SHP: second workshop

Michael Riley and Jamie Byrom talking about creative and rigorous planning through a case study of the Mughal Empire. Feel like I’m back on my PGCE.

We start with a picture of the Taj Mahal. Jamie wonders, do we ever ask students if they’ve been to the places we teach them about? Michael encourages students to make a list of places they study in history that they would love to go. Using beautiful pictures helps students to get a feel for a place, and the human stories connected with them will give them better context.

We look at a picture of the builder of the Taj Mahal on his 15th birthday, who is being weighed on a huge gold scale. Beneath him are gifts wrapped in colourful silks and holy men are attending. His dad is weighing him and his weight in gold and jewels will be distributed to the holy men and the poor. Imagine the wealth! This is a lovely activity but it needs to be sequenced purposefully so that there is a clear outcome at the end.

Four principals of planning:

1. Teaching with a purpose – why study…? How many jobs can you choose what you do? This is one if the joys of teaching.
2. Engaging with subject knowledge – that’s us as teachers. Read, watch TV, visit somewhere on holiday…
3. Wrestling with the enquiry
4. Exploiting the particular – it only really sings when there’s a key person or event or picture that you can hang it all on.

We talk about the reasons to study the Mughal empire. They ruled over 100 million people at a time when Elizabeth I ruled over 3 million – makes a good precursor to the British empire? Many reasons are provided – depends on your school context.
We discuss the difficulty of teaching something we know little about. Michael says if we don’t read around we’re missing out on one of the joys of history teaching.
We need to be more confident in explaining why we’re teaching what we’re teaching. There should be real clarity about this.

Jamie shares an animation to show how Mughal control changed over time. We discuss what questions we have – why does it expand? Move? What does the different shading mean? How does the geography play a part? Encourage a disposition for wondering.
When you’re engaging with subject knowledge, consider stuff, issues and nuggets. Exhibitions are a good way in. We organise some key Mughal emperors into chronological order – stuff. This isn’t enough on its own – “stuff is not enough”. We need to look at the issues, controversies, conceptual focus – causes, or consequences, or diversity of experience, etc. What is omitted from the exhibitions – how we got the settings, the stories of the conquered people, etc – is just as important as what is displayed.
We are recommended some books, including Will Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal as a different interpretation of the “Indian Mutiny”. It’s important to look for the interesting way in.
Nuggets, or gems? Often found in footnotes in books, bizarrely. Jamie uses and example of the carrier pigeons the Mughals used to keep in touch.

Pinning down the enquiry is a difficult thing, and much more easily done as a group within a department. We look at a range of enquiry questions related to the study of the Mughals and discuss their relative merits. Knowing what the end product is is really important when organising the sequence of lessons and enquiry questions. The really key thing is getting the big overall question, on which you hang all the other lessons, to ensure coherence throughout the unit.
Some concern over maintaining this when the time for history at ks3 has been squeezed. Jamie thinks that if the launch is strong enough, the excitement can be maintained. Michael thinks that the writing en route should be used to help them to build the writing at the end. I like this, because it fits with what I have done with some of my units this year – building the essay over the unit.

Do we need particular people? Places? Times? They picked key moments and emperors to study to give a sense of change in the empire and a contextual understanding of life within it. An analytical narrative. We look at a picture of Akbar building a new city and discuss what it shows and how it can be used in class. Links are made to early variants of the Grand Tour and the first English visitors, with Thomas Coryate and his letters home from the Mughal empire in the 17th century. There’s also a reference to the impact of the 19th century evangelical movement on relationships with and opinions about the Mughals. This ends up being quite a depressing end to both the Mughals and the session, but very powerful. The importance of the human stories in the history really comes through.

I think this session is going to fit really nicely with my next pick, which is also about planning enquiries for key stage three.

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