  History doesn’t guarantee that our students will have a particular opinion about a topic, but should aim that they are well informed enough to form an opinion that is well-supported.  There are no single right answers to many historical questions, though there are lots of wrong ones!

So, I need to clear up what it means to be “moving students from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality”, so that I can make sure that I’m not trying to replicate my own mindset or political views in those of my students.

http://www.history.org.uk/resources/primary_resource_7836,7837_127.html

http://globaldimension.org.uk/glp/page/10807

http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/global-learning-celebration-tickets-15724652860

Northern History Forum

IMG_0061Last night I attended the Northern History forum at Leeds Trinity University, ran a workshop entitled ‘Playing Games in History’ and met some great teachers, new and experienced.

Ben Walsh gave the opening address, and reminded us of the benefit of asking ‘why am I teaching this?’ every now and then, as well as giving us some fantastic website tips. These included:

Dipity
Time Maps
Chronozoom

I was there to run a workshop, which I did, entitled ‘Playing with History’.  My aim was not to offer any over-arching theory, but just to present (with new teachers particularly in mind) some techniques that I have been honing over the years to keep lessons moving with purposeful pace.   You can find the materials for the talk on this page.

Why I love: the Memory Tea Tray Game #28daysofwriting

Memory GameWhen I was little we would sometimes play this game on wet afternoons (there being no youtube).  It is much easier with pictures than objects, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use either.  I often use images as icons for particular concepts, events or historical actors, especially where there are several factors or issues that we’ll be exploring over a couple of weeks or half a term.   Sometimes I’ll give the students these images, sometimes I’ll ask them to associate images themselves.   If we’ve been studying a topic without using these images then this memory game is a good way of introducing them as a tool for revision.  This also works really well as a starter, as there’s an element of time which encourages them to settle and to raise their game very early in the lesson.

Before the lesson I will find images that allow students to discuss causes, consequences, or other second order concepts, or those that enable us to talk about substantive events, people, trends or other historical content.   I can then arrange them on a powerpoint slide with the instruction that students have say 10 or 15 seconds to memorise them.

In class I tell them to close all their books, and to have a pen ready at the side. They’re to look at the screen / board and memorise the pictures that appear.  After the allotted time I change the slide (you can set powerpoint up to do this automatically too) and tell them they have a minute to write down as many of the items as they can remember.

Here’s one I made earlier about the causes of poverty in Elizabethan England.  You’ll notice that there are several important causes I’ve missed off – a good way of extending this idea is to ask students ‘which causes are not represented?’.  To push this further I can ask them to remember the images at the end of the lesson too – which works well as a plenary if the images, or the ideas that they represent are then explored in the lesson itself.

#28daysofwriting – Feedforward

Spring in the GlassGoing to be very brief this evening, but I did want to record how I got on with feedforward questions. This idea, which has been doing the rounds on twitter, involves teachers making comments on work and asking for improvements, or asking supplemental questions designed to move students’ understanding on.

I tried it with my year 9s, which worked well. I think that this was because my feedback was based on the work we had done on generalisations over several classes, and the work they had to do was improve a paragraph that they had written last lesson, and which I had marked in the meantime.

With my year 8 boys I tried writing questions that I hoped would enable them to extend their understanding, or improve their responses to questions they answered last lesson. This didn’t go as well – perhaps because I had much less concrete set of learning objectives for the work. This led me to give out a much more diverse set of feedback instructions, and didn’t allow the students to use their experiences in the previous lessons in the same way as my year 9s could in interpreting my advice. Also they were year 8 boys, it was the last lesson on Friday afternoon, and I was asking for independent thinking in response to written comments.

Why I love: Hotspot Taboo ( #28daysofwriting )

hot seatQuick one tonight, as I’m determined to keep up this #28daysofwriting effort.  I’ve been thinking a lot about playing games in lessons which seem to help learning.  One of my favourite types of games are hotspot games – such as ‘yes / no’, ‘guess who’ or ‘just a minute’ where someone comes to the front to play.  Recently I’ve been playing ‘hotspot taboo’ with my year 7 classes. Using Ian Dawson and Dale Banham’s book on King John, we’ve been coming up with lists of words and phrases that it would be really useful to be able to use if we want to explain the problem that medieval English kings had with the French, the Catholic Church and their own Barons.

We write those three lists (one for each problem) on the board.  Then we see if volunteers can accurately explain each problem without using any of the words on the board, like a whole class game of taboo.

If anyone hears the player use one of the taboo words they get to shout ‘TaboOooo!’ and then come up and have a go themselves.  It is great fun, but it also forces students to think of ways of explaining the importance or effect or causes of things.

Why I love: Marking

Harvest TimeI’m trying to work on a “do more marking than planning” basis this week. Partially as an experiment to see if I can, but also because I wonder if I spend too long thinking of cool things to do, and not enough time finding out whether those cool things have actually had an impact.

Yesterday I posted about the ‘Target Notes‘ idea that I half-inched from Paul Ginnis. Today I thought I’d share what I did with the marking of them. I flicked through, and looked for really good examples of the kind of generalisation that we were looking for in the middle ring of our notes. I then compared these with sentences which were much weaker generalisations. I did leave feedback, and I was able to note which students had really got what I meant, which were still unsure, and to know those students who found the whole thing mystifying. The marking also gave me a really good pointer about who to ask questions of in class, to check whether things had been going in.

So, armed with my understanding about the progress made during the last lesson, I made a powerpoint called Making Explanations and Generalisations which I hope enabled the students to compare these stronger and weaker generalisations, and which we then used to come up with some criteria for assessing generalisations. This only took 10 minutes at the start of the lesson, but it gave the rest of the lesson good momentum. This was mainly because I told the students to be ready to write a really strong generalisation at the end of the lesson – based on the (have to admit it) rather dull note taking exercise that they would be completing in the meantime.

In short, the marking planned my lesson, and gave me an excuse to set them up with a plenary that would allow me to see if they’ve moved on.

Why I love: Target Notes

When I read Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (£) one of the things that really resonated with me was the difference that the authors draw between ‘rule learners’ and ‘example learners’ – between those who can see the wood for the trees and those who can only see the individual trees.  Whilst I first thought that this was not an easy concept to fit over my experience of history teaching, there being no ‘rules’ in history to learn.  The more I thought about it in the light of my own teaching, the more important this idea seemed to be.  There are lots of students who know a great deal of things.  But, they seem to have difficulty being able to say anything about all these things that they know.

My year 9s are doing some work on slavery, we’ve been borrowing some ‘big picture’ slavery lessons from Dan Nuttall at Ilkley Grammar, and interspersing it with detailed lessons on slavery during the 18th and 19th Centuries.   I’ve been wanting them to be able to make generalisations about slavery, and to support these with evidence, and we’ve had some success.  To help others over the line, I borrowed an idea I also stole from someone else, from the Teacher’s Toolkit: Raise Classroom Achievement with Strategies for Every Learner (£), called ‘target notes’ – I encouraged the students to write explaining sentences about the impact or effects of the three ‘topics’ in the middle circle and examples to support in the outer circle.  Most of them did well, but a crucial number didn’t – and it’s these I can work on to help them understand the difference between the ‘rule’ or the ‘generalisation’ and the ‘evidence’.