Enquiring Minds: Initiating and eliciting…sigh.

Phew – that was hard!

Eliciting stuff from students who are used to being told stuff presented some real difficulties – and I’m still not sure that I’ve got it right.  We’ve had two lesson on this now, and by the end of the third we seem to be making some progress.

Lesson 1 – As per normal.

The first lesson introduced them to the idea of history projects, and I ran it much the same as I do every year.  We had a discussion about what history was about, which moved from ‘Kings and Queens’ via our recent work on the Industrial Revolution and cholera to ‘what happened to people in the past’.  We followed this up with a quick spider diagram about ‘where history comes from’.  For the final piece of the lesson they had to chose a topic from the list that we always do, with the caveat that they could, if they had a burning desire, do one that was different.  For their homework they then had to collect information, pictures, ask family,

Looking back on that first lesson, I realise that I was taking a ‘vessels’ approach, but instead of teaching them about history I was teaching them about the creation of historical knowledge. Either way, they didn’t really give much of a stuff – but they did listen politely.

Lesson 2 – Finding stuff (in the library)

They didn’t do their homework (well 40% didn’t).  This is the same 40% who always have to be harassed into doing their homework, so I should have been prepared. I wasn’t.  They did boring textbook stuff, whilst I asked the others to cut out their pictures and stick them on a piece of paper, around their question.  They did that.  I realised that I didn’t really know or understand where this was going, especially as the flow of material wasn’t exactly gushing. 

Somewhat naively I’d assumed that they’d be enthused by the fact that they they got to chose, and that we were going to make a collage of materials on my wall.  I actually think they were a bit uncomfortable.  I should have modelled what I wanted them to do.  Next lesson I’ll be better prepared for their not really understanding what is a new kind of classroom relationship.

We went up to the library in the end, because I thought that they might feel more comfortable if they new where to look in there, and the kinds of things to look for.  I talked them through selecting a book based on the kind of enquiry they wanted to make.  I modelled my own enquiring "what was life like in Roman Silchester" to show them where I’d look.  This went OK, but all in all I think the lesson was disjointed.  They got the impression that history was in books in the library, which of course to an extent it is, but I’d failed to ignite them.

Lesson 3 – Collage making and thinking about questions

I photocopied a load of pictures from books, collected the excellent box of resources collated by Mr Kydd (Head of Faculty) and prepared a presentation before this lesson.  The photos were of different aspects of local Reading history – football, Huntley and Palmers, Tilehurst history etc.  The presentation was about Silchester.  I took 6 pictorial sources and turned them into the attached pdf (which I later showed using the excellent keyjnote).

This time they’d done much better.  Most students had 4 or 5 sources, three didn’t, so I immediately directed them to the box and to the photos.  My astoundingly good TA, Miss Burgess was on hand to copy and photos that students wanted.  Suddenly things took off.  Students were interested, they flicked through books, selected interesting photos, interesting text (even!).  Michael regaled me with interesting snippets from a book of anecdotes about wartime Reading.  The padded back and forth, pinning their sources in related ‘lumps’ or groups on the board I’d set aside at the back of the room.

Then I showed them my presentation and asked what interesting questions I should ask as my ‘little questions’ about Roman Silchester.  They flew at the task, and I wrote a dozen on the board.  I’ve selected three, and will complete my own enquiry alongside them.  It feels like we’re taking off.  Finally they had to come up with their own three little questions, and pin these on the board.  For homework I asked them to look for more information and interesting items about Reading local history. 

I think this lesson went better because they’d (1) finally got the idea that they were bringing stuff in (2) I’d thought about what I needed to model in terms of thinking (3) I’d taken the effort to come up with a back up that still meant that they had to select their own material.  Tomorrow we’ll see if they’ve found anything, and if they have, then we can have another look at their questions.

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