Re-drafting to support learners

This is something that, in my practice as a history teacher, I’ve been resistant to over the years. I went to a great SHP talk on using longer, original contemporary texts this summer (the blog post will arrive, honestly!), and saw some great ideas for making text more accessible without ‘translating’ it into modern modes of talking or writing.

Today with my undergrad class which is studying the different roles and responsibilities within schools, were were looking at diversity and issues of equality, and I handed them a questionnaire that I borrowed from Sue Dymoke’s (ed) excellent book ‘Reflective Teaching and Learning in the Secondary School’. It was meant to be a quick starter whilst I fired up the projector. When I turned my attention back to the group it became clear that the exercise had fuddled and alarmed many of them, who lacked several of the key pieces of vocabulary necessary to access the task. They understood the concepts behind these words, to a large extent, but they did not have the words themselves.

Anyway, we talked through the words and concepts and the quick 5 minute starter became a 30 minute seminar about words and ideas such as:

‘socially well adjusted’
‘fundamental British values’
’emancipation’
‘rhetoric’
‘authorities’

Afterwards I began to wonder whether I should have re-written the questionnaire, and to consider whether I would have do so had I been working with school students. I think I probably would have for school, but not very much. Perhaps I would have picked my battles, and chosen one or two key words like emancipation, so we could have explored the different levels of meaning beyond ‘freedom’. 

At university exploring these particular phrases perhaps should be easier, but the students were affected by the number and weight of concepts that they found impossible to comprehend immediately.  It took some effort on my part to reassure and guide them back to the task. Though I had stumbled upon a teaching moment I’m going to have to think carefully about how to anticipate and prepare for difficult opportunities like these. 

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