Workshop 3: Ted Savill

Ted is talking about encouraging students to read better for History A-level.

Ted shows us a book he read when he was studying A level and then an evolution of books for sixth formers, showing us Broszat’s Hitler State “from the 90s” which I referenced in one of my university interviews…spot on. He suggests that it is no longer conceivable to ask sixth form students to read books like this, no matter how accessible.

A big problem is that students tend not to read much beyond the narrow confines of the textbook. Why does this happen? Utility: they want the answer, not to think it through and come up with their own. I think accessibility is a problem: fewer copies available and also being able to understand what they read. Ted suggests that there are lots of distractions; spoon feeding at GCSE doesn’t help; and the structure of the exam system does us no favours, with 4 essays in 75 minutes (for my year 12s at least) just not amenable to bringing in wider reading.

Ted says we need to give them a reason to do the wider reading: in y13 they do more because the course allows for it. Perhaps the changes from 2015 might allow for this to be easier. We need to create the right environment and have higher expectations. We’d like them to be confident historical readers, ensure they can extract key info from a text, construct their own interpretations, engage with historical controversy and be able to evaluate the merit of what they read as history. They can’t achieve these things just from reading the textbook.

We discuss strategies we have used to encourage wider reading. Departmental libraries can help, if it can be funded. I like historical fiction. Book discussions in class can work well. I’m reminded of the vle idea from Diana Laffin (I think) where teachers share reviews of history books they’ve been reading. There’s a “drop everything and read” idea where everyone in the whole school – all staff and students – stops to read for 20 minutes and then has a bit of time for discussion. Ted shares what has worked for him: A level History Society with presentations from pupils have worked particularly well, in spite of the need to conscript people into doing things for it. Talks from historians are very inspiring if you can get them to come to your school.

In class, card sorts, quizzes, reading in class time, lists of key words, debate/discussion tasks all help to encourage them. Ted gives us a task that involves reading a chunk of A People’s Tragedy alongside a task with some questions. We discuss the task and look at student responses to it: it includes page references which, yes, does make it easier, but having done a similar revision task with my y11s recently, they effusively praised my use of page numbers for the questions, so I can see the benefit if the aim is partially to encourage them to do more reading.

Whilst enabling students to access “proper” history, it also led to an excellent class discussion which Ted thinks was prolonged by their improved knowledge as a result of the reading. It did perhaps need a bit more stretch for the top end, but this could be provided by an extra, contradictory task.

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